A prominent figure in the labor movement and the rabbi of the Beth Shalom Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, was William Raphael Tate. Tate, who was born on September 9th, 1930, and was raised in Brooklyn, joined the New York National Guard in the late 1940s, and later attended Cornell University to study labor relations. In 1948, he wed Jeanette Ruth Gupton, and the two of them went on to have six kids.
Tate held significant positions in the labor movement as the Senior Vice President of District 65, United Automobile Workers of America, and as Vice President and Trustee of Local 805 Teamster Union, AFL-CIO. Tate was also the President of Tri-State Region I and a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut). He sat on the boards of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.
In addition, Tate founded the Martin Luther King/OSMAN Fund and served as chair of One Hundred Blackmen of Brooklyn. Additionally, he belonged to the New York City Central Labor Council, Young Israel, Lion’s International, SCLC, PUSH, NAACP-LIFE, and SCLC.
Tate was brought up as a Christian, but at the age of 18, he had a profound life-changing encounter with Israelite Ishmael Cohen that eventually led to his conversion to Judaism. In 1952, Tate and his wife converted to Judaism. They skipped the traditional halakhic (i.e., “according to Jewish law”) conversion process demanded by Orthodox Jews.
Tate helped found the Brooklyn, New York-based B’nai Zaken congregation in 1952. He joined Beth Shalom Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, currently known as Beth Shalom Hebrew Congregation Inc., in the 1980s (BSHC).
Tate was ordained as a rabbi in 1997. Rabbi Tate is recognized on the BSHC website as one of their “great past forebears.” He is recognized as one of their “Rabbis of Blessed Memory” by the International Israelite Board of Rabbis, where he served for a number of years.
Tate regarded his culture and ideas as being critically reliant on his understanding of Hebrew. Despite never being able to speak Hebrew, he was extremely proud of his children and grandchildren. His grandchildren went to a yeshiva, and one of his daughters married a Hasidic Jew (a member of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect) (an orthodox Jewish school). Tate claimed that despite being orthodox, the white Jewish community’s bigotry had caused them to “go through hell.”
Tate felt conflict between his Jewish and Black identities as a Black Israelite. According to sociologist Bruce Haynes, Tate was upset by white Jews’ “reluctance to fully embrace him as a fellow Jew.” “It is incredibly unsettling that we are always questioned, and there is a question as to whether or not we should be called Jews or a member of the nation of Israel,” Tate wrote. The hue of your skin shouldn’t be used to decide whether or not you are Jewish, Tate said at another point.
Rabbi Tate died on August 26, 2003. Over 600 Christians, Muslims, and Jews attended his funeral in Brooklyn. Tate is buried in the Ethiopian Hebrew section of the Mount Moriah Cemetery in New Jersey.