Shtetl Baby is a Vogue-featured curator who scours Brooklyn and beyond for vintage Jewish objects and books, which she resells through Instagram.
We first met up over a coffee in Bed-Stuy, where I traded a couple jars of Schmutz for a 1977 Yiddish cookbook called “So Eat, My Darling.”
Read on for a look into her favorite contemporary Jewish brands and NYC-area vintage Jewish spaces — and to peruse her collection in person, RSVP for our Shulastic Cookbook Fair this September 9 by tapping here!
Michael: When I describe to friends that I’m collaborating with an Instagram Judaica curator, their first question is usually “how do you become one of those?” How did this start?
Shtetl Baby: This started because I deleted my own Instagram. It felt bad for my mental health, but then I wanted to fill that void, and started just posting some Jewish content I liked on this account. I was surprised that people reacted to it, so I just started selling to keep the momentum going.
It’s funny that your project is so grounded in Instagram, given it’s all about physical stuff — you describe your mission as “celebrating Jewish material history.”
It’s a balance. Being Jewish, a lot of identity and culture isn’t material. It's food or song or community, all creating a space that's kind of temporary. But we do have a lot of material culture that’s not emphasized in the same way.
My love for vintage came before this account, and it’s through material things I’ve found that I discovered a new love for parts of Judaism I didn’t have growing up. As a kid, I didn’t realize so much interesting mysticism in Judaism: angels, devils, witchy girl vibes.
It feels like we’re in a moment that’s celebrating anything vintage, whether it’s vinyl collections or old movies, maybe as a reaction to everything new being so mass-produced.
What Jewish and new do you see out there that you connect with? That you look at and say, 50 years from now, maybe that’ll be vintage?
But as for modern things, we're living in an interesting time; what’s popular is this trendy Instagram subculture of Jewish artists and brands. I’m thinking of Via Maris, Judaica Standard Time, and some others creating very stylized, design-forward versions of Jewish objects. Artists have been doing that for a long time, but today it’s tapping into social media-driven aesthetics that make it feel nice to scroll as a young Jewish person: surrounded by very aesthetic Jewish stuff.
You’re speaking to a sort of digital aesthetic — what physical spaces have you found while seeking out objects that are similarly inspiring?
One of the privileges of living in New York is there are so many distinct and diverse Jewish spaces. There are a lot of restaurants I love: B&H Dairy on Second Avenue, Liebman’s Deli, Gottlieb’s. I recommend everyone goes to the Mizrahi Bookstore in deeper Brooklyn, which is just three stories of chaos: all old Jewish books and the guy Israel is a savant who knows everything. It’s an encyclopedic mine and a crazy place to go. Even most buildings on the Lower East Side just have a specific look and feel with Jewish origins and I try to reflect that in my work. It’s a nostalgic project.
I love B&H, for example, and wonder sometimes if that aesthetic felt Jewish when it started out — or if all delis back then shared an aesthetic, and Jews held on to it.
It’s interesting — Gertie in Williamsburg feels like a very stylized, millennial version of that, and it’s great to see this reimagined around the same roots.
And if Gertie just holds on, in a half-century that’s vintage?
Yeah, we hold on to things. Like, Italian rainbow cookies. They’re 100% Italian in origin, but now you find them in Jewish delis. And they’re so good. So I pray to God that we hold on to them for many, many millennia.
You’ve talked about other spaces – what kind of space are you trying to build with Shtetl Baby?
Social media’s challenging. Judaism is always contentious, and everyone has different ideas of how it’s sacred, and you can’t say everything in an Instagram post.
But I’m trying to build a space where I feel good in Judaism. It might not be a space for everyone, but I do hope that it gives solace to some people who like some of the things that I do.
In the beginning of this project, I offered hand-delivery here in the city, if people wanted to save the $5 in shipping. I met so many people with different experiences, some of whom I now hang out with all the time. And most of them were struggling with this identity in a different way. It’s nice to connect with people even just trying to do that.
It’s the same for me: when people ask me what Jewish community I belong to, I like to joke that it’s in my DMs.
Yeah, and those that don’t connect with my space, I hope it still inspires them to search for things in Judaism that are meaningful to them: whether that's like a piece of artwork or a movie or like a culinary dish or a song or another person. Spaces, or times, or things that make you feel accepted and like yourself.
I grew up secular, not very religious, and sometimes it’s easy to feel like an implant into the Jewish world. But what I’m trying to do, and what you’re doing, is showing that you can always find something in this culture to connect with, no matter who you are.
It’s like B&H. Anyone can eat there, and I hope anyone would feel comfortable.