Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
Different Like You is rooted in founder, Justin Bachman, who founded the organization at age 13. His sharing of his compelling personal story of three suicide attempts and living with Tourette Syndrome is an honest, open, authentic approach that has given him the ability to accept himself, use humor to diffuse challenges, inspire thousands and create awareness of the unique qualities in all of us. We provide safe, interactive, and life-changing programs allowing participants to discover immediate self-confidence and personal acceptance. We harness technology and storytelling to become a powerful resource for those in need.
Hachnasat Orchim – the virtue of welcoming the stranger – is the backbone of our programming. Our founder, Justin felt alone and excluded because he was different. In 2010, at the start of his 8th grade year, Justin was disqualified from a school cross-country meet because the officials did not understand his differences. They assumed the noises he was making were him being a rude teenager and refused to take the time to understand his medical condition, Tourette Syndrome. In that moment, Justin realized that what was happening to him must be happening to others, and, more importantly, that it needed to stop. This event took place a few weeks after his Bar Mitzvah.
Justin was able to reflect on his feelings of pride as he stood and read from the Torah in front of his family, friends and congregation, tics and all. It was a safe place where he felt welcomed. His portion was Nitzavim and he recalled his speech where he discussed standing strong. He wrote, “My family and I have faced some difficult times, but we find that being good people and standing up for what we believe in makes us very strong. I relate to entering the covenant because here I am today standing strong, or in Hebrew Nitzavim, in front of all of you here today becoming a member of the covenant. I am now one of God’s people and I will abide by his rules. I know a lot of people that are very diverse not only in race and religion, but in disability too. But when you get down to it, we are all people with hopes and dreams. I know how important it is to treat people equally and with respect. That is something I have always done and always will do.”
Drawing on that strength, at age 13, Justin knew he had to take action. He began holding events that brought diverse communities together to be educated to overcome ignorance. He wrote a speech called Living Loud that has been delivered to over 75,000 people in 15 states across the country. The speech discusses the impact of exclusion and encourages people to embrace their differences. Justin uses examples from intolerance he faced to encourage people to advocate and be welcoming to everyone. This past year, we launched an online outlet that has the purpose of letting people know they are not alone in whatever challenges they are facing. The ultimate goal is to educate to overcome ignorance, provide a sense of belonging and allow users to discover immediate self-confidence and personal acceptance. Now people all over the country can access empowering messages, build self-esteem, find resources, and become the messengers. Justin’s vision for Different Like You is to ensure everything we do welcomes people to the table and teaches them to be strong, courageous and faithful people.
There are two main ways in which we bring the wisdom of our Jewish values to our audience. The first is via our online outlet. DifferentLikeYou.org is a growing library of 30 second video stories created to inform, comfort, and inspire. The videos are paired via an online tagging system with resource organizations available to help, educate, or provide volunteer opportunities. The ultimate goal is to educate to overcome ignorance, provide a sense of belonging and allow users to discover immediate self-confidence and personal acceptance. As an example, we have several videos that educate about how to communicate with autistic people. One describes that autistic people have difficulty making eye contact but explains that this does not mean they are not listening when in fact they do listen. Other videos suggest how to deal with a cancer diagnosis while others discuss tips on how to be kind. Our expectation is that people creating the videos will feel a sense of strength and empowerment in sharing their voice. People watching the video should feel that they are not alone in facing their challenges.
The other way we make our wisdom accessible is through our new Capes program. This program is designed to bring diverse audiences to work together. During our pilot, we paired each of 10 executives with a low income student and a suburban student. The three people from diverse backgrounds, races, religions, and sexualities worked together to build a 3D printed prosthetic hand which is later donated to a child who has lost a hand. After a few moments of “getting to know each other”, team members were able to focus on the skills each brought to the table and everyone worked together to complete a challenging task. This program continues in several ways either via mentoring or the introduction to new ways to give back to the community or ways to work with people who are different.
Participants in our programming have reported the exact impact we have desired. One girl facing depression wrote us a note that she watches the video she created every day because it gives her strength. A participant in our Capes program entered the room wondering why he was there. He didn’t feel he fit in nor did he think he could complete the task of assembling a prosthetic hand. This is a link to a video of the response to one of our program participants: https://youtu.be/u-1pXMJ_Dh0 In the video he describes the feeling of being able to do anything.
Our family and anyone who works with us, Jewish or not, is welcome at our table. We have felt the pain of intolerance; however, it has only strengthened our resolve to continue to help others. As Justin said, all people have hopes and dreams. Each deserves a chance to fulfill those dreams. Throughout Justin’s high school years, while he was speaking, 17 students have approached him after a speech to let him know they had a suicide plan, but, after hearing him speak, they realized life was worth living. There is no better feeling of knowing you impacted someone’s life with something that helped them be better. Our heritage is our culture and it drives the work we do every day. One of our favorite says is, “To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.” We strive to be someone’s world every single day.
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