Michal Oshman appeared to be a woman who had everything and feared nothing. As a London-based senior leadership and development executive at some of the world’s leading social media companies, the Tel Aviv-born, happily married mother of four, says she did have everything—except happiness and peace of mind.

Suffering daily from debilitating anxiety, Oshman tried everything to feel better about herself, including years of psychotherapy, yoga, meditation, physical training, anti-aging treatments—you name it, she tried it.

But nothing worked until she was gently encouraged in 2013 to take a class in Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad Chassidic philosophy by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. At the same time, she began to study the teachings, advice and example of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Her ongoing studies showed her how to live a purposeful joyous Jewish life, and enabled her to write a best-selling book of her own in 2021, What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?”

A Hebrew-language version was published in Israel by Yediot Achronot just a few weeks before Oct. 7. Oshman—a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces—says one of her main goals in life now is to share her Jewish journey and perspective with secular Israeli audiences, looking at ways of incorporating spiritual and practical Chassidic ideas to family, career and community life.

“I think about the friends who served with me in the army. I want everyone in my unit to read it,” Oshman tells Chabad.org. “I also want to share what I have learned with my friends who I grew up with in the very secular environment of Tel Aviv.” Mindful of all the internal conflicts that were taking place in Israel before Oct. 7, and everything that has been happening since then, “I want to give these women the opportunity to grow through a book inspired by the Tanya and the teachings of the Rebbe,” she says.

She has just shared her experiences with a much larger audience as well. On Sunday evening, Feb. 4, Oshman spoke of her transformative Jewish journey with more than 4,000 women and guests from around the world at the gala banquet of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchos). Her address was broadcast to hundreds of thousands more who tuned in worldwide to the webcast on Chabad.org, where it remains available for viewing after the banquet as well.

Her Journey Began With Death and Loss

Oshman attributes many of her fears to a childhood permeated by death and loss. She was raised in an affluent Tel Aviv family with a “strong, natural” Jewish identity, but little talk of G‑d, Torah or mitzvahs. Her father was a noted forensic pathologist who was frequently occupied with the tragic consequences of crime, war and terrorism. Her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor living nearby in Ramat Gan who lived in constant fear that the Nazis would return to get her. Oshman herself had a recurring nightmare lasting into her teens that the Nazis were flying to her house on an eagle and carrying her off to Germany.

Her fears followed her into college, the IDF, and a successful career and marriage. In 2013, at the age of 38, Oshman was living in North London when one Shabbat morning she saw a Jewish family going to synagogue. “Their peace and tranquility impressed me,” she says. Soon after, she hit an emotional bottom and was searching on Google for articles on “Depression, Anxiety and Fear,” and added “Joy and Judaism.” She found an entry on fellow Londoner and Chassidic scholar, Dr. Kate Loewenthal, who was a Professor of Psychology at the University of London studying the relationship between anxiety, depression and faith. Oshman reached out to her.

The women discovered they lived only 30 minutes away, and Lowenthal insisted that they meet for coffee. Oshman confided her struggle with anxiety, and Loewenthal told her of an encounter she had once had with the Rebbe.

Lowenthal told Oshman that decades earlier she was having a great deal of success in her academic career, but wanted to focus instead on her growing family. She traveled to New York to ask the Rebbe for a blessing to give up her academic career in psychology, so she could devote herself to having and raising more children. The Rebbe’s response was a suggestion that she could do both.

“Although we had different dilemmas, the way forward was suddenly clear,” says Oshman. “Lowenthal had a conflict, I had despair. And there was this wisdom that would enable us to find something in ourselves that we had yet to discover.”

By the end of their coffee together, Loewenthal gently persuaded Oshman to attend a class on a book that would change her life.

The book was the Tanya, the seminal work of Chabad Chassidic philosophy by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. The rabbi teaching the class, Rabbi Mendel Gordon, talked about the neshama, the soul, and pain and sadness. “His words resonated with me, and I started to cry,” says Oshman. “He was affirming the fact that I had a soul. It’s something I always had felt, but was taught as a child that it wasn’t true.”

Oshman says that the teachings of the Rebbe have gradually enriched her own life in many ways. “I first learned about the Rebbe through stories that people would tell me about him. At the time, I had no connection with Judaism and didn’t even know that there was anything called Chassidut, Jewish spirituality or Jewish psychology.”

Oshman says she was particularly impressed by the Rebbe’s teachings on the “critical role women play in every area of life.” She says the Rebbe’s vision is “empowering and strengthening for all women.” She was amazed at how the Rebbe could “take a spiritual, sacred and holy idea from the Torah and bring it down to the day-to-day practice in the life of someone like me without diminishing its holiness and depth.”

Early on, a number of women encouraged her to visit the Ohel, the Rebbe’s resting place in Queens, N.Y., and she describes her first visit as “one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had.

“At that time, I was pretty clueless. I didn’t know what to expect.” When she arrived, she felt that she was not properly dressed, but she saw that “no one cared because no one there was judging anyone.”

Soon after arriving, an idea came into her head. “I started thinking about keeping Shabbat.”

“Never in my life did I see my mother lighting candles. My father never made kiddush, except for Passover. Plus, I was already married for many years and had three children at the time, and had no idea how I could do it.”

It’s customary at the Ohel to write a letter for blessings from on high. “My biggest request was for help keeping Shabbat,” says Oshman. “I was, like, give me the ability, the faith, the belief in myself to start keeping Shabbat.”

By the time she left the Ohel, “I realized that I could navigate this—and it happened.”

“It was a very early visit in my Jewish journey,” says Oshman. “It was a very meaningful experience,” but, she says, it was also a gradual one.

“When trying to light Shabbat candles for the first time, I was disappointed that it didn’t feel more special, but feelings don’t just happen. I eventually connected with Shabbat candles after I learned in Chassidut about the meaning of candles and light. The point is that you have to roll up your sleeves and whatever you decide to do you have to do consistently.”

Moving forward, Oshman hopes she can make a real difference in the lives of people, especially those who seem to have everything on the outside, but are yearning for a life of greater depth and meaning.

Since publishing her book, she has been touring the world, sharing her personal experiences of being a proud Jewish woman at leading companies like TikTok and Meta.

“Anyone can learn to incorporate Chassidic ideas in their family, career and community life,” says Oshman. How they do it is up to the individual—whether it’s learning Tanya, studying Rebbe’s Torah teachings and the advice he has given through letters and personal encounters, reading books about his life and wisdom, visiting the Ohel, or sending letters to the Ohel for blessings from on high.

“Everyone is wired in a different way, so learn however you like. I stay up until the middle of the night with books, other people learn online with Chabad.org. For others, in person classes are best.”

But what’s most important, she says, is to connect and share what you have with others.

“At the beginning of this journey, I emailed Dr. Kate Lowenthal out of the blue,” said Oshman. “She responded immediately. ‘I want to meet you,’ she said, and we met for coffee, which led to one Tanya class, which led to my writing What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

“Thanks to Kate Lowenthal’s effort to connect with another Jewish woman, here I am talking about that book to thousands of Jewish women.”