By Lisa Woolfson
Twenty-five-year-old Maddie Reich is a Jewish vegan Instagram influencer. A Silver Spring resident, she posts on her account, thejewishvegan, just about every day — from challah to holiday-themed dishes. She also intersperses her own recipes with reviews of restaurants and other dishes.
Reich spent some of her younger years in the rural South. She says it took a while for her to embrace her Judaism, let alone start a social media presence based on it.
How would you describe your Jewish background?
I lived in New York until I was 12. I went to synagogue a few times with my extended family. But then when we moved to North Carolina. We lived in a really rural area and there wasn’t a synagogue.
We were the only Jewish family in town. We celebrated some holidays with my family, like Passover and Chanukah, but I didn’t really have a strong Jewish background until I went to college, where I started going to Hillel and sort of explored and built that identity for myself.
What was it like growing up in the rural South?
Sometimes my friends would make Holocaust jokes around me. One of my boyfriends for my birthday gave me a penny because like Jews are frugal or whatever. My boyfriend also said I could never meet his grandparents because they were actual Nazis.
So yeah it wasn’t the safest place for me to feel like I could be Jewish. But people also didn’t know what Judaism was, because I was the only Jewish person that most people had ever met. So they just had a lack of knowledge about it. I found myself having to be the spokesperson for Judaism a lot and that wasn’t something that I felt prepared to do. I didn’t go to Hebrew school. I didn’t have a strong Jewish identity to begin with. So it was just really, really difficult to be in that position.
What inspired you to make a Jewish vegan Instagram account?
I graduated from my master’s program last May, and for a long time I was thinking that I wanted something creative to do once I was done with school. I love photography, so I had decided I wanted to do something on Instagram.
I also really loved to cook and bake and had been baking for stress relief throughout grad school and sharing [the food I made] with other people, and I got a lot of joy out of doing that. And so it was kind of the combination of all of that, like my love for photography, my love for food, the joy it brings me and wanting to bring that to other people. And then also the element of being vegan and wanting to share that with others as well.
Is Instagram now an important part of your routine?
Yeah! One of the first things I do in the morning is check my Instagram to see if any of my followers have messaged me. I check Instagram several times a day just to make sure I’m up to date on what’s happening. I try to post about once a day.
There are other things associated with Instagram that are part of my routine like thinking about what recipes I want to make, what restaurants I want to try, what products I might want to post about, how to set up the pictures that I want to take, what’s next for the Instagram and actually implementing all those things too.
Do you have a certain direction that you want thejewishvegan to go?
Yes, I am almost ready to launch a website and I would like my Instagram to support the website in a lot of ways. I would really like to be more frequently on my story; I’m still trying to figure out the best way to use that. And maybe using the live feature more. I thought about doing like a live cook with me kind of thing. It’s not going to stay exactly the same because I like to be creative and change things up.
Lisa Woolfson is a student at the University of Maryland and a member of the Reform Board at Maryland Hillel.