In my decades as a journalist, I’ve interviewed some pretty powerful, important and, yes, even famous people. But never before have I been so excited – starstruck, even – to meet a subject, and this one wasn’t even human.
I was positively giddy to visit the home last week of Shayna Maydele, a small, white dog who has captured the hearts of thousands of adoring fans on Instagram. Shayna Maydele’s popularity isn’t just owing to her adorable punim, it’s also because her Instagram is filled with charming, authentic expressions of Jewish pride, as well as humorous takes on life in New York City.
Every Friday, Shayna Maydele’s account features a heartwarming Shabbat message. The photos often include homemade challah, other times they might feature her Papa, or her owner’s dad. I always let out a squeal of delight when I see the posts, and I’m hardly alone.
“My Shabbat posts get the most likes out of everything,” Shayna Maydele’s owner, Heidi Silverstone, told me.
Since emerging on social media in 2019, Shayna Maydele (whose name means “beautiful girl” in Yiddish) has garnered 12,700 (and counting) fans from all over the world.
It all started in June 2019, when Silverstone and her husband, Rob, flew to Arizona to pick up their puppy from the breeder.
So many friends and family members had wanted to see pictures of the new puppy, said Silverstone, that she figured it would be easier to set up an Instagram account. “I didn’t make it private – I figured nobody’s gonna know her,” she explained. “And then, all of a sudden, people were following.”
Shayna Maydele’s account began to really take off when the Jewish content started, which happened organically. “It wasn’t a conscious thing – it was Shabbos and I put a yarmulke on her head and said, ‘Shabbat shalom’, thinking I’m wishing my family and friends a Shabbat shalom.” Followers took notice. “People were liking it so much I thought, ‘Okay, we’ll do a Shabbat shalom post every week.’” Other Jewish holidays soon followed.
“The Jewish thing is just normal – it’s a part of our life,” said Silverstone, who chatted with me in her kitchen as Shayna Maydele, sitting beneath the table, interjected with an occasional woof.
The parlour floor of the family brownstone is filled with Jewish art and Judaica. In one corner of the kitchen hangs a framed Passover bagels recipe, handwritten by Silverstone’s grandmother, as well as a drawing her son Max made as a child of the Torah and other Jewish ritual objects made of cheese.
A lifetime of shule-going means that there are enough kippahs in the home for Shayna Maydele to rarely pose wearing the same one twice – Silverstone estimates that a basket in the corner of the dining room contains around 200 in a variety of textures and colours. Silverstone makes an effort to coordinate Shayna Maydele’s kippah to other accoutrements that may be in the weekly Shabbat photo.
The Jewish posts seem to be the heart and soul of the account, and Silverstone said she is moved by the positive reaction she gets from Shayna Maydele’s followers, both Jewish and not. She makes a conscious effort to define Jewish terms and holidays, so they are accessible to everyone.
Considering the impetus of the account was simply to save some time, Silverstone seems overjoyed that Shayna Maydele’s account is helping people learn more about Judaism.
“I guess my goal is just to expand reach – and if her Jewish comments could soften anyone’s opinion on Judaism or get another ally, I think that’s a pretty good goal,” Silverstone said when pressed on her hopes for the account. “But I certainly didn’t go into it that way.”
Jewish News UK
Follow Shayna on Instagram, shayna.maydele.the.coton
Shayna Maydele celebrating Succot.