2018-06-06 / Home

Event for Women keynoter Randi Zuckerberg inspires with her story

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff


Over 200 women attended The Jewish Federation’s annual Event for Women on May 23. The evening honored women and the driving force of positive change they make in the Jewish Federation, locally, and around the world. Special guest speaker Randi Zuckerberg inspired the room to a standing ovation as she spoke about her Jewish journey, motherhood, and being one of too few women in the tech industry. Greeting Zuckerberg (center) were Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, Jewish Federation CEO; and Glenn Fuhrman, Jewish Federation president. Over 200 women attended The Jewish Federation’s annual Event for Women on May 23. The evening honored women and the driving force of positive change they make in the Jewish Federation, locally, and around the world. Special guest speaker Randi Zuckerberg inspired the room to a standing ovation as she spoke about her Jewish journey, motherhood, and being one of too few women in the tech industry. Greeting Zuckerberg (center) were Jennifer Dubrow Weiss, Jewish Federation CEO; and Glenn Fuhrman, Jewish Federation president. Prior to the Jewish Federation’s Event for Women, it’s fair to say that few of the women attending the gala knew much about Randi Zuckerberg’s considerable accomplishments and talents.

So the charismatic New Yorker, who is admittedly used to being referred to as “Mark’s sister,” wasted no time enlightening her audience at the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey event at Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill.


Enjoying the Event for Women were Jill Hammel (left) and Debbie Ravitz. Enjoying the Event for Women were Jill Hammel (left) and Debbie Ravitz. “I know many of you are familiar with someone else with the last name Zuckerberg and I don’t want you to think you got sloppy seconds here tonight, so I’d like to tell you a little about my story,” she started.

A best-selling author, tech entrepreneur and investor who is often the only woman at the table, she has complicated notions about the digital divide and tech’s promises and failings. As a wife and mother of young boys whose “Jewish journey is just beginning,” she espouses “unplugging” during Shabbat.

Zuckerberg acknowledged that hitching her wagon to her younger brother’s techie startup launched her career. But that was never the dream.

“What most people don’t know about me is my dream in life wasn’t to go pioneer social media, because it wasn’t a thing that existed,” she said. “No, I wanted to sing on Broadway.”


Sharing a moment at the Event for Women were Marsha (left) and Jamie Dollinger. Sharing a moment at the Event for Women were Marsha (left) and Jamie Dollinger. “The summer right before Harvard, I had a talk with the cantor at my synagogue,” she continued. “She said, ‘Randi, you love to sing and you love to be in charge of things; you should be a cantor.’ I had my whole life planned out—and then I was flat out rejected.”

To her dismay, Zuckerberg was turned down from Harvard’s school of music. The rejection came following an audition during the first week of classes in her freshman year. It was one of many failures that stung at the time but turned out to be a gift, she said. Forced to refocus, she discovered her love of marketing and business.


The Lions of Judah and Randi Zuckerberg (front row, third from right) at a special meet-and-greet. The Lions of Judah and Randi Zuckerberg (front row, third from right) at a special meet-and-greet. After graduation, she landed a job at a large advertising agency in New York City. Again, she faced disappointment as the only new recruit assigned to the brand new interactive and digital marketing team. Her 39 cohorts, she noted, landed glamorous assignments on television sets, working with celebrities and movie stars. But while they were still taking latte orders two years later, Zuckerberg, at age 24, was running a whole team within the agency.

Still, she had no intentions of leaving NYC in 2004 when Mark bought her a plane ticket to Northern California to check out “The Facebook.”

“I so wish I could stand in front of all of you tonight and say that the reason I got on the plane was because I had the foresight to know this was going to be this $100-billion company, and that’s why I went,” Zuckerberg said. “No, the real reason was he said he would buy me a Jet Blue ticket to California.”

“I would obviously never work for my little brother’s stupid company,” she added.

But all it took was one weekend to convince her otherwise.

“It was incredible what I found there,” Zuckerberg said. “There was this passion for building and entrepreneurship I had never seen in my life. These guys, in the middle of night, truly believed they were changing the world.”

Zuckerberg signed on as a marketing manager when it had only 12 employees. In the male, engineer dominated offices (first above a Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto, later at a huge complex in Menlo Park) she pioneered and oversaw ambitious projects involving media and politics, including Facebook Live. Admittedly, that one had a rough start as none of the engineers deemed it worthy of development. Nonetheless, she decided to go rogue with her vision, crudely launching “Facebook Live with Randi Zuckerberg” on her own. But the launch was underwhelming to say the least, as only two people—her parents—joined the live stream, she said.

She chalked it up as a learning experience and was ready to move on. That is, until three weeks later, when she got a call out of the blue from Katy Perry’s handlers inquiring about having the pop star announce her world tour on Facebook Live.

“What should have come up out of my mouth was ‘sorry, that’s not a real television show. You should go somewhere where there are viewers,’” she recalled. But then a voice in her head told her “‘men don’t apologize for having a good idea.’ No, they would want to meet Katy Perry and just make it happen,” she said.

So instead, Zuckerberg told Perry’s handlers it was a great idea—without having any clue how she would manage it technically.

“Luckily, a lot of engineers wanted to meet Katy Perry, so they built it,” she said.

Millions tuned in and Facebook Live went legit. In 2009, the company teemed with CNN to stream President Obama’s inauguration on Facebook Live. She was nominated for an Emmy for the “Vote 2010” series on ABC News, which allowed users to watch mid-term election coverage on Facebook.

Around the same time, Zuckerberg was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as a Facebook correspondent when Israeli President Shimon Peres invited her to sing at Israel’s official Shabbat dinner.

The inner cantor in her resurfaced and belted out “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” before a room full of dignitaries, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Without realizing it, she had taken a very public stance on Israel, and there was backlash. While personally it was one of the most incredible moments of her life, mentors she trusted told her she had sabotaged her career.

Still smarting from the criticism a year later, when she was asked to sing during the next year’s Shabbat, she declined.

“It’s so embarrassing to say that in this room in front of so many women who are so accomplished,” she said. “I always thought in that position I’d be the women who finds my voice and stands up to the man and I didn’t.”

She said the episode brought on soul searching about her role as a Jewish woman as well as a woman in technology.

Tired of being the only woman in every room for 10 years, Zuckerberg left Facebook in 2011 to start her own media company back in NYC, Zuckerberg Media.

In 2014, she finally got her chance to sing on Broadway as a cast member of the musical “Rock of Ages.” At TBS, she ended her speech by singing about technology to a tune from “Frozen.”

Valerie Linden, who was a member of the Event for Women committee, said Zuckerberg’s keynote surpassed all expectations. She noted it was the perfect message for these times. 

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