Jewish learning What It Means To Be A Community of Practice

By Rafi Ellenson
A group of high school students looking at the camera.

The Dignity Project is a community of practice. This means that when a problem arises, we adapt and work toward a solution that aligns with our shared values, addresses our common concerns, and helps us put our theoretical learning into practice.

rafi-ellenson

Several weeks ago, an invited speaker on implicit bias discussed Dave Chappelle’s recent monologue on Saturday Night Live. Chappelle’s humor, while beloved by some, is considered controversial and/or offensive by others. This proved to be true in our community as well. Fellows and staff responded to the monologue very differently. Was it insightful, playful, insulting, damaging—perhaps some of each?
After a month of planning with stakeholders—fellows and others—the staff of the Dignity Project decided to dedicate one of our community-building days to tackling the issues raised by Chappele’s monologue head-on, including anti-semitism, racism, and whiteness.

We would practice what we preach by preparing for the meeting by (re)watching the video clip itself carefully and reading or viewing several responses to it. During the meeting, we dedicated time to a careful analysis of Chappelle’s words and presentation style, and we spent time in structured dialogue—smaller and larger configurations—with guiding questions.

Our goal was to explore the notion that solidarity is not a zero-sum game; that is to say, people from different communities can learn to honor and defend their rights and freedoms and do the same for others. As part of this exploration, we discussed some of the specific challenges African American and Jewish communities have experienced as marginalized groups in the United States, and their complex history of allyship and tension.

I am pleased to report that our community delved in to this discussion with care and thoughtfulness. Fellows and staff alike bravely shared their perspectives, opinions, and narratives, creating a rich tapestry for reflection. Most importantly, we genuinely attempted to listen to one another.

While we certainly did not expect Dave Chappelle’s SNL monologue to be a central component of our Dignity Project learning this year, it provided us with a challenging, real-life opportunity to put our dialogical skills to work. Members of our group continue to disagree about various aspects of the comedian’s remarks and public responses to it, but we all agree on the importance of exploring such matters with integrity and dignity.

Watch the Dignity Project fellows reflect on their learning experiences with the fellowship this year.


Rafi Ellenson (he/him) is a shanah gimmel student in the Hebrew College Rabbinical School. He works as the Dignity Project Assistant Director at the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning and Leadership of Hebrew College. He is currently translating “the little book of e,” a collection of the poet E. Ethelbert Miller’s haiku.

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