Meet the Tik Tok exec spreading Jewish values

(Photo: Galia Verthime Sherf)

Meet the Tik Tok exec spreading Jewish values

She’s a bestselling author and speaker, Tik Tok’s global head of culture, a wife and mother of four, and the first thing that comes out of her mouth in the morning is “Modeh Ani.”

Michal Oshman has little time to spare, but reciting the Jewish thankfulness prayer as soon as she wakes up is something she never skips. In fact, it’s spiritual Jewish practices like this that Oshman leans on to ground her within the business of life, she said.

“There is this beautiful Jewish wisdom that helps me to help myself, it’s brilliant,” Oshman told me in an interview from London, where she lives with her husband Yair and four children.

(Photo: Galia Verthime Sherf)

Until only seven years ago, Oshman, who was born and raised as a secular Jew in Israel, felt as if she had lived much of her life crippled by fear and anxiety. 

“I had so much to celebrate, but I felt empty,” she explained. “I was about the same age as my grandmother Chana, who saved herself from Auschwitz by jumping off the train and I felt so guilty for feeling unhappy when she had been so brave.”

It was in her late 30s that Oshman began a life-altering spiritual and religious journey.

“I discovered that there is a spiritual Jewish wisdom and it helped heal my mental health issues like depression, anxiety, impostor syndrome, comparison, perfectionism and self-obsession.”

In the Spring of 2021, Oshman published a book titled “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?: Discover a Life Filled with Purpose and Joy Through the Secrets of Jewish Wisdom” chronicling her upbringing as the daughter of Yehuda Hiss, Israel’s former chief pathologist and her journey to self-healing through Jewish wisdom. 

Each chapter is focused on a different concept in Jewish thought— take Chapter 2 titled “Neshama: Finding Your Flame”— followed by practical coaching questions to apply the concepts to the reader’s life. (Neshama is the Jewish concept of soul.)

Her belief is that Jewish wisdom is as relevant today as it was 3000 years ago. When applied to our contemporary problems, Oshman emphasized, the age-old philosophies can be deeply life changing.

“People have always suffered from fear, anxiety, jealousy, anger… Those are not new modern experiences, and Judaism has answers for exactly that,” she said.

Take perfectionism, for example. According to Jewish wisdom, Oshman explained, “we were created to be human, to make mistakes, to get things wrong, and then to learn from our mistakes and course correct.”

That’s what the upcoming holiday of Yom Kippur– the Jewish day of atonement– is all about, she added. 

“It’s not a scary, negative day but rather an invitation for reflection, self help and growing.”

The journey to spirituality 

Oshman’s life looks very different than it did 10 years ago, but her “Jewish journey” was a slow process, she explained. Especially since she had to ensure she and her husband were on the same page.

(Photo: Galia Verthime Sherf)

“My husband didn’t marry a Shabbat-observant woman— in fact, we met at a very non-Kosher restaurant,” Oshman told me with a laugh. “But we deeply value being curious about what the other person cares about.”

Shalom Bayit, literally “peace in the home” is the most important thing, Oshman said. “If it’s not bringing peace, you’re not bringing it the right way.”

One of the family’s first forays into spirituality was observing Shabbat. 

“For us, it started with lighting candles on Friday night and sitting together to eat without our phones,” she explained. “Then we introduced one hour of Shabbat, and another… we phased it out for a very long time.”

Shabbat has since taken on a very special meaning for Oshman.

“Can you believe this wisdom, designed thousands of years ago, introduced 25 hours of ‘off?’” she explained, noting that shutting off technology for even a few hours is largely unheard of in the modern world. 

“How relevant is this thing that my grandmother did and her grandmother did, to today? We’re all part of this chain. I feel so special to play my part.”

Jewish values in the corporate world

Oshman grew up in Tel Aviv and moved to London with her husband as newlyweds. After a series of business and tech jobs, she joined Facebook’s leadership and development team nine years ago. Her book is inspired by a poster she came across on her first day at the company which asked: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

She cites Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president of the Facebook (now Meta) global business group, as one of her biggest influences— and part of the reason she wanted to join Facebook.

“Nicola did an interview in the British Press about nine years ago where she spoke about her four children, the importance of Judaism and the centrality of Shabbat in her life. She showed me that it was doable.”

Today, Oshman’s secret to maintaining an equally full professional and personal life isn’t balance, it’s what she calls integration. It’s about bringing your full self to work, and for Oshman, that includes her Jewish values.

“You have to choose the company that will respect you, whatever you believe in, however you identify. I made a mistake at least once in my career, and probably more than that, to choose a workplace that sounded impressive but was not welcoming and did not give me a sense of belonging,” she said. 

Finding community and facing antisemitism

Oshman recalled multiple instances of antisemitism and prejudice she experienced in London. 

Once, it was a comment about her “Jewish nose” from one of her direct reports. Another time, she returned from a lunch break to find an anti-Israel article was left on her desk. At the beginning of her career, she was told her curls were unprofessional and that she should straighten them if she wants to be taken seriously.

“Those moments were frustrating, but this is when you need to know who you are and learn to feel comfortable in your skin,” she said. 

Facing antisemitism can feel incredibly isolating and lonely, Oshman added, which is why it’s essential to find community.

“It’s so powerful and helpful to deal with these things together rather than by yourself.” 

Can you have it all?

Her advice for young people hoping to break into the tech world is to look beyond job titles and compensation. 

“Consider if this space is one that you can be yourself. Will this space be curious about you and welcome you the way you are?” 

Oshman insisted that you don’t need to choose between faith, family and career. You can have it all, she said, but you need to be thoughtful about your boundaries.

“You could say I missed a few big company moments because I was observing a Jewish holiday, and it didn’t feel nice. But did any of those ever hinder my career progression? I don’t think so.”

Oshman chooses to lead her life with Emuna, faith in Hebrew. That is, a general belief that everything will work out. 

“My husband is in banking and for him seven years ago, even the thought of keeping Shabbat would have sounded like the craziest thing on earth. But, he has never ever lost a deal, client engagement or any negotiation because he closed the phone on Shabbat. These boundaries are so healthy.”

An invitation: Return to yourself 

With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur around the corner, she hopes her book can help readers spiritually prepare.

“You can’t expect to appear in shul (synagogue) on Rosh Hashanah and have a sudden blast of spirituality. If you want to feel something, you have to prepare,” she said.

This time of the year is an opportunity to participate in Teshuva (the Jewish concept of forgiveness) which literally means repentance or return in Hebrew.

“It is about returning to God, to yourself, to the essence of who you really are, and rediscovering your true essence,” Oshman said, quoting her book.

In the spirit of the High Holidays, these are some reflection questions she recommends asking yourself: 

Are you where you’re supposed to be— or are you a bit lost? 

What do you love about yourself? 

What do you want to maintain? 

What do you want to do more of? 

What’s not working? 

What behavior can be changed? 

How can you course-correct?

As we celebrate the birthday of the world, Oshman cites the Baal Shem Tov in one of her favorite sayings: 

“The day you were born was the day that the world was missing you.”

“Remember, we’re all on missions here…” she added. “Mine is to share with the world that there is a Jewish universal wisdom. What is yours?”

For more from Michal Oshman, follow her on Instagram, Tik Tok and read her book “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?: Discover a Life Filled with Purpose and Joy Through the Secrets of Jewish Wisdom