“This intensity emerges during weekly strategy meetings, where he and Page — who share the title of Google president — command the last word on approving new products, reviewing new hires and funding long-term research.
Brin also holds sway over the unscientific but all-important realms of people, policy and politics.“
“Brin’s Jewish sensibility is, likewise, grounded in his family’s experience of life in the Soviet Union, and their eventual emigration to the United States. “I do somewhat feel like a minority,” he says. “Being Jewish, especially in Russia, is one aspect of that. Then, being an immigrant in the US. And then, since I was significantly ahead in maths in school, being the youngest one in a class. I never felt like a part of the majority. So I think that is part of the Jewish heritage in a way.”“
“As a young boy, though, he had only a vague awareness of why his family wanted to leave their native Russia. He picked up the ugly details of the antisemitism they faced bit by bit years later, he says. Nevertheless, he sensed, early on, all of the things that he wasn’t – he wasn’t Russian; he wasn’t welcome in his own country; he wasn’t going to get a fair shake in advancing through its schools. Further complicating his understanding of his Jewish identity was the fact that, under the atheist Soviet regime, there were few religious or cultural models of what being Jewish was. The negatives were all he had.“
“For many Soviet Jews, exit visas never came. But, in May 1979, the Brins were granted papers to leave the USSR. “We hoped it would happen,” Genia says, “but we were completely surprised by how quickly it did.” The timing was fortuitous – they were among the last Jews allowed to leave until the Gorbachev era. Sergey Brin, who turned six that summer, remembers what followed as simply unsettling” – literally so. “We were in different places from day to day,” he says. The journey was a blur. First Vienna, where the family was met by representatives of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped thousands of Eastern European Jews establish new lives in the West. Then, on to the suburbs of Paris, where Michael’s “unofficial” Jewish PhD adviser, Anatole Katok, had arranged a temporary research position for him.“
“One thing the Brins shared with thousands of other families emigrating to the West from the Soviet Union was the discovery that, suddenly, they were free to be Jews. “Russian Jews lacked the vocabulary to even articulate what they were feeling,” says Lenny Gusel, the founder of a San Francisco-based network of Russian-Jewish immigrants. “They were considered Jews back home. Here, they were considered Russians. Many longed just to assimilate as Americans.” Gusel’s group, which he calls the “79ers”, after the peak year of immigration in the 1970s, and its New York cousin, RJeneration, have attracted hundreds of 20- and 30-something immigrants who grapple with their Jewish identity. “Sergey is the absolute emblem of our group, the number one Russian-Jewish immigrant success story,” he says.
The Brins were no different from their fellow immigrants in that being Jewish was an ethnic, not a religious, experience. “We felt our Jewishness in different ways, not by keeping kosher or going to synagogue. It is genetic,” explains Sergey’s father Michael. “We were not very religious. My wife doesn’t eat on Yom Kippur; I do.” Genia interjects: “We always have a Passover dinner. We have a Seder. I have the recipe for gefilte fish from my grandmother.” Religious or not, on arriving in the suburbs of Washington, the Brins were adopted by a synagogue, Mishkan Torah of Greenbelt, Maryland, which helped them acquire furnishings for their home. “We didn’t need that much, but we saw how much the community helped other families,” Genia says. Sergey attended Hebrew school at Mishkan Torah for almost three years but hated the language instruction – and everything else, too. “He was teased there by other kids and he begged us not to send him any more,” his other remembers. “Eventually, it worked.” the Conservative congregation turned out to be too religious for the Brins and they drifted.
When a three-week trip to Israel awakened 11- year-old Sergey’s interest in all things Jewish, the family inquired at another synagogue about restarting studies to prepare for a barmitzvah. But the rabbi said it would take more than a year to catch up and Sergey abandoned the pursuit. If there was one Jewish value the Brin family upheld without reservation, Michael says, it was scholarship.“
“What came next is Google legend. In the spring of 1995, Sergey met an opinionated computer- science student
from the University of Michigan named Larry Page. They argued over the course of two days, each finding the other cocky and obnoxious. They also formed an instant bond, relishing the intellectual combat. Like Sergey, Larry is the son of high-powered intellects steeped in computer science. The two young graduate students also share a Jewish background.
