At least 40,000 African Americans are practicing Jews who believe that Judaism is part of their heritage. They call themselves “Hebrew Israelites,” and their faith has been met with everything from curiosity and enthusiasm to skepticism”or even outright hostility.

Eric Molinsky visited Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken, a Hebrew Israelite synagogue in Chicago, to find out from congregants and clergy how they practice their faith, and what led them to it. Featured prominently in his report: Rabbi Capers Funnye, cousin to incoming first lady Michelle Obama.

Beni Hasan mural
Mural from the tomb of Khnumhotep II (c. 1890 BC) at Beni Hasan, Egypt, depicting a group of visiting nomadic traders from Syria-Palestine/Canaan. These travelers are widely believed to have been Hebrews. See a larger image.