Adam and Sam Silverman children of Wexner Heritage NY Alumna Susan Brous Silverman. Adam is a freshman at The Fieldston School. He participated in the Panim el Panim Workshop in Washington DC. Sam is a junior at The Fieldston School. He is participating in the Write On for Israel Program, through which he will spend 2 weeks in Israel this summer.

When our mother, Susan Brous Silverman, began her Wexner Heritage experience, we were in elementary school and didn’t quite understand what it was all about. We knew she got to go on amazing weeklong summer retreats while we were at camp. And, we knew that every other Tuesday she wasn’t home for dinner. Otherwise, we didn’t really understand the great impact it would have on her, or on us. One of the great benefits of her Wexner experience was the friends and associates she met. She came home and told us that she was learning a lot and sharing ideas from the Wexner conference room. She was most excited about relationships and friendships she was developing.

It was through a Wexner friendship that we got our first real experience in the Jewish philanthropic and communal world. Laura Spitzer was a fellow Tuesday night Wexnerite and she and our mother became close friends. Laura is an executive at UJA-Federation’s New York office. This was at a special time for both our family and for UJA-Federation of New York. The UJA-Federation was embarking on a program called Give a Mitzvah – Do a Mitzvah. This program was designed for bar and bat mitzvahs to participate and donate to causes which had some resonance with them. This program would succeed if 12 and 13 year olds found a program or organization which they could connect with and form a bond. Children were encouraged to participate by raising funds for a specific program, either by asking for direct donations of gifts in lieu of bar/bat mitzvah gifs, or by taking a portion of what they received as gifts and turning it over to their chosen project. We attended Congregational School at Park Avenue Synagogue and a lot of the pre bar/bat mitzvah preparation stresses how we were becoming adults in the community and we would soon responsible for ourselves. That wasn’t necessarily true in our daily life where we needed permission and support of our parents as we traveled in New York City. The GMDM program did give us exactly this authority. We were each empowered with the ability to explore, review and choose where we wanted to participate. We were invited by UJA-Federation of New York, and then later by the specific agencies, to learn about how their programs work and why they need the money. This program gave us a chance to really be considered adults and decision makers. Additionally, it gave us a chance to become leaders and models for our friends and classmates. We found it easy to explain why we had chosen to participate and were confident when we asked other teens to step up and get involved.

We each chose projects in Israel and had the special opportunity of visiting the sites when Park Avenue Synagogue took congregational trips. Sam supported a computer enrichment center in Rehovot which provides after school support and technological educational for Ethiopian immigrant children. Adam’s donation supported an after school/summer tennis and recreational program for Ethiopian youngsters recently released from absorption center who would not otherwise have an after school programs. Both of these programs were important to us because they fill a void for these immigrant children with activities that we take for granted. It made it very easy to ask our friends and family for their support and we were so pleased to see the children who were being helped. We were educated about these programs by the professionals who ran them and they respected us, as adults, explaining what impact our donations would make and how important our interest was to their community.

The program doesn’t just stop with our bar mitzvahs. UJA-Federation of New York has taken it one step further by creating an Explore a Mitzvah, which is teaching post bnai mitzvah teens about Youth Philanthropy, A group of 15 of us meet during the school year to learn how agencies function, how proposals are written and read. Rabbi Michael Paley, the scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation has met with us to provide teaching about the Jewish values of giving. We have chosen dedicated projects and fund raised as a group to support an initiative. The UJA-Federation professionals have spent time teaching us how to solicit and prepare “to ask” for a gift by understanding how agencies use the money raised. UJA-Federation also started Share a Mitzvah, providing opportunities for couples getting married.

We were offered a unique opportunity in November 2007 when we were invited to speak on a panel at the UJC General Assembly in Nashville, TN. The panel was about New Ventures in Philanthropy. We explained how the Give a Mitzvah-Do a Mitzvah model works and answered many questions from foundation people as well as others from federations around the country about how the program works. It was exciting to explain how the program began and how successful it has become. Hopefully, we inspired other communities to try this with bnai mitzvah students as a way to get involved in Jewish philanthropy, make connections with their communities and assume leadership roles. 

Many other Wexner alumni in New York have become active in the Give a Mitzvah-Do a Mitzvah program. Our whole family benefited from our mother’s Wexner experience and we look forward to continuing our Jewish journey.

To learn more about starting a similar program in your community, contact Susan Silverman at or Laura Spitzer at