As on other social media apps, there are plenty of prominent Jewish TikTokers who have built platforms for themselves on the ever-growing app. The subjects they create content about mirror those discussed in real-life Jewish communities, and whether it is conscious or not, they take on the challenge many Jews do: showing the world that how Jews look, act and engage with their faith is different for each individual. Moment spoke with ten Jewish TikTokers who have more than 20,000 followers (in some cases in the hundreds of thousands) about how they got started on the app, how much of their Judaism they bring to their videos, and what it’s like to be openly Jewish on TikTok.
Yiddish for the masses
During her senior year at the University of Chicago, Cameron Bernstein realized that she needed to register for one more class to complete her full course schedule. Bernstein saw that the university offered a Yiddish language class and, given her affinity for learning new languages, she enrolled. After graduating in the summer of 2020, Bernstein started to make TikToks about her newfound passion for the Yiddish language as a way to flex her linguistic muscles. Little did she know that her Yiddish skills would soon bring her TikTok fame.
Now with more than 40,000 followers, Bernstein makes TikTok videos in which she speaks in Yiddish, translates English into Yiddish and talks about Yiddish culture. In recent videos, she’s conjugated the word “zoom,” showed how she can command her dog to come to her (kum kum, kum tsi mir), and translated a well-known German counting song into Yiddish.
There aren’t many Yiddish speakers on TikTok, says Bernstein, noting that the comments she gets on her videos from viewers range from nostalgic—“I haven’t heard Yiddish since my zaidie died!”—to curious—“Wait, you can learn Yiddish?” Bernstein is delighted to share her knowledge. Because she was able to learn Yiddish in a classroom setting, she sees being a resource for Yiddish on TikTok as a way to “democratize her learning.” For Bernstein, Yiddish is a way to engage with her Judaism in a manner separate from leading services and participating in Jewish community groups, both of which she’s done. As a half-Filipina Jewish woman of color, Bernstein has faced prejudice from within the Jewish community. She says that she feels her knowledge of Yiddish “legitimizes” her in the eyes of some Jews who might not see her as fully Jewish.
Bernstein started medical school last fall. But she plans to continue making Yiddish-focused TikToks as a way to model being a continuing Yiddish learner for her followers.
Knitting as a mitzvah
Sam Barsky has figured out a formula for keeping his more than 200,000 TikTok followers entertained throughout all his videos: Stand in front of a virtual background in a freshly knit sweater and explain how you came up with the idea to knit it. Case in point, his viral video about his penguin sweater, in which he explains that he’d wanted a penguin sweater for years and that he plans to wear it to the zoo when the weather gets cooler.
Barsky is an expert knitter, creating sweaters with elaborate designs he showcases on his TikTok account: the Rubik’s Cube sweater, the alpaca sweater, the Philadelphia sweater, a handful of Hanukkah sweaters and many more. He’s been knitting since 1999 and began posting on TikTok 20 years into his knitting career. Barsky teaches others to knit through in-person classes, a practice he recently resumed two years into the pandemic. And for him, teaching is connected to his Jewish identity.
“I feel like it’s an obligation I have as a Jew,” he says. “I remember learning as a child, if you have a special skill, it’s a mitzvah to teach it to others.”
While Barsky describes his TikTok presence as secular, he has enjoyed connecting with other Jewish people and knitting Jewish-themed sweaters to show his followers via his TikTok videos. Barsky also sells printed T-shirt replicas of his sweaters on his website. Barsky underscores that he doesn’t just knit to make videos about his sweaters or sell T-shirts. In fact, TikTok hasn’t affected the amount of knitting he does. “It’s just another avenue to share [my knitting] with the world.”
Comedic takes on dorm life & kosher pop culture
Revealing she was Jewish was a very conscious decision for Zara Zahavah, a teacher and TikToker with more than 200,000 followers on the app. Zahavah first went viral after telling a funny story in a video she posted during her first week on TikTok in 2020. In it, Zahavah described being a resident adviser and hearing college students on her floor discussing making a slip-and-slide in the hallway using personal lubricant.
From that story, Zahavah gained 4,000 followers, but it wasn’t until she had 50,000 that she decided she would tell her viewers she was Jewish. “It was very much an active choice that I was not talking about that part of my life,” she explains. “Because I know that being open about it opens you up to so much antisemitism,” especially on an app like TikTok, where one’s video can spontaneously get 500,000 (or more) views overnight.
