Life & Culture

Meet Shayna Maydele, the Jewish canine queen of Manhattan

The fluffy influencer has racked up tens of thousands of social media followers


Shayna Maydele is in many ways a typical New York Jew. She lives on the Upper East Side, has a shul membership and many Jewish friends. She’s on good terms with her community’s rabbi and every Friday night enjoys a challah with her family.

But unlike most other New York Jews, she’s two foot tall and covered in hair. Since she was born in 2019, Shayna (Whose name means beautiful girl in Yiddish) has captured the hearts of thousands of fans on social media all over the world, as well as helping out with an impromptu engagement in a New York park.

Shayna is a Coton de Tulear, a breed that despite its aristocratic European name has a solid Jewish history - Barbra Streisand was famous for cloning hers and popularised the breed in the US.

The pictures on Shayna’s account are similar to those which you’d find on any good Jewish mama’s - pictures of Challah, Chanukiahs and her loving family, sometimes accompanied by bagels and whitefish.

While Shayna is the star of the show, the brains behind her fame belong to Heidi Silverstone. Heidi, who started Shayna’s account in 2019, has become a social media star accidentally.

Originally looking for a place to share her snaps of Shayna with her friends, Silverstone doesn’t have any social media of her own, but has now taken on a side hustle as the social media manager of New York’s most Jewish dog, even making waves in local Jewish media.

For the first few months, Shayna Maydele’s account was like any other pet Instagram, but it took off when Heidi started bringing Judaism into the mix. Posting a weekly Shabbat message to her thousands of followers, Heidi saw the account's followers climb and climb into the thousands.

Silverstone, who plans out all her posts ahead of time, and has her husband and son assist in the shoots, believe she’s playing a role in educating people about antisemitism. She thinks the Jewish slant of the posts is key to Shayna Maydele’s virality.   

She said: “My Jewish posts have the most likes. The people who just wanted to follow her as ac cute dog still love the Jewish angle and it’s become educational to people that aren’t Jewish - I’ve been practising my whole life and I still have to google some of the stuff myself.

"I just think with all the antisemitism in the world, it’s so important to teach people about Jewish people and tolerance.”

Silverstone, who is a member of the Conservative Park Avenue synagogue on the Upper East Side says that Shayna Maydele has been warmly welcomed by the community, with one of her shul’s rabbis taking a particular shine to her, she even shares a name with Rabbi Shayna Golkow Zauzmer, one of the congregations assistant rabbis.

But sadly, as many publicly Jewish figures online know only too well, Shayna Maydele’s account is not immune to the kind of nasty comments rife on social media.

Heidi noticed that as Shayna’s fame grew, she received more and more hateful comments. It’s easy to assume that these nasty messages would be from antisemites, angry that something so pleasant and Jewish was popular. But the disappointing reality, says Heidi was that many of her haters were Jewish.

She told me how dispiriting it was to receive negativity from her own community.

“I had gotten some antisemitism, before and I used to delete or block. But now, I always look at the account, to see what their deal is to see why they’re saying these things, what kind of person they are.

“Sadly a lot of the antisemitic comments come from Jewish people, people who don’t like me putting a yarmulke on dog, saying that the dog is Jewish, things like that.

“And I’m very sensitive to those things, I would never do anything to disrespect Judaism. For Simchat Torah for example, I used a fluffy Torah toy instead of the real thing.

“To be honest, I find this sort of attitude a little disappointing, my account is meant to be spreading the word about Judaism. I try not to engage because it’s just not worth it.”

But despite the few negative comments, Heidi says the experience of creating a Jewish canine star has been great. She’s been to meet-ups of Coton de Tulears all over the US, and cultivated a devoted fan base, who have even been known to paint fan art of Shayna Maydele.

For the manager of a reluctant star, Heidi is incredibly proud of Shayna Maydele and her loyal army of Jewish and gentile fans, but her plans for the account are understated.

"If my posts about Judaism could soften anyone’s opinion on Jews and increase tolerance, I think that’s a pretty good aim.”

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