Meet the ‘Jewish’ dog with 8,000 Instagram followers

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Meet the ‘Jewish’ dog with 8,000 Instagram followers

Social media influencer Shayna Maydele has captured the hearts of thousands of adoring fans with her Jewish-themed posts.

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 Upper East Side 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 — though her punim is 100% adorable, as as this committed fluffy-dog lover can attest.

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 shalom” 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.

Her Instagram is filled with charming, authentic expressions of Jewish pride, as well as humorous takes on life in New York City.

“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 nearly 9,000 (and counting) fans from all over the world — many of whom go beyond simply “liking” or commenting on a post. The Jewish National Fund, for example, has, unbidden, planted a tree in her honor; she also played an important role in the engagement of one couple who happened to meet her at a dog park.

Heidi Silverstone poses with her coton de tulear, Shayna Maydele. (New York Jewish Week)

It’s a pretty remarkable following considering Silverstone — who is also Shayna Maydele’s social media manager, if you will — doesn’t have any social media accounts of her own, nor did she set out to make her pup a star.

It all started in June 2019, when Silverstone and her husband, Rob, flew to Arizona to pick up their puppy from the breeder. (Shayna is a coton de tulear, a breed made famous by Barbra Streisand, who notoriously cloned her pup. The breeder later told Silverstone she also sold Streisand her famous dogs. “I’m not sure if they’re related,” Silverstone said of their mutual pets, “but I can pretend they are!”)

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, ‘OK, we’ll do a Shabbat shalom post every week.’” Other Jewish holidays soon followed.

Shayna Maydele’s account began to really take off when the Jewish content started,

“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.

Silverstone and her spouse are members of Park Avenue Synagogue; while they used to attend Shabbat services regularly, these days they are more likely to stream them. The parlor floor of the family brownstone is filled with Jewish art and Judaica (as well as some cool New York City treasures, such as coasters inspired by subway tokens).

In one corner of the the kitchen, where Shayna Maydele’s dog food sat untouched, 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. (Max is now 25 and a fourth-year cantorial student at the Jewish Theological Seminary.)

A lifetime of shul-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 some 200 skullcaps in a variety of textures and colors. Silverstone makes an effort to coordinate Shayna Maydele’s kippah to other accouterments that may be in the weekly Shabbat photo; on the day of my visit, Silverstone selects an orange kippah to match a painted ceramic tzedakah box, one that Silverstone had previously gifted to her grandmother.

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: On Simchat Torah in October, a photo of Shanya Maydele posing with a stuffed Torah is accompanied by an explanation of the holiday.

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.”

Follow Shayna on Instagram at shayna.maydele.the.coton

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