Memorial for our Sister and Friend, Dr. Jane Dele Osawe

When your Heart Moves, WIll your Soul Follow?


Shalom uvarakah, peace and blessings to all of you. To the family of Dr. Chief Dele Jane Osawe, her co-workers, school mates, friends and members of her spiritual family here at Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation. The house of peace for the children of the ancient Ethiopian Hebrews, I pray for the blessing of the Eternal One of Israel upon all of us this evening.

When the heart is moved, what will you do? I ask this question of you because it is a question that I know that our beloved sister Dr. Chief Dele Jane Osawe asked of herself. She asked herself this question when I first met her about nine years ago, when she entered our Knesset at 8927 South Houston Avenue. Dele looked up at the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark and said, oh my God, it is my dream from many years ago. Those letters came to me in fire! Rabbi, this fire has been burning inside of me, ever since I saw them in a dream and I did not know what they were nor did I know what they met.

I explained to Dele that the words that she saw were the Hebrew Alef-bet, the Hebrew alphabet and that the words she was looking at were the ten commandments of God. Dele fell on her knees and cried. Dele’s desire for closeness with Hashem was fulfilled in her life, three years ago while we were in Nigeria, Dele asked me if she could do her mikvah, reversion ceremony in the River Niger, which begins near her village.

As we approached the river, I never will forget how the place for Dele’s immersion in the river looked. It was like a garden, no it was like Gan Eden; as we passed to that place I noticed all of the trees, the willow, the thick bough, and the palm trees, it was a Sukkah, made by the hand of Hashem. As Dele entered the water, the rays of the sun seemed to light a path that Dele followed into the river. The experience was so moving, that my wife, Rabbinit Miriam, went to that same spot for another reversion ceremony, both experiences were powerful, spiritual, and it truly moved my entire being.

Dele was a Chief of her people, she was strong, she was forceful and she was determined. Dele received her doctorate degree on the first submission of her doctorial thesis. Dele’s love for her family, did not take away from the love that she shared with people. Dele loved all people; race did not concern her, but rather the content of the character of the person that she worked with. However, this is not to say that Dele did not have a special love for all people of African descent.

Dele’s heart was larger than life, her soul was filled with love, her dreams had no bounds and her spirit was filled with awe of Hashem. Dele’s love and strong sense of fairness made her a staunch advocate for the powerless and a friend to those who languish in hopelessness. I will miss her forever and love forever the spirit of Kol Israel Harabim. That is to say, “All Israel is responsible for each other”. Indeed, for Dele, in her sense of righteousness, she would say, “All of humanity is responsible for each other.”

I will also tell you that the year 2007, has been a difficult one for our congregation, we lost Brother David Parker, my niece Angela’s husband, we lost Sister Hadassah Issachar, suddenly to a heart attack, and on the morning, we were to bury David. If matters could not get any worse, I lost my cousin Rudolph Funnye, and my brother Kelvin Leon Funnye, lost his battle with cancer. However, Dele’s death has moved me in a way that I have not felt since the death of my beloved mother, Verdelle Cohen Funnye, in 2000.

My mother Verdelle gave me my birth into this world and Dele Jane Osawe gave me my rebirth in Africa. This rebirth shall forever be with me, as we work to fulfill the promise that I made to Dele, before she left Chicago, for Nigeria. I told our Chief, that we would work to bring into existence, her dream of a school and synagogue, in Nigeria and continue our work in building the Pan African Jewish Alliance.

My heart has been moved by many things in my life, my marriage to Mary, the birth of our children, finding my spiritual home in Judaism and becoming a rabbi, have all been very special moments. However, I also tell you that our sister Dele Jane Osawe and my soul in following a dream that we shared together, to work and build Jewish communities in Africa and the world, have moved my heart.

At Dele’s request, donations can be made to the Dele Jane Osawe Ejeme School Fund to build community including synagogues and schools in Nigeria. Click here to donate.

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