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“Welcoming the Stranger” in Stand-up Comedy

Saturday night I attended a performance by the comedian Yisrael Campbell with several friends at an event held by Kehilat Hadar, an independent egalitarian prayer group. Campbell’s routine centered around his three conversions to Judaism—first Reform, then Conservative, then Orthodox, and how he was welcomed by various Jewish communities.

He talked about his frustration about there being a member rate and a non-member rate for the Introduction to Judaism class that was offered in his area. He was then additionally confused when, in his attempt to join a synagogue to get the lower rate, many synagogues told him he couldn’t join until he converted. Campbell had his share of positive experiences as well as negative ones. He highlighted the warmth and beauty of the welcome he received into the Los Angeles Reform Jewish community, the joy of discovered Shabbat dinners with a Conservative family that graciously invited him for every Friday, and his attempts to kasher his kitchen under the supervision of an Orthodox rabbi. That rabbi told him that because Campbell had “only” had a Conservative conversion, his kitchen would only be counted as kosher if he exclusively cooked accompanied by someone who was a Jew according to Orthodox standards, only made one-ingredient meals (“Anyone want to come over for broccoli? We’ll have frozen broccoli pops for dessert!” offered Campbell), or had an Orthodox conversion.

Campbell’s routine succeeded in both being exceedingly hilarious and in educating his audience (in this case mostly involved Jews) about how it can feel to be an outsider in the Jewish community. By humorously recounting ways he had been made to feel included (such as by being placed on the board of his synagogue) and excluded, Campbell helped his audience understand how vital it is to truly “welcome the stranger”—and made me wonder if JOI could start charging high admission prices to our training sessions if we promised to tell more jokes.



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