Niki Weinstock’s Jewish journey is unlike many others. Raised between the secular and religious worlds — courtesy of her Chabad father and non-religious mother — Weinstock made waves on TikTok by sharing glimpses of her unique upbringing. Her candid revelations caught the attention of viewers, rapidly transforming her into a viral sensation.
The 24-year-old spoke with Unpacked about her Jewish identity, her ascent to TikTok fame and the rewarding journey of educating her followers about Judaism.
How Weinstock’s TikTok account rose to fame from just one viral video
Weinstock, who boasts over 125,000 followers and 6 million likes on TikTok, began sharing her life on the platform in early 2021. A self-described “oversharer,” Weinstock began her account by posting her love story with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband, Isaac and her daily life with her lovable dog, Carl.
Her account went viral when she shared a clip about being “raised by divorced parents from different universes.”
As questions from intrigued followers started pouring in, Weinstock’s account gradually morphed into an educational platform. From answering questions about Judaism to sharing her treasured kosher recipes, Weinstock offers an intimate window into her life that followers eagerly look into.
Now that she’s the proud mother of a 4-month-old daughter, Weinstock has also started discussing her experiences as a new mom.
Still, between a full-time job and a baby, finding time to make TikToks is difficult for Weinstock. However, by filming what she’s already doing throughout the day, such as buying Shabbat clothes for her daughter or making dinner for her family, she’s able to blend content creation into her life. Despite her growing fame, making TikTok videos still is a fun creative outlet for Weinstock and doesn’t feel like a chore.
Weinstock is motivated to share her authentic Jewish life
Weinstock, who works in social media for a healthcare company, said she wanted to create content that gave a different perspective on Judaism than what she saw online. In her videos, she focuses on sharing her practices and “the beauty of Jewish life.”
“There are a lot of people who say, ‘This is the Orthodox way’ or ‘This is the Reform way,’ but there aren’t many middle grounds. People were seeing that I keep Shabbat but I don’t cover my hair, and they were like, ‘I don’t understand,’” Weinstock said. “It’s a new perspective and people have connected with it because they’ve never seen it before.”
Weinstock was motivated to post more content when she realized she could use her platform to give people more exposure to the joys of Jewish culture.
The positive feedback she received — particularly from viewers who said their perspectives on Jewish people had changed after understanding how Jewish laws are integrated into daily life — encouraged her to post more.
“I grew up in New York and New Jersey surrounded by Jews. I didn’t realize that when you step out of these states, there are people who have never seen a Jewish person before. They don’t understand Jewish culture at all, and when they think of Jews, they think of every bad Netflix documentary they’ve ever seen.
“They don’t see any of the beauty of Jewish life because no one’s ever showed them. So by posting about it, people are starting to see it for the first time,” Weinstock said.
Weinstock’s Jewish identity was shaped by her experiences living between the secular and religious worlds
Weinstock’s parents divorced when she was young. She was raised in a Chabad Orthodox home until she was around 6 years old — after that, her mother progressively became less observant. The social media maven went to modern Orthodox schools, but would spend Saturdays with her mom going to the movies, shopping and concerts.
“I really had both ends of the spectrum,” Weinstock said. “When I went to my dad’s, we were super, super Orthodox and then I’d go with my mom and we wouldn’t be doing anything. So I had to find this balance between the two that I felt most comfortable with.”
It wasn’t until after she graduated high school that Weinstock decided to delve deeper into Judaism and become more traditionally observant. Through this process, she feels that she has become more passionate about her Judaism and her history.
“I knew that I wanted to raise a Jewish household and I always believed in keeping Shabbat, but I just didn’t do them because I didn’t understand them. I don’t like to follow things if I don’t truly understand why I’m doing it, so I started learning and studying,” Weinstock said.
Weinstock and her seven siblings now all practice their Judaism differently — she grew up in a blended household with step-siblings after her dad remarried — and noted that her unique childhood experience helped mold the Judaism she carries into her adulthood.
Today, her faith is shaped by an overriding principle: the desire to be a better person. Acknowledging that she can never be sure if her brand of Judaism is the ‘correct’ one, she chooses to base her beliefs on what drives her to do the most good and lead a fulfilling life.
Observance of Shabbat, for Weinstock, has become a cherished ritual that allows her to disconnect from technology and truly connect with her loved ones. This weekly pause offers her invaluable quality time with her family and friends.
“I feel like everything I do within my Judaism connects me to something and it gives me such a great purpose and power,” she said.
Weinstock’s TikTok is about her brand of Judaism, not Judaism overall
Being a Jewish content creator comes with its own set of challenges for Weinstock, particularly when it comes to addressing questions from her followers. Reactions to Weinstock’s lifestyle often swing between acceptance and criticism. She often encounters viewers who critique her practices, insisting that she’s not observing correctly.
“If you say something that people don’t want to hear, you can end up with a lot of backlash,” she said, noting that many followers attempt to correct her practices if they themselves practice differently.
For this reason, in her videos, Weinstock often emphasizes that she doesn’t speak for all Jewish people, but instead shares what her Jewish life looks like.
“I need to make it a point in almost every video I make that I don’t represent everybody because I can’t,” she said. “There are so many people who are gonna look at me and be like, This is not how modern Orthodox people are. … This is just how I do it, not how everybody does it.”
She wants to expand her content on kosher cooking
One of Weinstock’s passion projects is her food blog, aptly named “Lazy Kosher Cooking.” While she eventually wants to teach classes on making flavorful kosher dishes, her current focus lies in bolstering the site with recipes and guiding her followers on how to prepare them.
Weinstock learned to cook from her dad and has enjoyed making new foods ever since. After mastering the fundamentals of the kitchen, she’s always been more of a culinary free spirit than a recipe purist, preferring the spontaneous excitement of trial-and-error over the rigid structure of recipes.
Nevertheless, for the sake of her blog, Weinstock has taken to noting her measurements to ensure her culinary creations can be reproduced faithfully at home.
While some of Weinstock’s cooking videos have not gone as planned — she recently dropped her phone in a pot of soup she was making — she is teaching home chefs how to make simple kosher recipes that still taste delicious. Weinstock believes that fantastic food can be made without using a mixer or following excessive steps, emphasizing how such simplicity can expedite the cooking process.
“I’m working, I have a baby, I have things to do but I still want my food to be flavorful and delicious. And I think that there’s so many extra steps in cooking that don’t need to be there. You can still make amazing food without doing all of that work,” she said.
As a Jewish content creator, Weinstock has faced antisemitism on TikTok
As a TikToker who openly shares her Judaism, Weinstock has faced antisemitism over sharing her life. However, she continues to actively post on her account since she has gained such a loyal group of supporters, but also for the prospect of normalizing Jewish life.
While she knows that she can’t change the minds of many antisemites, Weinstock said that her goal is for people to see the beauty in Jewish life and hopefully share that message.
“Antisemitism comes with the territory unfortunately, and it can be really hard,” she said. “I posted a video about seltzer and got crazy hate on it. The way I think about it is, what kind of person you have to be to leave a hate comment about seltzer?”
While most of the time Weinstock chooses to ignore hate comments, she sometimes takes the time to respond to them. With her responses, Weinstock hopes that they’ll curb people from leaving more comments and educate those who see the video on why their thinking is wrong.
“It’s sad and I feel bad for these people. There’s even people who follow me just to leave hate comments. And what can you do? Just keep being positive, keep shining a light and let them live in their darkness.”
Originally Published Jun 26, 2023 02:40PM EDT