Ya know when you put it out there that you want to get in touch with someone famous and then they come to you? I didn’t used to either. But then, several years ago, I met Mayim Bialik like that. A few weeks ago it happened again – this time with the former head of Facebook marketing, Randi Zuckerberg. I had read that Randi (a Zuckerberg from Facebook I had not yet known existed) recently wrote the book “Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives” in which she promotes digital Sabbath and other online etiquette, and I was so excited to see a Jewish person with a sizable following advocating for a traditional Jewish value. (Randi wrote a second book called “Dot” which is meant for kids and is fun, beautifully illustrated, and gave me a perfect excuse to have a discussion with my children about how much “screen time” we should have each day.)
I posted the article about Randi’s book on Facebook with a note that Randi was invited to us for Shabbos whenever she wanted. Then a couple weeks later, I was contacted by her marketing people to set up an interview about her new book. A few weeks after that, I was suddenly Skyping with the lovely Ms. Zuckerberg herself. (Who should I wish to meet next?!!)
Randi is super sweet and has a very similar background to mine: we both grew up in close-knit, secular Jewish families in the suburbs of Manhattan (she on the Westchester side, me on the Jersey side), we both have doctors for parents (her two, me one), both went to prep school where we were drawn to music and drama. Randi and I got to chat a bit about Jew in the City’s mission and how we’re using social media to show a side of the Orthodox world the traditional media rarely shows. (In her book she talks of all the positive ways social media is being used. I was interested to see if she had written of anyone else using it to break down stereotypes of a misunderstood group – she didn’t.)
We also spoke about Randi’s Jewish background and identity and how that has influenced her opinions on technology. I asked what her Judaism was like growing up. She said that she was your “average New York Jew” which she described as more “culturally Jewish” than “religiously Jewish” (Hebrew school, bat mitzvah, major holidays, but not much else). However, her husband was “raised Modern Orthodox in South Africa” which she clarified means he went to a Modern Orthodox shul, had Shabbos meals, and a kosher home.
When Randi and Brent (that’s her hubby) started dating after college, it reintroduced Judaism in her life. It had been slipping away up until that point as she was questioning her own Jewish identity, but being with Brent brought Judaism back to the forefront for her. But there were still many practical differences in how they lived as Jews, for instance he kept kosher, she did not. As they got more serious and eventually got married, they handled their different levels of Jewish observance by each doing their own thing and happily co-existing.
However, that all changed a couple years ago when their son Asher was born. I was so excited to see that Randi had given her son a beautiful Jewish name. I was curious where the motivation for it came from. She mentions in the book that some parents choose children’s names for their Googleability which she thinks has some merit, but should be done within reason. I jokingly asked if Asher was a good name for search engines or if there was another reason for it. She explained that her husband felt very strongly that they should give their child a Jewish or Biblical name and they just loved the name “Asher” (he is not named for a deceased relative as thankfully all of his great-grandparents are alive).
Once Asher came onto the scene, Randi and Brent realized that they would need to raise him with a unified Jewish message, so they thought a lot about what that would look like. They decided to send him to a Jewish pre-school (he apparently gets very excited about the holidays because of it!), have weekly Shabbat dinners (candles, kiddush, hamotzi) and do havdallah every week. But do they unplug, I wondered? And if so, how often and for how long? Randi said they’re up to four to six hours of unplugging every Shabbos at this point and by the end of next year year their plan is to be unplugged for the whole shebang. (I wanted to hit the “Love” button when Randi told me that, but a) we were on Skype, not Facebook and b) even if we had been on Facebook there IS no “Love” button, so that was a ridiculous thing to want to do!)
Randi cites some pretty scary statistics throughout the book which gave me a big wake up call about my own social media usage (90% of people are within three feet of their device 24 hours a day, 52% of people wake up in the middle of the night just to check their device). The book is also full of lots of sound advice on how to navigate the world of social media. I couldn’t help but notice that so much of her online philosophy sounded like Torah wisdom and was based in a “love your neighbor as yourself” mentality. Was it on purpose I wondered.
Randi said “no,” but she and Brent have recently enrolled in a Jewish parenting and values class and she too has noticed how much of her outlook is steeped in Jewish tradition. The internet, she explains in the book, is neither good nor bad – it’s how we use it that matters. Also a very Jewish idea that most things have the potential for good or bad and it’s up to us to use them correctly. Randi thought that maybe she had picked up more in Hebrew school than she had realized.
My one last question for Randi was about sibling rivalry. We see it throughout the Torah and the world in general. How, I wanted to know, was Randi able to handle to be able to work for her younger brother Mark? She’s clearly talented and accomplished in her own right, but not many people would have what it takes to do that. Randi thought for a moment, then had two answers – number one, they were never competitive as kids because they were always into different things. She said that if she had ALSO liked engineering that might have been harder. (Parents, take note – it may be best to have your kids pursuing different hobbies.) The second thing she said is that while it was hard on some level, she realized that it would really be a shame if she couldn’t get past a sibling hang up, and put some of her discomfort aside, because she could tell even back then that Facebook was going to be huge.