NEW YORK – Yoav Davis didn’t set out to amass 70K followers when he formed the Instagram page “Jews of NY” in 2017.
“It’s basically a side project gone wrong,” Davis told The Jerusalem Post. “It started as a hobby and good deed that I wanted to do something with no money involved, just based in giving back with the knowledge and experience I have. There was such a need for this kind of content that it really took over and became a bigger phenomenon than I could have imagined.”
Jews of NY set out to speak to millennial and generation Z Jews in an upbeat language they understand, focusing on art, fashion, music, food, current lifestyle and pop culture with a Jewish connection.
“Because I had already been involved in content creation for the digital world in such an intense way, working with so many brands and companies, I thought to myself, I’m in New York, the city where so many amazing things are happening, one of the most Jewish cities in the world and I should just create a community where Jews can meet Jews and we can showcase the beautiful sides of Judaism, including Jewish artists, musicians and bloggers,” Davis, CEO of Davis Media, a New York City-based digital media content agency recalled.
Davis Media, which is used to working with many major brands, celebrities, and Instagram influencers that normally have commercial goals, backs the Jews of NY Instagram page, with employees taking turns at creating content. “I don’t take all the credit, it’s a group effort,” the chief executive said.
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Davis, now in his mid-thirties, describes his upbringing as “a very Zionistic atmosphere.” He was born in Israel to American parents. Following army service and stints with Israeli television and production industries, he moved to New York a decade ago to start Davis Media.
“If I had to describe my father’s personality traits, the first word that comes to mind would be ‘Zionist,’ Davis said. “I’ve always been interested in seeing how Jews are portrayed, how we can keep our Jewish identity alive. During those early days of Instagram, I would just go online and see what are people saying about Jews, how trendy is it on Instagram. In the early days, if you typed in ‘Jews’ all you would get is ‘Holocaust,’ only depressing stuff. There was nothing young, fun, cool and positive about Jews.”
Since 2017, Jews of NY has packed its page with highlights of the most well-known New York Jewish designers and artists such as Eva Hesse and Donna Karan, interviews with Israeli popstars Noa Kirel and Shiri Maimon during their visits to Manhattan and mouthwatering images of Big Apple classics like Zabar’s rugelach and Eyal Shani’s Miznon NYC cauliflower.
A HOME FOR ALL
Davis describes the page as one of the most diverse on social media. “There’s just nothing else like it,” he said. “I can go from posting at a challah bake with 500 religious women in Flushing where men wouldn’t even typically be allowed but they make an exception because they love Jews of NY, to the following day on a float for gay pride with a Jewish drag queen named Lady SinAGaga to the following day being with an Ethiopian singer, there’s everything on Jews of NY. It’s a home for all types of Jews from one-hundred percent religious to not at all.”
With so much diversity, the page receives negative feedback from time-to-time. “We get DMs [direct messages] saying that supporting Israel brings antisemitism to us. Others say we are not supportive enough. I’ve even received personal death threats. I’ve had to remove my address and phone numbers from all websites, it can get scary. I think we are very balanced and show many sides. But we’re always going to be pro-Israel at the end of the day,” Davis said.
While the highly engaged page remains a source for lifestyle and pop culture, the account took a turn to becoming more involved in current news during the May 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict. Last year, about 53% of American adults got their news from social media, according to the Pew Research Center, a statistic that made Davis realize he couldn’t stay quiet.
“So much antisemitism was happening as a result of misinformation during the operation in May,” he said. “There was a drastic shift in our page during that time. It’s great to post the most beautiful challah that’s out there and to talk about amazing Israeli art and fashion in New York, but when there’s rockets flying in Israel and, as a result, antisemitism happening in the streets of New York, and so many influencers are spreading crazy lies on social media, it was no question that we had to unite.”
Davis said one of the posts he is most proud of emerged just weeks ago, during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, in which the latter’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish, has become a source of pride for both Ukrainians and Jews, amid the grim news of war. Jews of NY posted a photo of the leader’s face photoshopped on superman’s body, depicting Zelensky as a “super Jew.”
“That post is still growing everyday but it’s already reached one million people across social,” he said. “There is an importance of speaking up when you’re the chief editor of the page. For us, it’s not about being the first people to break the news, it’s more about the bigger picture.”
“The super Jew Zelensky post helped a lot of people realize ‘this is legit and it’s ok, we can show our support even when there’s complex history.’ Jews of NY helps encourage people to do more. A lot of our followers are young Jews and they might not be completely connected and aware of why certain things are happening, that’s where I want to explain,” he said.
Davis added that he doesn’t have long-term ambitions for the page. “There is not one specific strategy. I don’t see this as a business, just as the number one page devoted to Jews in New York City.”