Zahavah doesn’t remember much else about the first video in which she mentioned being Jewish—but she remembers being nervous to post it.
Though she got a few negative comments, Zahavah says that video received an “overwhelmingly positive response.” Now, up to 75 percent of her TikToks are about Judaism, and they range from serious to silly; some are about her choice not to keep Shabbat, and in others she explains that not all of the animals featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are kosher. Her content has become popular because of Zahavah’s comedic take on ordinary things. In a series of recent TikToks, she rated—and roasted—all of the dresses she wore to bar and bat mitzvahs when she was in middle school.
“I truly do love making videos, talking about these things, and getting to create this TikTok community.”
Based Jews of TikTok
Teens tackling antisemitism together
The Based Jews of TikTok is a labor of love and teamwork. Started by Ari, a Jewish high schooler, the account is run by more than 15 Jewish middle and high school students in the United States and elsewhere. “Based” is a slang term that has positive connotations—it can mean cool, great, or be used to identify something or someone as generally good.
Ari started the TikTok account, which now has more than 20,000 followers, to help young Jewish people come together and to show the world what Jewish teens are like. Videos on the account include casual humor about being Jewish, spreading awareness about antisemitism that the teens face, and education about Jewish themes and cultural references.
“I wanted to educate people on TikTok that we’re not all the same,” Ari said in an interview with four of the other teens who run the account. “We’re all different.” Based Jews of TikTok’s first video that amassed thousands of views was posted by Eden, another member. The video was about how the group was upset that Anne Frank’s memory has been disrespected by the general public—both on and off TikTok. But not all of their videos are as serious. Many of Based Jews of TikTok’s videos are very short and show members of the group simply being teens (lip-synching, showing off their outfits and talking about events that happened that day at school) while referencing baseline Jewish cultural staples such as challah, matzo ball soup and Shabbat. Even though they receive a lot of antisemitic comments on the platform, members of the group make light of negative depictions of Jews. For example, a recent video shows a seance-type scene with the caption: “What some people think being Jewish is.”
Many of the members say they’ve enjoyed the sense of community the account has created and what that sort of belonging has done for them personally.
“The account has made me connect with my Jewish identity much more than I ever have before,” says Elliot, another member. “I’ve also made a lot of friends who I can confide in.”
Modest Orthodox fashionista
Toiby Hayes grew up Orthodox. After years of trial and error, she found a balance between dressing modestly and maintaining her personal style. Now, Hayes posts on TikTok to help other women in modest cultures express themselves through their clothes. “I’m a Jewish girl. I’m dressed modestly. Here’s what I do,” Hayes remembers saying in one of her first videos on the app. And then she showed photos of her outfits. She got many of her current followers (she has almost 60,000) from that first video.
Hayes now works as a stylist, and in a recent TikTok post she took viewers on her journey to pick an outfit to wear while on a photo shoot. The final verdict? A yellow short-sleeved T-shirt, a long, ruffled, green-and-black polka-dot skirt, colorful New Balance sneakers with blue mid-rise socks and a white bandana tied around her hair to cover it.
Not all of Hayes’s followers or viewers are Jewish or familiar with Orthodoxy. She says that she receives questions about her lifestyle and culture—and gets some unwelcome comments about how she should feel oppressed by having to dress modestly.
“I was like, I don’t feel oppressed. I’m okay. I made this choice for myself,’” she explains, adding that she enjoys dispelling myths and misconceptions from followers. “It feels really nice to be a positive representation [of an Orthodox Jewish woman].”
Hayes is just one of many modest-style TikTokers: Some are Jewish, some Muslim or Mormon. The modest fashion community on TikTok has been a way for people to reach out across faiths to solve common dilemmas, such as finding tops with sleeves that will absorb sweat during hotter months.
In addition to being a content creator and stylist, Hayes has a jewelry brand. She says that TikTok has made the fashion industry feel much more accessible to her, and that it has boosted her confidence about her own styling skills.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about the craft,” she says of her TikTok account and the opportunities it’s brought.
From daily Daf Yomi postings to artist in residence
Miriam Anzovin, who each day posts her reactions to Daf Yomi, a daily regimen of Talmud learning, watched TikToks for almost two years before she started posting in December 2021.
