Behind Digital Dov
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic separating people from each other physically, Dov Katz, under the guise of “Digital Dov,” has found a way to bring friends, families and communities across the world together more so than ever before. Digital Dov is a Zoom entertainer who has hosted hundreds of virtual get-togethers including four for the students of Yeshiva University, including Let’s Make a Deal in April 2020, Family Feud in September, an October game of Weakest Link and most recently, the Price is Right in December.
Katz grew up in Marine Park, Brooklyn, where he attended the Orthodox elementary school Toras Emes and its affiliate school, Kamenetz, for high school at the edge of Borough Park. At age 13, Dov discovered his passion for music and had a special interest in playing guitar. As his skills progressed, he began to perform live on many NCSY Shabbatons. Following high school, he went to Mercaz HaTorah for his year-in-Israel and then attended Yeshiva University.
At YU, Dov was a member of an engagement party band called “The Y’s Guys” that regularly performed in the Morgenstern Lounge on the Wilf Campus. His band grew incredibly popular and reached a record of doing 20 engagements in a single month! Dov’s music career really took off at the YU Purim Chagiga during his senior year. Neshama Orchestra, a popular wedding band based in New York, was performing and Dov was invited to sit in with them for the Chagigah. The next day, they invited him to join the band and perform at weddings with them.
The Commentator had the opportunity to sit down with Katz for a conversation about launching a new career path doing Zoom entertainment in the middle of a global pandemic.
Hey Dov! Thanks so much for joining us! To start off, can you tell us a bit about your professional career after YU?
I’d love to! After college, I started off working in IT for Colgate, the toothbrush company. Eventually, I transitioned over to work full-time in music which I’ve been doing for the past 25 years. I think it’s the greatest job in the world, sharing s’machot with others. With my bands Krohma, OnKore and Sozo Live, I’m in the 2nd generation of s’machot managing the music at weddings for kids’ parents’ weddings I have played at.
It’s a hard business but to me, it’s the most gratifying career since I get to bring joy to people. I always say my career is the personification of “If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.”
What led you to start Digital Dov?
I was scheduled to perform at The Young Israel of New Rochelle Purim party which got canceled due to COVID. The synagogue called me notifying me that many congregants were in quarantine and that the event needed to be canceled. I felt awful that they needed to be stuck at home and I was determined to do something special for them. I planned a Zoom event for them with a bunch of games to participate in.
Following the Megillah reading, I logged onto Zoom, and to my shock, there were over 500 people watching. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The event went incredibly well; we did a virtual costume contest and played trivia games. It was amazing to see that people were actually enjoying themselves remotely all from the comfort and safety of their own homes. I’ve never done anything like that before.
So officially, on March 8, 2020 Digital Dov was born. Two days following the event, I woke up to an explosion of text messages because the world was basically ending. Everything was shutting down due to COVID. That day I got a call from a school called Yavneh telling me that a 6th-grade class was in quarantine, so I did an event for them. Then I got the call from SAR who had the majority of their school in quarantine, so I did an event for them as well. Then I got the call from a random parent asking me to do something for her son and his friends. Then someone from Memphis called me to do a bar mitzvah game night since his party got canceled. I got multiple calls from shuls to organize events for their members. The list just goes on and on, it was crazy to me how fast the word was spreading and how people across all demographics were reaching out to me to host an event.
Some events had thousands of students. I was even invited to organize a game show for a family that normally got together for “Bubby’s Yahrtzeit” but needed to do something fun virtually. The family really enjoyed it because they got to celebrate Bubby’s life, have fun while doing so and most importantly, be together in a safe manner. The most astounding part about it all was to see how society, in a matter of days, was able to adjust to the circumstances and still be able to figure out how to celebrate together.
An important note to mention is that my growth was all organic. I did absolutely no advertising, word just spread like wildfire starting from that first virtual event I did for the Young Israel of New Rochelle. In the beginning, it was very frightening because I went from being booked for many music events to none at all basically overnight. But at the same token Digital Dov came about because I actually had the time for it. I never set out for this journey, but I thank God that it happened.
Wow, that’s awesome! So, what goes into planning one of your virtual events?
A lot of work. For every 45-minute event, there needs to be three or four hours of preparation, from knowing the honoree, preparing media and more. Sometimes I need an assistant and have to ask my family members to help. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on Wikipedia and I’ve learned so much trivia and ridiculous tidbits about the world.
What are the biggest challenges in running Digital Dov?
The biggest challenge is balancing a lot at once for just one of my games. A lot of technology is being monitored while simultaneously engaging people and delivering entertainment at the same time.
I want to be funny and entertain people, but at the same token not offend anyone. I learned what you could and could not say, who I could engage with and who to leave alone.
Additionally, many people have trouble with technology and I need to teach them how to navigate it. Working with people from all sorts of demographics requires a lot of patience.
You have to remember, every show is a performance. Each time my heart-rate goes up like on a run and I had to learn to pace myself.
Question from your fanbase: How did you come up with the nickname “Digital Dov?”
My daughter came up with it while trying to come up with a name that people will understand that I’m a virtual entertainer. For some odd reason, when I tell people my stage name they hear “Bill” instead of “Dov”
Any funny stories from your experience as Digital Dov?
I did a surprise 70th birthday party and when the birthday girl came up on the screen, she screamed, and then the camera just fell. We all thought she had a heart attack. It ended up being that the surprise scared her like crazy so she left the room.
Another classic incident that surprisingly happens a lot, is the mute button conundrum: where people think they’re muted, but really they’re not. People might be arguing about the silliest things not realizing they’re unmuted! On the flip side, one time, a CEO of a tech company addressed his people for five minutes while he was muted and no one could stop him.
We gotta ask, how do YU Digital Dov events compare to non-YU events?
Different. First of all, the YU students want to be there and have a good time. Everyone is looking to one-up their friends and they come to win. YU is a competitive, bright bunch. In trivia contests, it’s clear who’s in the Star Wars, sports, science/geography group, and who has six different football fantasy teams. It’s a great mix of people who are clearly very smart and educated. I really enjoy working with you guys.
Does being an alumnus make doing YU shows more special?
Over my career, I have performed at many YU events. I’ve been involved in graduating thousands of YU students at commencement and performed at the Chanukah dinner, which are the highlights of my year. Virtually, I’ve been involved at many events at YU including commencement, student events and departmental games.
I have a lot of hakarat hatov for the positive effect the university has had on my life. I was introduced to my wife during my time as a student and I made many lifelong friends. Being at YU was one of the best experiences of my life.
What’s your favorite part about your shows?
I get paid to spread joy and happiness to other people while sitting in my basement wearing sweatpants and flip-flops. This is a true blessing in my life. Seeing and learning about the world, especially the Jewish community, is another perk. There are small incredible communities all over the world that I have been exposed to for the first time. I’m always working with customers and clients making sure they get the experience they want. The miracle of it is that it is happening during a tough time for the world as a whole.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with COVID-19 right now and is bored at home?
I always ask people, what have you done over COVID? People answer that they have done things they used to never do like organizing their closet, playing the ukulele or learning to cook. If you’re having a rough time, don’t spend time on social media watching other people doing fun things. DO SOMETHING YOURSELF. Don’t try to live through other people. Do not use your time sitting and watching social media or Netflix. Instead, do something productive/something that’s healthy for you. I started running over COVID; I used to be able to run for 20 seconds, now I can do 45 minutes. You have to do things you’ve always wanted to do. You might excel at things you never knew you were good at.
Photo Caption: Dov Katz created the Digital Dov persona to entertain Jewish communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo Credit: Dov Katz