Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Don Futterman of Adam Unrehearsed Is Helping To Change Our World

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
15 min readJan 22, 2024


Don’t postpone living in order to have more time to write. I’ve been the most productive when I’ve been the busiest. When I was young, I cleared out weeks and months to write, and wound up filling up my days with errands because I had so much free time, producing almost nothing. I would have been much better off throwing myself into ten different projects, trying on jobs or professions, squeezing the errands into those brief empty spaces between engagements on the way to work or the way back from wherever — the spaces in the day that errands are meant to fill — and putting in a few hours at writing as regularly as possible. Now I’m older and disciplined enough that I can be productive if I have plenty of time, or only two hours free.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Don Futterman, author of Adam Unrehearsed.

Writer, podcaster, actor and storyteller, Don Futterman is the author of the novel Adam Unrehearsed (2023), a coming-of-age comedy set in New York City in the early 1970s. Don has written for The Daily Beast, Haaretz, and The Times of Israel, has a performance podcast of comic and moving autobiographical monologues, Futterman’s One-Man Show, and for 13 years, has been co-host of TLV1’s The Promised Podcast — a weekly review of Israeli politics and society with four million downloads. Don is also the founding director of the Israel Center for Educational Innovation (ICEI) and the Israel Director of the Moriah Fund, a private American foundation working to promote equality and strengthen liberal democracy in the U.S. and Israel.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Flushing, Queens, much like the 12-year-old protagonist, Adam Miller, in my novel Adam Unrehearsed. I was short, skinny, smart and fast, fast enough to be on my track team in elementary school, but not fast enough to keep up with the kids who’s had their growth spurts two years before I did in junior high. I learned fast I was going to get by on my brains and my imagination. It was when I could combine my creative impulses with some other agenda that things were most satisfying — advancing some educational goal or an original prank. When I was 16, I was in charge of the program for a weekend retreat for high school kids in my Zionist youth movement, Young Judaea. I put the Jewish People on trial for failing to live up to the ideal of being a Light to the Nations of the World. I wrote a five-part script for an actual trial, with all the high school participants serving as the jury, debating the evidence in small group jury meetings after every hearing, and finally having to declare a verdict on Sunday morning before we went home. On a more mundane level, I once stole a Miss Subways poster from the 7 train, got a friend to take a headshot of my favorite teacher, pasted my teacher’s face over that of Miss Subways, and replaced the text with jokes about him. I got to class early and hung the sign up on the side wall, deliberately not in the most conspicuous spot. And then I waited. He was halfway through the lesson on World War II, strolling up the aisle as he was wont to do, when the poster caught his eye. He froze in mid-sentence. He moved closer, read it to himself, grinned, walked over to me, shook my hand, and continued from where he’d left off. These were two of my finest moments in high school.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

In Ben and Me, a mouse named Ben keeps showing Ben Franklin that he’s getting things all wrong. I loved this book because the mouse — the stand-in for a kid — challenged authority even as he and Franklin became devoted friends. The Phantom Tollbooth was funny and surprising and along with Norton Juster’s quirky imaginary universe, there were great illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Tools for Conviviality was the first book of social criticism I read in college, which anticipated some of the positive and negative impact of social media well before they existed, and I suspect, triggered a deep-seated distrust of the expertise of supposed experts over common sense in many areas of life. I mean, I’m not opposed to expertise per se and I want my doctor and my dentist and my mechanic and my airline pilot to be top-notch and well-trained, but I don’t like authority figures lording their views over others because of their position rather than because of their knowledge or the strength of their argument.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was once booked for a storytelling performance of original and adapted stories at a synagogue for an evening program during Hanukkah for adults. I asked several times if there would be children present, because the program, w included an adaptation of Gimpel the Fool, the I.B. Singer classic about a man who is repeatedly cuckolded while he explains his harsh reality away. I was assured no kids would be present. Once I arrived, I discovered that the performance would not be in the auditorium but in the synagogue sanctuary itself, and of course, there was a seven-year-old child sitting with his father in the first row. I told them it was not appropriate but they said, don’t worry, go ahead. After I was introduced by the president and the rabbi, they startled me by taking their places behind me on the bima — the sanctuary stage — where they would ordinarily sit for Shabbat morning services — one on the left side, one on the right — instead of going down to join the audience. So the audience was looking at all three of us throughout the show. To make matters worse, both of them kept up a running commentary out loud. Gimpel the Fool was the finale, and up until then, it had been going well. I think the story went over the kid’s head but the blood slowly drained from the father’s face. The rabbi loved Gimpel the Fool and let out a few guffaws, calling out, “This is brilliant!” and “Hilarious!” Apparently the president had never read Gimpel the Fool and his comments escalated from, “What did he say?” to “I don’t believe it!” to “This is an outrage!” I felt like a cartoon character with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, whispering into my ear. The audience seemed to side with the rabbi, except for the miserable man with his young son. Afterwards, the rabbi came over to congratulate me for an outstanding performance while the president told me he’d make sure I never worked again. The truth is, I felt terribly guilty for ruining that poor father’s Hanukkah and for making the president so angry. I learned that I’d better be prepared with a Plan B and had better check with people booking me fifty times to make sure we were on the same page.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