Anzovin first turned to TikTok for community, a sense of connection and a little escapism during 2020. Around the same time, she had been considering starting Daf Yomi, the practice of reading a page of the Talmud daily along with the broader Daf Yomi community in a cycle that takes seven and a half years. It was an effort to connect with her Jewish roots and community—Anzovin was raised Modern Orthodox but is now an atheist.
So, she combined TikTok with Daf Yomi to create an outlet for her new Jewish learning. Her Daf Yomi reactions summarize the day’s portion and she then contextualizes what she’s learned that day by noting themes and patterns. Every video starts with Anzovin’s cheery, “Shalom, friends!” “So what if I’m not observing at the moment? There are other ways for me to engage and put myself in our community of people through scholarship,” Anzovin says. “And that’s what I decided to do.”
Anzovin’s videos aren’t immune from controversy: Her colloquial and, at times, expletive-filled commentary on Daf Yomi (in a recent video, Anzovin talked about the Talmud’s suggestions for “how many times a couple is supposed to bang” per week) has received criticism for being provocative and crude in Jewish and Israeli media.
In response, Anzovin turns negative comments into comedic videos “to flip the script and lampoon something meant to bring [her] down.”
But Anzovin has more good days than bad on the video-sharing app. When her TikTok account reached a sizable number of followers, Anzovin took a big leap, deciding to leave her job at a Jewish nonprofit because she felt hers was a unique voice on the app. The day she did, she was contacted by Moishe House, another Jewish nonprofit, one that serves the young adult Jewish community, and asked to be the organization’s artist in residence.
Anzovin says her TikTok presence has expanded her world exponentially—through the comments that she’s received about her videos, the connections she’s made with other users on the app, and the opportunities that have come from Jewish organizations seeing her TikTok videos and asking her to work with them. In the coming months, Anzovin has plans to tour congregations to talk about Jewish literacy. “I’ve gotten to engage with so many Jews around the world from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds and identities. I’ve gotten to speak to some of my own Jewish heroes on social media,” she says. “It’s truly been a life-changing experience.”
Anzovin is only about two and a half years into the Daf Yomi cycle and plans to continue posting her reactions to the readings. “If people want to listen to me talk about Daf Yomi for the next five years,” she says, “I’m honored.”
“This is a game called ‘Jewish or Antisemitic?’” says Eitan Levine, microphone in hand as he stands next to a man on a New York street in one of his most popular TikToks. The game is a false dichotomy employed to entertain, and his subjects realize it’s just for fun. Levine asks the man if Flo, the enthusiastic auto insurance saleswoman from Progressive commercials, is Jewish or antisemitic. The man says the latter. As for the GEICO gecko? The pair enthusiastically agree that the reptile is Jewish. Levine has made dozens of his “Jewish or Antisemitic?” videos, many of which have garnered more than 100,000 views and have brought him to TikTok prominence.
Levine, who makes a variety of man-on-the-street-style videos about Judaism, recently surpassed 112,000 followers. He’s been performing and writing comedy since he was 15, and he sees his TikTok fame as a natural progression from his other professional experiences, including working as a journalist and video producer in the 2010s while performing comedy.
From his countless TikTok interviews, Levine says he’s learned that Adam Sandler is the most popular Jew, that non-Jews love the kosher yellow-capped Coca-Cola sold around Passover and that non-Jews have fond memories of the Jews they grew up with because they got to experience Jewish meals and celebrations. “We’ve done a good job inviting non-Jews to fun Jewish stuff,” says Levine. “They like challah and appreciate a good seder.” Levine says he didn’t necessarily set out to make videos about Judaism, but that TikTok’s powerful algorithm pushed him into a corner; his videos about being Jewish get more views on the app. That said, Levine feels that all his comedy—whether he’s joking specifically about being Jewish or not—comes from a Jewish mindset and Jewish background.
“You can’t escape it,” he says.
Besides his fast-growing TikTok popularity, Levine is also working on television and film projects. “I don’t even know what my life will look like in six months,” he says.
Honoring Grandmother Rosie
Nechama Birnbaum runs a TikTok account called @theredheadofauschwitz, which is all about her late grandmother, Rosie Greenstein. She has always been inspired by her grandmother, who survived Auschwitz, which is why she wanted to share Rosie’s story with the world—but it didn’t start with TikTok.
