For home cooks who wanted to expand their Purim baking repertoires beyond the traditional raspberry and prune-filled hamantaschen, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest offered myriad options — including cannoli, lemon-lavender, and even corndog twists on the classic triangle-shaped cookie.
As is now the case before any Jewish holiday, Jewish food personalities were out in full force on social media this year, sharing recipes and communicating with their followers — both the seasoned holiday bakers and novices among them.
Amy Kritzer, of blog “What Jew Wanna Eat,” always sees a bump in traffic to her blog and to her Instagram followers around holidays like Hanukkah, Passover and Purim. Kritzer, who is based in Austin, Texas, and has nearly 36,000 followers on Instagram, is not kosher herself, but chose to focus on Jewish foods when she started her blog in 2010.
“I’ve always been passionate about Jewish life,” says Kritzer, who also likes to present Jewish food in ways that are “cool and relevant.” She’s received messages from followers who say her food — including dishes like sweet potato latkes with cranberry apple sauce and coffee- and whiskey-braised brisket — helps them connect more with their Judaism. “It’s about more than just recipes, it’s about acknowledging our past and keeping our traditions,” she says.
“Social media introduces people — even people who aren’t Jewish — to Jewish food,” says Shannon Sarna, a food blogger who runs The Nosher (its Instagram, @jewishfood, has more than 6,000 followers, and there are over 366,000 followers on Facebook). “Food is such a great connector; everyone loves challah, everyone loves matzoh ball soup. And people who want to feel connected to their Jewishness can log onto Instagram or go on Facebook, and it adds a level of connectedness that’s not just about the food, but also about the people,” says Sarna.
While some social media users are learning about Jewish food for the first time, others are so well versed in it that the new recipes and photos they see online help break them out of their cooking ruts. “I’ve been able to get people excited about cooking for Shabbat and the holidays again,” says Chanie Apfelbaum of the “Busy in Brooklyn” blog, who has nearly 25,000 followers of her Instagram account. People within the observant community “are pushing themselves to be more creative” as a result of what they see on social media, she says.
For Apfelbaum, Instagram has proven the best way to communicate with her blog’s followers. A savory salami babka she recently created for Purim, for example, became a viral sensation. She received dozens of photos via Instagram from followers who’d tried their hands at a babka of their own.
For Apfelbaum and other food bloggers, Instagram Stories, a video feature, has become particularly popular. “It’s making us into mini celebrities,” says Melinda Strauss, of food blog “Kitchen Tested.”
In Apfelbaum’s “Stories” she often cooks alongside her children (she has five). “I think it’s really interesting for people to have a window into this Hasidic Brooklyn life,” says Sarna, about Apfelbaum’s videos. Sarna says the videos she does on Facebook and Facebook Live which show her kids often do particularly well, too.
The trick, of course, is staying on top of multiple social media channels. “Instagram is the focus now, but if you’re trying to grow a brand, you need to be everywhere,” says Strauss. “All of us grew because of Facebook, then it changed its algorithm and now it’s not as helpful in getting new followers. It’s always changing.”
But online Jewish food communities aren’t all centered around individual food personalities, either.
“I Don’t Cook But I Give Out Recipes,” a Facebook group that counts over 23,000 members, was started by Brooklyn-based Este Wolbe as a way to share kosher recipes. (Wolbe does now have her own blog, CookingwithTantrums.com, but as the name of her Facebook group suggests, she used to hand out recipes more than she actually tested them.) The group gets about 100 member requests a day. “It’s become a community of kosher cooks from around the world who support and uplift one another,” says Wolbe. “It’s a wonderful place to share ideas and ask questions.”
And it helps that everything is kosher, and created by people with the same cooking needs.
“Just like shopping in a kosher supermarket, where you don’t have to look for a hechsher on each item. Where else can you ask for a tried and true recipe for gluten- free hamantaschen or get menu ideas for a Siyum? Not to mention time sensitive challah dough questions answered in real time by dozens of experienced challah bakers.”
While social media’s Jewish food fans are committed and close-knit, it’s still a limited audience, so garnering hundreds of thousands of followers — like mainstream food-centric social media influencers can — is just not feasible.
“You can see it from our follower numbers, it’s just a smaller crowd,” says Strauss, who has over 13,000 followers on Instagram. “My blog doesn’t necessarily say I’m kosher, but my following is mostly kosher, so I’m not growing at a rate as fast as others.”