At its heart, Adam Unrehearsed is a story about friendships falling apart and new friendships appearing from unexpected places. It’s about kids and mentors, about theatre and the love of performing. And it also has a grander perspective. The period I’m writing about, the early 1970s, was a time of great optimism — civil rights were advancing, we’d just landed on the moon — but also tremendous social discord over Vietnam, racism and political assassinations. It was also a seminal moment in the American Jewish experience. My generation was probably the first to feel completely at home in America, fully accepted, taking both our American and our Jewish identities for granted. I hope my novel will explain the hopes and insecurities that American Jews were feeling 50 years ago, their longing to fit and stand out, their deep desire for connection and partnership with the African-American community. Adam, the main character, feels blind-sided when he encounters anti-Semitism for the first time, and while the circumstances are different, American Jews today are feeling blind-sided by the outpouring of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the past few months and anti-Semitic violence over the past 5–6 years. I hope the novel will stir some discussion of these issues, trace back some of these issues to their origins half a century ago, and help us keep perspective. Of course, I also hope readers will fall in love with Adam Miller’s unrehearsed adventures.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

In one section of the novel, Adam and his friend Suvan are performing a play they’ve staged in their junior high school Drama Class in Flushing, Queens for several other classes and parents. One of the performances is for students who are being bussed in daily from a very low-income neighborhood in the Bronx, dismissed in the school as chronic underachievers. A teacher warns the boys that “those ghetto kids will eat you for lunch.” Adam and Suvan are terrified that the audience will turn on them. Spoiler Alert! This turns out to be the most responsive and attentive audience of all, which makes Adam reconsider many of his preconceptions.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

As it happened, the year before I became a bar mitzvah had been especially challenging, and some of the incidents in the novel happened to me, if not always precisely as described. I’ve been living in Israel since 1994, so all three of my kids, who are now in their 20s, were born and raised in a very different society. When my twin sons were approaching their own double bar mitzvah, it got me thinking about how different our lives were and the very different dangers we’d experienced. In Israel, my kids have already lived through threats of chemical warfare and lethal terrorist attacks within two blocks of our apartment and rocket attacks on the day I’m writing this. When things are calm, as they had been for several years when my sons were turning 13, it felt safer for kids to be out and about on their own than it had been for me as a kid taking the subway in New York. So I wanted to let my kids have a sense of what my adolescence felt like. While writing the novel, I also realized how rarely the Jewish world I grew up in was portrayed in a positive light in fiction. I went to public school, had an ethnically mixed group of friends, which seemed utterly natural, but I also had a second, private or secret world — Hebrew School, Jewish summer camp, conservative synagogue which played a formative role in my life. Finally, my protagonist, Adam Miller discovers a new infatuation with acting and theater — I’ve worked as professional actor — and once I mixed that into the plot, the story took off.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Israel is going through one of the most traumatic and painful periods in its history, so I was glad to hear from some of my friends that my novel provided some relief, a distraction from the depressing news. The organization I direct, the Israel Center for Educational Innovation, runs an annual Young Writers Competition for 3rd-6th graders. One boy wrote a story about having COVID and being in “isolation” in his bedroom. One night he heard a tapping on the wall and recognized that it was in Morse code. He tapped back and discovered there was another kid in COVID isolation in the next apartment on the other side of the wall. They became Morse code friends during their COVID isolation. Another girl wrote about her older sister, who is hearing-impaired, and who was an expert lip-reader. But during COVID, everyone wore masks and she wasn’t able to interpret what people were saying to her. The story concludes when her father, recognizing her social isolation, brings her sister a puppy. I think writing these stories helped these children process what they went through. They certainly helped the teachers who read them.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Be more honest and authentic. Face problems before they fester into incurable wounds. Recognize the humanity in other people, even those who are your opponents. Do not be seduced by ideology into committing unforgivable acts. Read lots of fiction and go to plays — they not only provide boundless pleasure — they also foster empathy. And at least one of them is relatively inexpensive.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leaders have to have vision. Leaders have to figure out what needs to be done, identify what the obstacles are to achieving that vision, and figure out how to overcome them. Leaders have to be decisive. And to know what they don’t know. When I founded the Israel Center for Educational Innovation (ICEI), we were trying to prove that kids in low-income communities — including some of Israel’s most disenfranchised populations — schools with concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants, low income Arab villages — could reach the same levels of academic achievement as middle class and upper class kids. We had to overcome very low expectations of what the kids were capable of from the teachers, principals and educational administrators–even those, and sometimes, especially those, who believed they had the best intentions — but also from the parents and kids themselves. We also imported some ideas from successful turnaround efforts in the U.S. –a huge emphasis on reading and writing — a full-time Literacy Coach — in-class libraries — a data tracking system — Parent Coordinators — and every innovation initially met the same form of resistance — “It won’t work here!” until we proved that it would. We brought in the main components all at once but the other pieces over time, to avoid organizing too much opposition. I was no expert in elementary education so I found people with a great track record of improving failing schools — the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) in New York — who helped us find our way.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

