Lifelong Rockville resident David Silbert, 44, is executive director of the nonprofit So What Else. The name sounds Jewish, but Silbert co-founded it with a universal focus.
Co-founder Bob Schless was joking when he came up with “So what else?” Silbert says. But they kept it “because of a catchy, mysterious undertone, and I loved the question mark as a logo. And for us, it’s the question mark — what are you gonna do for those in need, our community, our world?”
Silbert is a member of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac.
What is the need that So What Else tries to meet, and how is that need changing?
The needs aren’t necessarily changing — they’re really progressively getting worse. Children in the inner city’s reading level has dropped. Computers and technology have led to a lack of social and emotional, interpersonal skills for kids. Families that are working hard, even in Montgomery County and wealthy areas, are forced to make choices between basic necessities, such as diapers, food and rent and, therefore, we have more and more folks relying on our services.
What does So What Else do?
So What Else specializes in youth development, which means taking care of kids through valuable programming in the out-of-school-time arena since 2009. After the pandemic, we added a hunger relief program that has distributed over 38 million meals, over 3 million diapers and collects and redistributes all kinds of emergency resources. This year will require us to raise over $3 million dollars to keep up with the demand rising from immigrant populations and families forced to choose between basic necessities.We have a food pantry and food bank that serve over 50 communities and roughly about 25,000 people per week currently taking in about 300,000 pounds of food per week and redistributing that food. Most importantly, to achieve our vision of a peaceful world, we bring volunteers and people together using our platform for good.
How does your work reflect your Jewish values?
Judaism was always a part of my life and surroundings. My uncle had to help me interpret the Old Testament a bit as I struggled with the harshness of God. He introduced me to the Talmud and Reconstructionist Judaism, which is about kindness and tolerance.
My work at So What Else is directly inspired by the suffering of the Holocaust and the idea that Never Again extends to all communities and people. Judaism taught me the value of humankind and to always love each other, and when we aren’t committed to each other and don’t put in the work, atrocities can happen. My religion is humankind, anyone with a heart, soul or pulse. This life is a gift and I’m here to mitigate suffering.
Most Jews are so solidly middle class that we really have no notion of the need that is out there – for housing, food, healthcare, education – you can probably finish this sentence better than I can.
The needs of our community and world are astounding, in fact overwhelming and, to be honest, a bit scary. There are tiers of need in this country: 1. Basic human needs which we address through our programming; 2. Our country is spreading apart and the need for love and to fill this void of service in our country is a major goal and vision — so what else can we do to help good spread across our country and be replicated if we have the resolve and commitment to getting along?
I read an article that said you “had survived tough years in young adulthood thanks to strong family support.” That sounds like it was a turning point for you. Can you talk about what happened?
From 19 to 23, I struggled with drug addiction. I went to four rehabs. I was homeless for a couple weeks. I was on my way to potentially jail or death when I finally went out to California and graduated a rehab program. Worked there for four years becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. My family was always there for me. I had numerous chances. I’m lucky to be alive and it’s really common sense for me to take all these blessings and give back and hopefully help people.
How can people help?
So What Else (sowhatelse.org/) has an avid volunteering platform. We accept all donations. ■