Portrait of an Internet Strategist: Randi Jayne Zuckerberg

For a time, Randi Jayne Zuckerberg was convinced that she was destined for cantorial school. But that was before her brother Mark created the biggest social networking application on the face of the planet. Now Randi is the Director of Market Development at Facebook, and the 2003 Harvard graduate is using the opportunity to reconnect with her musical aspirations in an interface that can only be described as “Career 2.0.” Randi spoke with PresenTense’s Adam Finkel candidly about her passion for music, family and Jewish life. And of course, “the F-word.”

With a name like Zuckerberg, I’m gonna guess: you’re Jewish, yes?

My parents always emphasized the importance of culture and tradition and we always celebrated the holidays in our home growing up. My parents also embodied Jewish culture and tradition in many of their values. Education was always the number one priority and our parents definitely instilled in us the drive to achieve as much as we could.

Clearly they succeeded. You also got a lot of musical support from your connections to family and to Jewish life.

I’ve always loved to sing, act, and pursue anything creative and musical...and right before I went to college, I started to think a lot about how that could go hand in hand with my Jewish identity and upbringing. I had one of those “eureka” moments and decided that I really wanted to be a cantor! I took four semesters of intensive modern Hebrew, and started studying music theory and piano. My little sister had her bat mitzvah during my freshman year of college and our cantor at our synagogue couldn’t make it. She just said, “it’s ok. Randi will do it!” So I did. It was incredible—standing up there on the bimah and being involved in the bat mitzvah ceremony in such a deep and meaningful way. I think that is so much more rewarding than pursuing a career in music to be “famous.”

You first went to Israel for your sister’s bat mitzvah on Masada, and more recently you participated in birthright. What impact did those trips have on you?

We went to the Western Wall the first day we arrived and I remember feeling a little disappointed, like “that’s it?” However, after spending ten days touring and really absorbing everything, we returned to the Western Wall on our final night. I remember seeing it and crying and feeling so deeply moved by everything I had seen and experienced. It was probably the most powerful feeling I’ve ever had.

birthright was also a fantastic experience because I got to meet so many awesome people and share the experience with people my own age. It was even more meaningful because I was there with my boyfriend (now fiancé!). It was his first time going to Israel and I was so thankful to share that experience with him. It really helped bring us closer together and helped us understand how we want to integrate Judaism into our lives when we have a family. My final night on the trip, I got up in front of the group and sang “Yerushalayim shel zahav”—it was thundering and lightning out and everyone was crying. Because music is my life, being able to sing a song is one of the most personal gifts I can give someone. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that evening.

Will we someday be able to call you Cantor Zuckerberg?

I think that I’ve always kind of known in the back of my head that I’d use my twenties and early thirties to try a bunch of different things and hopefully start a family....and then, after I’ve gotten all of that out of my system...explore the cantorial school path again.

Speaking of family projects, we have to ask: how’s life at the ‘book? It seems like a dream come true.

The fun of joining a company really early is that you get to do so many roles and your job changes really often as the company grows. I started in marketing, moved to sales, and as of last fall, joined the business development team where I work on big partnerships with media companies. Right now I’m working with Comcast to produce an internet/television show called “Facebook Diaries” that will run on Facebook and Comcast on demand. I’m also very passionate about video production and online media, so in addition to my day job, I also do a lot of video production work for Facebook.

Last question—because our parents keep asking us: how is Facebook good for the Jews?

I think if something really important came up that required the Jewish community to rally together, Facebook would be a pretty incredible tool for helping that happen. Around Passover, I saw a Facebook event someone had created that said “Passover Seder—Hosted by God, it starts at sundown tomorrow night.” Tens of thousands of people had added the event to their profile. That was pretty neat. 

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