About writing. Tell a story and you’ll find your voice. I started writing seriously in college, while I was reading some of the finest literature ever written; Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Ford Maddox Ford, Flannery O’Connor. My teachers harped on about the writer’s “voice.” So we all got busy affecting unique and original “voices.” Virginia Woolf took over everything I tried to put on the page, but instead of the sense of experiencing someone else’s consciousness at just that critical moment when a character’s life was undergoing a subtle but irreversible transformation — that’s what I got from reading To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway — I wrote detailed descriptions of routine incidents slowed down to the pace of drying paint, which only trumpeted their banality. I loved Woolf’s writing but I didn’t feel the world the way she did and I couldn’t write like that. Reading Philip Roth was liberating — he was funny, biting, neurotic, Jewish, judgmental — but his voice was obsessive and relentless and ultimately so angry, I had to get him out of my head too before I could get anywhere with my own writing.

Play to your strengths. I was always funny, and funny is good. Richard Russo, one of my favorite writers, explained that comic writers aren’t trying to be funny, they just experience life as essentially comic, and yes, of course, also as essentially tragic, but, excepting indisputably tragic events, that’s also funny if you think about it. A.B. Yehoshua, Alan Ayckbourn, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nick Hornby, Lorrie Moore, Tom Stoppard, Ivan Turgenev and Richard Russo all have brilliant comic minds. Their characters behave in ridiculous and self-destructive ways, but also remain extremely endearing. Very different writers. Very different voices. But there’s something essential in common. And funny and clever aren’t the same thing.

Writing is rewriting, so don’t hoard your words like gold. Write too much instead of trying to make every sentence perfect. The scene you adore today, the phrase you’ve fallen in love with, the character you find magical, might get cut in a later draft if it no longer serves its purpose.

Plan to take several cracks at whatever you’re writing. If you get stuck, move on, and come back later. I rarely can solve the NY Times Spelling Bee in one sitting, but if I come back to the puzzle later in the day, I almost always reach Genius. My mind has time to reorganize the information and starts seeing patterns I didn’t notice the first time. Same thing with writing. I write better when I take several cracks at the same project. Sometimes, it all spills out, and I get fantastic raw material, but I refine it when I rework it, and I get new ideas, and new perspectives.

Don’t postpone living in order to have more time to write. I’ve been the most productive when I’ve been the busiest. When I was young, I cleared out weeks and months to write, and wound up filling up my days with errands because I had so much free time, producing almost nothing. I would have been much better off throwing myself into ten different projects, trying on jobs or professions, squeezing the errands into those brief empty spaces between engagements on the way to work or the way back from wherever — the spaces in the day that errands are meant to fill — and putting in a few hours at writing as regularly as possible. Now I’m older and disciplined enough that I can be productive if I have plenty of time, or only two hours free.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good. I learned this from my teacher and mentor in the social change world, Mary Ann Stein, a fearless and generous philanthropist who would visit human rights activists in the most dangerous spots on earth to show them they weren’t alone. She was an all-around great lady who passed away this year in 2023. She taught me that when working with people, things will never be perfect, and that sometimes, we have to consciously make compromises in order to get things done. And doing a very good job is usually, almost always, good enough. Since I’m by nature a perfectionist, this was a crucial adjustment to make, especially when I started managing a growing staff and discovered that none of them were perfect — and obviously, neither was I — but they all had a great deal to contribute. The trick is choosing when to make a stand. Surprisingly, this also applies to writing fiction. On the one hand, I revise and revise, trying to get the language or the image just right, attempting to achieve a certain effect I’m striving for, for example, without sounding distractingly clever or precious. And the writing does get better, more specific, more original, as I rework it, so in a sense I am aiming to reach perfection. On the other hand, if I don’t let go at some point, and if I’m not willing to make cuts, even of some of my favorite lines, characters or scenes, I’d never finish anything, and certainly not a novel, which is far more of a marathon than a sprint.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Richard Russo, Lorrie Moore, Tom Friedman, Tom Stoppard, James Graham, Alan Ayckbourn, Nick Hornby. They are all among my favorite writers, and I would love to talk to them.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can go to my website — — where they can find links connected to my novel, Adam Unrehearsed, including multiple podcast interviews, and a piece about the perfect hot dog. They can also go to Futterman’s One-Man Show, my performance podcast of comic and moving autobiographical monologues, or they can to The Promised Podcast, a weekly review of politics and society in Israel with millions of downloads, where I have been a co-host for 13 years.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!



Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator