Hasidic influencer Shloime Zionce gets both hate and cheers for promoting Jewish pride with a fighting spirit

Wearing a sweater showing an arm wrapped in tefillin and a raised fist, the self-described bridge-builder promoted his new line of clothes, with images of Jewish ritual objects fused with militaristic themes

Shloime Zionce. Credit: Shloime Zionce

Dec 28, 2023 5:20 PM


A social media post by Shloime Zionce, a Hasidic social media personality, meant as a call for Jewish pride, garnered millions of views and thousands of replies and reposts, including grossly antisemitic reactions. Many Jews, however, cheered his message — and some non-Jews did too.

In his post, Zionce is seen wearing a sweater with an image of an arm wrapped in tefillin and forming a clenched fist. He was on a flight from Texas to Florida on Dec. 19 when he posted the image, according to VIN News.

“I’m trying to look as Jewish as possible on my flight today, because no anti-Semite is gonna make me hide my Jewish Pride,” the post read, both on X, formerly Twitter, and Instagram.

Shloime Zionce’s post on X

The sweater, Zionce clarified in a subsequent post, was from his bold new clothing line, Candle & Strap, which offers shirts, hoodies, and caps showing images of Jewish ritual objects fused with militaristic symbols — although Zionce told Shtetl they represent spiritual, rather then physical, strength.

The images on the items include a military tank with a tefillin cube on top, Shabbat candles held by a pair of gun barrels, and tzitzit resembling a bulletproof vest. The line also includes sweaters that say “grow a pair” next to a picture of a man with payes — Hasidic side curls.

“Average jew, finding any excuse to make some shekels,” read one reply on X. Another user expressed the hope that Zionce’s plane would crash.

“I think you’re the ugliest creature I've ever seen,” another commenter wrote.

Others were quick to draw a connection between Zionce’s post and the current war in Gaza, though many of those, too, contained antisemitic notes. “Turning a global conflict into a money making opportunity is not helping,” said one commenter.

Some also pointed to a 2019 tweet in which Zionce said there would be “a bunch of brand new parking lots in Gaza” in reaction to rockets being fired at Israel by Palestinian terror groups.

Reached by Shtetl for comment, Zionce explained the motivation for his product line. “As somebody who’s been traveling the world for twelve years now,” he said, he noticed that many Jews around the world, especially young people, were anxious about appearing Jewish in public. His clothing line was intended to “give young kids pride in their religion, their heritage and customs.”

“Every morning when they get up,” Zionce said, “they have to make a decision, whether they’re going to go with their Jewish pride today or not.”

Some of the items listed on Candle & Strap’s online catalog

In an earlier interview with the Yiddish-language Kol Mevaser broadcaster, Zionce noted that this was a greater challenge outside the Hasidic community, for those who might not otherwise stand out with their Jewishness. But if they happen to be in a public place when it comes time for prayers, there’s a moment of acute anxiety. 

“The moment they put on their talis and tefillin,” he said, referring to the prayer shawl and phylacteries Orthodox men wear each day for morning prayers, “that’s the moment they are identified as Jews. And you never know if some antisemite will suddenly yell at you.”

He added that his product line was not meant to convey “my power and strength” — a concept in Jewish tradition that stresses reliance on God’s protection rather than one’s own fighting prowess.

In his comments to Shtetl, he clarified that despite the militaristic themes on his products, the message was about “spiritual protection provided to us by doing mitzvahs” — or fulfilling the Torah’s commandments. The guns-as-candlesticks, he said, was inspired by a campaign by the Lubavitcher rebbe, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, during previous Arab-Israeli wars, in which Schneerson urged Jewish women to light Shabbat candles as “a direct response” to attacks on Israel, suggesting the practice would invoke God’s protection and be a “weapon” against Israel’s enemies.

When asked by Shtetl about his 2019 tweet about Gaza, Zionce pushed back strongly, saying, “It was a way of summarizing what was happening.” He noted that the same pattern kept repeating itself over and over again, and had become tragically predictable. “It’s been happening for the longest time,” he said about the repeated rocket attacks from Gaza and Israel’s response to them.

“Over the past five years,” he added, “I put tremendous efforts into building bridges, between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians,” and he pointed to his social media channels as evidence. For anyone who suggested his tweet meant “Palestinians should be wiped off the face of the earth,” he suggested they look inward. “That’s a horrible statement, and anybody who says that has to take a deep look into themselves and figure out why they're so filled with hate.”

Within a deluge of hate, some of the positive comments stood out

While many commenters on Zionce’s post were initially negative, many others soon turned supportive, including some who said they were not Jewish.

“I’m a Uyghur,” one commenter wrote. “I support you. Cherish your identity. No matter what.”

Yashar Ali, a widely followed user on X whom L.A. Magazine called “one of the most fearsome media figures in the country,” chimed in with a warm message of allyship. 

“Shloime, I’m so sorry about this,” Ali wrote. “You don’t deserve it, no one does. And thank you for serving as such a great ambassador for the Jewish community in Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia and Morocco. I’m not surprised you were welcomed warmly.”

Zionce, who was born in the Haredi enclave of Borough Park, Brooklyn, now lives in Texas and travels around the world, making videos for his YouTube channel and writing articles for the Haredi magazine Ami. He has frequently appeared in photos and videos with Arabs and Muslims in traditional dress during his travels to Middle Eastern and North African countries.

Zionce himself looks inward, too, sometimes, producing videos in which he invites non-Jews into Hasidic enclaves. He has invited fellow travel vlogger Peter Santenello, who is not Jewish, to several Hasidic events, including Shabbat dinners and a new Torah celebration. And last year, Zionce put out a video inviting rapper Kanye West, who had recently made antisemitic comments, to visit Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. He hoped for the musician to get to know them and become more understanding of Jews and the Jewish community.