Larry’s maternal grandfather made aliyah, and his mother was raised Jewish. Larry, however, brought up in the mould of his father, a computer-science professor whose religion was technology, does not readily identify as a Jew. He, too, never had a barmitzvah. Larry and Sergey soon began working on ways to harness information on the web, spending so much time together that they took on a joint identity, LarryandSergey”.“
“Their venture quickly bore fruit. After viewing a quick demo, Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim (himself a Jewish immigrant from Germany) wrote a $100,000 cheque to “Google, Inc”.“
“They are without a doubt two of the most eligible bachelors on Google Earth, but both are reported to be in serious relationships – Sergey is reportedly engaged to Anne Wojcicki, a healthcare investor and the sister of Google executive Susan Wojcicki, who owned the garage where Google got started. In a 2001 interview, Genia said she hoped Sergey would find “somebody exciting who could be really interesting to him… [who] had a sense of humour that could match his”. As one might expect, she also prefers that Sergey marry a Jewish girl. “I hope that he would keep it in mind,” she confided.“
“The Ten Commandments it is not, but Google does operate with a moral code of sorts. “Don’t be evil” is the maxim supposed to guide behaviour at all levels of the company. When pressed for clarification, Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt has famously said: “Evil is whatever Sergey says is evil.” One malevolent practice, in Google’s view, is tampering with or otherwise censoring the list of results produced by a Google search. An early test of the Google founders’ commitment to providing unfiltered information struck very close to home. The antisemitic website Jew Watch appeared prominently in Google results for searches on the term “Jew”, prompting Jewish groups to demand that Google remove the site from the top of its listings. Google refused. Sergey said at the time: “I certainly am very offended by the site, but the objectivity of our rankings is one of our very important principles.” As a compromise, Google displays a warning at the top of questionable pages.“
“Viewed against the backdrop of Sergey’s distaste for authority, the decision to cave in to China’s totalitarian leadership seems out of character. Sergey’s public comments on the matter have evolved to reflect this contradiction. While defending the decision at first, he later acknowledged that Google had “compromised” its principles. “Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense,” he has said, but adding: “It’s not where we chose to go right now.” Does a company founded by two Jews, no matter how assimilated, necessarily retain some defining Jewish characteristics? The Google masterminds’ penchant for pushing boundaries – without asking permission – might as well be called chutzpah.
However you label it, it is an attitude that runs deeply through Google and may help explain why the company is embroiled in lawsuits over many of its new projects: the aggressive scanning of library books it does not own; display of copyrighted material; and copyright issues connected to its acquisition of YouTube, the online video site whose popularity rests in part on the availability of pirated television and movie clips. Google’s first employee and several other early hires were Jewish and, when the initial winter-holiday season rolled around, a menorah rather than a Christmas tree graced the lobby. Google’s former chef, Charlie Ayers, cooked up latkes, brisket, tzimmes and matzah-ball soup for Chanucah meals and turned the Passover Seder into a Google tradition.
To some, Google’s emphasis on academic achievement – hiring only the best and the brightest and employing hundreds of PhDs – could be considered Jewish. So, perhaps, could “Don’t be evil”. With its hint of tikkun olam, the Kabbalistic concept of “repairing the world”, it reflects the company’s commitment to aggressive philanthropy.“
“Nevertheless, he and his parents do support a few charities. “There are people who helped me and my family out. I do feel responsible to those organisations,” he says. One of them is Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the group that helped the Brins come to the United States. Genia serves on its board and heads its project to create a digital record of Jewish-immigrant archives. Has Sergey been a target of antisemitism since he left the Soviet Union? “I’ve experienced it,” he says. “Usually, it is fairly subtle. People arp on about all the media companies being run by Jewish executives, with the implication of a conspiracy… I think I’m fortunate that it doesn’t really affect me personally, but there are hints of it all around. That’s why I think it is worth noting.”“
“Several years ago, Sergey and Larry visited a school for gifted maths students near Tel Aviv. When they took to the stage, the audience roared, as if they were rock stars. Every student there, many of them, like Sergey, immigrants, from the former Soviet Union, knew of Google. Sergey began, to the crowd’s delight, with a few words in Russian, which he still speaks at home with his parents. “I have standard Russian-Jewish parents,” he then continued in English. “My dad is a maths professor. They have a certain attitude about studies. And I think I can relate that here, because I was told that your school recently got seven out of the top 10 places in a maths competition throughout all Israel.”
The students applauded their achievement and the recognition from Sergey, unaware that he was setting up a joke. “What I have to say,” he continued, “is in the words of my father: ‘What about the other three?’” The students laughed. They knew where he was coming from. That Sergey has parlayed his skills into unimaginable business success does not mean those “standard Russian-Jewish parents” are ready to let him off the academic hook.“