What comes to mind when you picture your stereotypical social media influencer?
A smartphone-toting teenager posting food pictures on Instagram? A YouTuber unboxing the latest tech products? Do you even have social media at all?
Stepping somewhat incongruously into this fray is Shimshon Leshinsky, a 57 year old administrative worker originally from Melbourne, Australia, now living with his French-born wife in Har Homa, south of Jerusalem.
Leshinsky recently shot to prominence with his unique style of posts on the popular Secret Jerusalem messaging board. And he’s been on a high (food-induced that is) ever since.
Shimshon agreed to be After Aliyah’s first interview subject. He also seemed a little bemused by the invitation despite the following that he’s quickly accrued. (Although he was quick to add that he was flattered and Leshinsky proved a gracious inaugural guest).
Fittingly, I spoke to Shimshon just before embarking upon my own food odyssey of sorts, stuffing myself full of pizza at ten o’clock in the evening (recommendation: Buchman’s on Derekh Hevron).
But in the twenty minutes before I left to do that, I grilled (excuse the pun) Shimshon on who he is, why he decided to start posting food pics on Secret Jerusalem, and where he sees this whole project going. Burning questions among the Anglo community.
What’s he like in person? Leshinsky’s sometimes controversial food postings on Secret Jerusalem, peppered with questions and scattergun insights, fail to do justice to how gregarious this Aussie-born transplant is. He starts things off by explaining that he came to Jerusalem on a tour and then stayed put.
Leshinsky, who recently received his second vaccine and is thus “double vaccinated” said that his Facebook postings have quickly mushroomed his real-life social circle from a few guys congregating for Shabbat meals into a blossoming network of foodie friends, restaurant owners, and fans. In fact, after one particular posting during which Shimshon posed while hugging for a tree, a follower even created a group specifically for Jerusalem tree huggers. We have no idea whether the trend is catching on.
So what does he get out of posting? Leshinsky seems enthralled by the power of social media and says that he loves the immediacy of the interactions he kicks off via the platforms. “It’s like in ten minutes you have ten comments, and then a whole discussion has kicked off,” he says.
Name: Shimshon Leshinsky
Made aliyah from: Australia
Occupation: Administrative worker
Likes: Food (apparently). Also trees.
But his quick unexpected push to the limelight has forced Leshinsky to make quick decisions about journalistic ethics. He says that whenever he dines out — and, judging by his postings, he seems to do so frequently, if not daily — he is diligent to make sure that the tab is always on him. “I always make sure to pay for my meals in full. The reviews are totally independent,” he says.
Recently Shimshon has begun co-reviewing restaurants with fellow Jerusalem food enthusiasts who reach out to him through Facebook. Shimshon was recently joined on a trip designed to probe the question of whether a certain restaurateur was worthy of the title of Jerusalem’s best meat sandwich. He says that he has begun receiving a steady deluge of messages since beginning his posting activity, both from new fans and from those who have been following his postings for a while.
But what possessed Leshinsky to go from Aussie administrator (with a degree in Law and Economic) to a foodie/travel social media superstar in the space of three months?
The answer, Leshinsky says, was part aspirational — to share Jerusalem’s food — and part boredom.
Despite his enthusiasm for lemons and meringue pies, it seems that Leshinsky is as vulnerable to lockdown boredom as the rest of us. “I have a core group of a few friends but things got really quiet for a while during lockdown,” he admits. Leshinsky — who says that many of those responding to his comments are 20 or so years his junior — asserts that posting on social media has opened up an entirely new world for him that he never previously realized existed.
The process has been such a blur, in fact, that Leshinsky can’t even pinpoint the date on which he posted his first status to the group — or what it consisted of. He worries about creeping addiction. But I put it to Leshinsky that rather than his volume (he has been a prolific contributor) it’s his trademark style, which features a selfie (sans selfie stick), food photos, and several question-provoking questions, that has catapulted him to fame.
As I quietly suspected, Leshinsky shares a passion for writing. He says that his workplace is located a few minutes’ walk from the shuk (Mahane Yehuda Market). And that this provided the impetus to begin exploring the local culinary scene while also posting small essays and photos. The first status, Leshinsky says, happened spontaneously. But as his community of followers grew, so did his enthusiasm for the project. He now manages his effort somewhat professionally occasionally planning the day’s content 24 hours in advance.
It is at this point in the interview that Leshinsky asks my opinion as to whether he should invest in a selfie stick, which he has thus far eschewed, although almost every photo features a picture of him (he apologized to his fans for not smiling during his recent snow pic, although that was an exception to his usual appearance).
I advise him to resist the urge — lest his unique and decidedly un-millennial style be sullied by the trappings of youth whose social media postings are much more vacuous than Leshinsky’s wholesome meditations on life in Jerusalem, lupines, and lemons.
Where youngsters post about manicures and sports teams, Leshinsky speculates as to why Jerusalem’s flowers are in bloom and showcases some of the city’s walks and trails to appreciative residents. He is usually joined in these ruminations by an eager chorus of respondents.
While Leshinsky says that the project is a hobby — and (I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news) — he envisions wrapping things up in a few months, or at least stepping back on the post frequency, he says that he’s tried to do his best to support small Jerusalem businesses in the process, frequently encouraging commenters to tag businesses as a means of getting them advertising on the group.
Leshinsky’s postings sometimes generate heated arguments on the platform, one of the best known English-speaking Facebook groups in Israel. I ask him whether, among his fans, there have also been critics. And how does Leshinsky handle his dual role as a social media influencer who also appears to be an observant Jew (I’m asking, specifically, about lashon hara, and partially for selfish reasons, because this is also a topic I struggle with navigating)?
“There have been a few trolls,” he candidly admits, while he says that others have hit out at him for showcasing his frequent dining out during a time of national austerity — a charge which he deflects by pointing out that his postings are helping to stimulate interest in small business. But if he is fazed by their existence, it doesn’t carry through in his voice.
Despite being an almost daily poster to a Facebook group with more than 90,000 members, Leshinsky also seems blissfully unaware as to how far (and quickly) his fame has spread among Jerusalem’s English-speaking community.
Leshinsky seems surprised when I tell him that he has been an almost daily fixture on my Facebook feed and that I even noticed how he transitioned from food blogger into general Jerusalem commentator over the course of his recent activity.
Regarding lashon hara, Leshinsky relates to me how he had one bad experience at a restaurant in the shuk and chose to criticize their presentation of the bread. The post quickly threw up controversy and some commenters were quick to point out that Israel’s prohibitive defamation laws could make airing such views risky — not to mention the fact that many businesses are struggling during the pandemic. He says that he tried to do so in the gentlest possible terms while also highlighting what was positive about the restaurant. The feedback received was constructive, Leshinsky says, and helped him to find a middle ground he was happy with. BreadGate, he says, has run its course.
The time for me to run out and buy pizza is closing in.
As somebody that also writes about Jerusalem and the world around us for fun, I feel a certain natural sense of kinship with Leshinsky’s project. It is pure, unsullied even by the type of food-for-review deals that Leshinsky has repeatedly turned down. Leshinsky is a journalistic puritan of sorts. A man with a camera and an apparently voracious appetite who appears completely unfazed by the odd derisive comment on Facebook. A unique entity with a decidedly quizzical, rather than promotional, style.
In particular, I appreciate the unique angle he has taken to social media, increasingly a toxic wasteground of self-aggrandizement, virtue-signalling, and bragging (LinkedIn, I’m looking at you). And so while I hate that I feel the need to ask Leshinsky this question, thereby raising the ugly specter of motivations, I know that somebody must and that even his ardent fans have wondered this: What’s the point and where is this all going?
To my disappointment, he’s not planning on writing a book any time soon. Although he does write short stories and works in Hebrew, apparently. Instead, he says that he’s simply enjoying the process of spreading the love of food — and Jerusalem — to its residents. And it’s here that Leshinsky offers the best lines of our interview:
“I think about my posts in Secret Jerusalem like a Shabbat meal,” he offers.
“I bring the food” — he’s referring to the statuses he shares with food photos — “and then that strikes up a conversation. Everybody offers their take on it. You talk to this one and then to that. Like at a kiddush“
Shimshon Leshinsky may just be the only social media “influencer” who thinks about Facebook Groups as a digital Shabbat table.
While he says that his real one is typically only home to a handful of families, his online Shabbat table frequently numbers hundreds of participants.
I would argue that social media has become richer for his viewpoints — and his colorful contributions. Perhaps social media needs more Shimshon Leshinskys.
- Secret Jerusalem (Facebook)
- Jerusalem Tree Huggers (Facebook)
- Shimshon Leshinsky — Daily Food Comments is a fan-run Facebook page. His posts can also be found on Secret Jerusalem and elsewhere on Facebook.
Article ID: 438