Molly Rose Heller, whose approach as an award-winning theater artist, director and writer is informed by her queer and Jewish identities, was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch (formerly 36 Under 36). This distinction honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community. Heller, who is also on staff at DUGMAH — a program of individualized Jewish education for families, individuals and children — lives on the Upper West Side.
For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.
New York Jewish Week: Tell us a bit about your work.
Heller: I am a theater artist working primarily as a director and writer for new plays and musicals often exploring themes of queerness and Judaism. Simultaneously, I work as a Jewish educator as the director of learning and strategy and officiant for DUGMAH, an NYC-based organization providing independent Jewish education. I am a 2022 member of Directors Lab North, a 2022 artist-in-residence at the CA+MP Residency at the Upper Jay Arts Center near Lake Placid, and alum of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Observership Program.
Who is your New York Jewish hero?
Nora Ephron (z”l).
How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?
Judaism presupposes the asking of questions. My art is, therefore, inextricably Jewish — it raises those complex questions that gnaw at me in the wee hours of the morning. I’m not drawn to make art that presumes to offer straightforward answers; I’m drawn to creating art that simply poses those difficult questions we face in life. That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that my work can be quite absurd and often leads with humor, even in darker stories. This always felt like a particularly Jewish influence — a sensibility passed down from my very funny parents and those who came before them.
As a Jewish educator, I connect with students through opening up debates filled with complicated questions. I offer Jewish interpretations and allow students to come to their own conclusions. For many, this is the first experience with an adult prioritizing their outlook on the world and offering ideas to strengthen these beliefs and core values. It’s a unique gift to help guide young people on a journey of strengthening and empowering their Jewish identity. In a sense, it strengthens my personal relationship to Judaism.
Do you have a favorite inspiring quote?
“When I was a young boy, my father took me into the city to see a marching band.” – My Chemical Romance
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