Jewish Teens Stand up to Celebrate Their Differences

Here.Now. is a teen-driven Jewish movement providing support, building connections, and reducing mental health-related stigma through creativity, partnerships, events, and innovative online content. They recently paired teens with professional comedians from MTV and Comedy Central to write comedy about celebrating resilience and loving their differences! On November 20th, the teens will make their major comedy club debut.

We interviewed internationally known inclusion advocate Pamela Schuller about the initiative and its upcoming comedy event.

Tell me about the history of the initiative and describe it.

Teens are often asked, what do you want to be when you grow up? The question of who they are now gets lost in the stressors and conversations about their future. Teens are here now and their dreams, struggles, and challenges matter today.

Here.Now. is run by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services: a social service agency with a network of resources and programs to support teens. We’re partnered with 70 Faces Media, a non-profit Jewish Media Company, and funded by UJA-Federation of New York. It’s an incredible partnership of three organizations listening to what teens need and want, and creating it with them.

The movement was born through UJA Fed research on how teens access mental health info, which showed that it was mainly online. We want to build off of that and make sure we’re providing quality, accurate resources and connections.

There are three areas we’re working on:

  1. Online content: teens can create and write for us: videos, art, short stories; and we work with Kveller to professionally publish their pieces. The pieces are paired with “how to get help” info written by social workers: how to know if your anxiety is typical, etc.
  2. Events; the comedy kickoff is our very first in-person event. We’ll have additional events coming up!
  3. A Resource line, which is not a crisis line. Jewish teens from the Metro New York area can call and say, I’m looking for a therapist. Maybe they just came out of the closet and they need other teens to connect with, and we often tell them about Keshet.

Tell me about the idea behind the comedy event. 

I’m a comedian and I grew up with a severe case of Tourette’s. For me, comedy became this incredible outlet and I started loving my differences. The teens who are working with Here.Now. came up with the idea to do a comedy night as our kickoff event with the goal of teens celebrating resilience, loving their differences, and filling the room with people who want to cheer them on. The event has nine teens working with professional comedians, and Caroline’s comedy club was really excited to put it on. We’ve got teens that are so excited and brave to make their major comedy club debut.

Our goal is to sell out the show in support of young people celebrating differences and comedy. We want to fill the audience with people who will just come and support. It doesn’t matter if you know the comics; chances are you’ll connect with something they talk about. The audience will relate and get to witness something incredible.

How does your work connect to Keshet’s work? And specifically how does this comedy night connect to Keshet’s work?

We have teens involved with us that are involved in Keshet and have been to Keshet’s LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbatonim or have utilized Keshet for resources. I also used the resources I received from Keshet to train the comic coaches in using the correct language in terms of gender, etc. I want to make sure that as we all work with the teens to write comedy, we’re building them up the best way we can.

Have you worked with any LGBTQ teens?

Yes. When I speak I tell my story of growing up with a disability and celebrating who I am and that opens a lot of doors for incredible conversations. I regularly have teens that connect to that idea of celebrating who they are and tell me that they identify as LGBTQ and I celebrate with them, if they’re looking for resources or connections I often refer them to Keshet.

Do you have any specific examples of the impact of your work?

Our kickoff social media campaign was last month- we called it the “#OneThing campaign.” Over 600 posts came in! During the campaign, people messaged me and said, I’m thinking about posting this one thing, is that silly? I got to connect with teens that were grappling with what they love about themselves and what makes them different. The goal is that teens will have tons of things that they love but finding that first thing is incredibly important. I also had a parent reach out and say, I just want you to know that the dinner table conversation was all of us talking about what we love about ourselves so that we could go post about it that evening. If this got even one teen to think about what they love about themselves for the first time, I think that’s a huge win. Watch the video here. The third teen to talk is one of the comics performing in the 20th!

The comedy event is November 20th 3-5pm. Purchase tickets here.

$36.00 buys you a hot appetizer, unlimited soft drinks, snacks and the show. The show starts at 3:00pm, and doors will open at 2:30pm. Please arrive no later than 2:50pm. This event is open to everyone. However, because some of the topics discussed on stage may be mature in nature, we recommend that those who attend be at least 15 years-old.

Let’s fill the club with teens, Jewish Youth Professionals, parents, and clergy as we take a stance to support and destigmatize mental health, well-being, and resilience!


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