The corporate exec whose heart TikToks with Torah
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” On the first day of her then-new job at Facebook, this is what Michal Oshman encountered on a poster on the office wall.
“I knew it was a company mantra, but it felt like someone had left that sign there just for me,” said this former Israel Defense Forces officer during a webinar hosted by Chabad House’s Miracle Drive last week.
The question became a challenge that Oshman set herself, leading her down a path of connecting Chassidic Jewish wisdom with her high-powered corporate workplace culture and modern family life. She has now written a book exploring the union of these seemingly disparate realms.
“I began to think, wait, there is a life without fear? Is there is an option to wake up in the morning and expect goodness? Is it possible that I’m not going to check my children are breathing every three hours and that I [don’t have to feel that I can] never ever sleep from the day they were born?” asked the mother of four, who has suffered from anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder for most of her life.
“Yes, it’s possible,” she realised. However, “What it meant is that I had to stop putting myself in the centre; realising that there is a much bigger, greater world and a divine presence, much, much greater than us.”
Oshman who headed up international leadership and team development at Facebook, now works at TikTok Europe as head of company culture, diversity, and inclusion. Though she was born in Israel, in terms of religiosity, says the 45-year-old, “Judaism was just something that I had on my passport in Israel.”
However, during a “dark time” in her life a few years ago, she realised that she had hit rock bottom when she embarked on anti-aging treatments. “I have no issue with the treatments, but when you do anything too much, you question why are you doing it. I was trying to freeze my face because I was trying to freeze and control myself, but I didn’t understand myself.”
So one day, full of despair, she sat down and began googling “anxiety, fear joy and – for some reason – Judaism”. So began a period of intensive study and the slow introduction of Jewish practice into her and her family’s life. Oshman began to realise that long before modern psychology, Jewish wisdom already offered guidance. Facing reality through a spiritual lens also helped her understand that perfection is never the goal. “I realised that we are wired for hiccups and struggle. I realised that there’s nothing more complete than a broken heart.”
Far from being irreparably damaged by hurtful events, Oshman now sees that each experience is an opportunity for growth. “At some point, things will make sense and if they don’t make sense, we’re not there yet.” Rather than shying from difficulty, we need to “dig into tension”, she suggests.
She conceptualises challenges as a metaphorical Mitzrayim. “G-d can get us out of Egypt, but the question is, can we get Egypt out of ourselves? We need to tame our ego. It’s a big job, and that’s why we have a long life, please G-d, so that we can go on this journey.”
On her own journey to professional success, Oshman, who is based in the United Kingdom, says she has encountered some antisemitism. During one corporate presentation, a person came up to her and asked, “Hey, you’re Jewish right? I’ve never met anyone Jewish before, but I’ve heard of the Jewish nose and now I get it.” At another time, when Oshman was just starting her career, a recruitment agent told her she would have more success if she straightened her “Jewish curls”. Although at the time Oshman was crushed, she now realises just how far she has come in finding her sense of self.
When it comes to juggling family life and professional commitments, Oshman throws out the concept of work-life balance in favour of what she terms “work-life integration”.
“When I wake up in the morning, I ask myself – after saying Modeh Ani [the prayer upon wakening] – what am I here to do today? Sometimes I have something massive at work, and I will pivot to that thing because it’s important for my clients, my team, and for the business. And that day, I will see less of the kids. Some days, I wake up, and it’s the day that my son has his biggest football match. And my head is thinking only about being there on time, sending him something before to encourage him. That day, I’ll pay less attention to something else.”
When it comes to social-media usage and children, alongside the legal age stipulations set for certain platforms, Oshman encourages parents to establish their own rules and explore what their children are hoping to get out of social media. “Like anything and everything in life, our job is as parents is to help and teach our children how to deal with life – and yes, social media is part of life. So my role as a parent is about explaining what social media is: what’s a good use of it? What’s a bad use of it? As a parent, the values at home are very clear. The expectations are clear. The love is endless, but I also believe in healthy boundaries.”
Navigating all these facets of her life, Oshman says the message she most wishes to convey is for people to get hope from a sense of purpose. Purpose doesn’t need to be achieving high professional accolades, but also just being there for a loved one in a time of need, or being a loving mother or daughter.
Everyone should remember: “The day you were born is the day the world needed you,” she said.