Birnbaum first wrote a book detailing her grandmother’s life story. Titled The Redhead of Auschwitz, it was published in November 2021. In advance of its publication, she created Instagram and TikTok accounts to market the book. (The accounts now have more than 105,000 and 67,500 followers, respectively.) Before her grandmother’s death in May, Birnbaum posted videos of Rosie telling stories or speaking out against hate and political division in the world on @theredheadofauschwitz Instagram and TikTok accounts—named for Rosie’s red hair.
One day, Birnbaum posted a video of Rosie telling followers that she had actually been in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and escaped by being recruited at the last minute for a work detail. At the end of the video, Rosie said, “Please bring unity, in a good world, for everybody.” The video got 8.9 million views on Instagram; other videos that Birnbaum has posted about Rosie on TikTok have garnered 5.6 million views. “Rosie was amazing. She really was someone who had such unconditional love for everyone,” says Birnbaum. “She loved living,” and she really loved being filmed for TikToks. Birnbaum says that Rosie thought she was on TV.
After losing her, Birnbaum found that running social media accounts and posting videos of Rosie was difficult. Instead, she started posting about her grief and received a lot of support from her followers. “But then,” Birnbaum recalls, “I had an outpouring of people saying: ‘[Rosie’s videos are] the first thing I look at in the morning,’ ‘She gives me so much hope’ and ‘Please don’t stop posting videos of her.’”
So for the time being, @theredheadofauschwitz accounts will continue to post the videos she made with Rosie.
Politics, Jewfros and everything in between
Zev Burton’s first few TikToks had absolutely nothing to do with his being Jewish. In fact, the reason he began posting on the app consistently was because of the January 6 insurrection. A Georgetown graduate student, he saw police cars outside his window rushing to the Capitol that day.
A huge part of their TikTok presence is breaking down “Ashkenormativity,” or the idea that all Jews look and practice Judaism in stereotypically Ashkenazi ways
“My undergrad [major] was in international security with a focus on domestic terrorism,” he says. Because he had learned about domestic terrorism, he decided to start making videos about the topic on TikTok. After his video went viral in a matter of hours, Burton knew he wanted to keep posting on TikTok. Now he posts two or three times a day. From the inception of his TikTok account, Burton’s videos have always focused on politics, his life as a graduate student with a full-time job, and current events. Recent videos have poked fun at conservative Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee and Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
Today, about half of his varied TikTok content revolves around his cultural Judaism, which includes jokes about Jewish geography, his “Jewfro,” and guessing if someone is Jewish based on their “vibes.” For Burton, part of being openly Jewish on TikTok is about breaking down stereotypes that some viewers might have about Jewish people. And he’s making an impact: Burton has almost 245,000 followers. “One of my goals is [to communicate] ‘We’re just like you,’” he says, recognizing that it’s no secret he’s Jewish. “With a name like Zev, you can’t really go around saying, ‘Oh, I’m Mormon.’”
Burton says he makes an effort to read many of the comments he gets about his videos, some of which are antisemitic. And if there’s an opportunity to reply with a joke—even to a hateful comment—he’ll take it.
Celebrating their truth, challenging norms
As a Black, Jewish, queer, femme (feminine presenting) person, Raven Schwam-Curtis receives a myriad of hate from their TikTok videos. Schwam-Curtis, who uses they/them pronouns, says that it’s scary to be transparent about who they are online.
“Pick your poison. There’re so many reasons that people can choose to dislike me,” Schwam-Curtis jokes. “But if I let people like that stop me from speaking my truth, then I’m not doing the work that I’m here to do.” And that work for Schwam-Curtis is being the representation they needed to see when they were younger. A huge part of their TikTok presence is breaking down “Ashkenormativity,” or the idea that all Jews look and practice Judaism in stereotypically Ashkenazi ways.
In their TikTok videos, Schwam-Curtis discusses their experiences as a Black Jew, sings Jewish songs, shares facts about Judaism and antisemitism in society, and posts about their everyday life as an African American Studies grad student. In sharing their life and thoughts on TikTok, they hope to uplift and celebrate all types of Jews—and people.
They began posting on TikTok in November 2021 and the first video that went viral was Schwam-Curtis talking about their biracial identity. Soon after, a video of them dancing to a Hanukkah song went viral as well. Their caption? “This is your annual reminder that Black Jews exist.” “I just want people to feel seen,” says Schwam-Curtis. “I want people to deeply love and appreciate their roots.” They say that many Black Jews have reached out to express appreciation for their public celebration of Black Jewishness. And that makes Schwam-Curtis feel validated in their identity, too.