Soon By You: Too Soon to Tell?
“Soon by you” is the unique kind of phrase that can inspire panic in most Jewish Orthodox young adults. It is a piercing reminder shielded in good intentions that sets the unmarried twenty-year-old into dating overdrive, desperate to find his or her “Bashert”. But now, perhaps that connotation has changed. A hit YouTube series with over 175,000 views, Soon By You provides a comical take on the the Jewish dating scene, specifically in the Upper West side community, nailing this phenomenon on the head.
Led by a creative team of Yeshiva University alumni, Soon By You follows a group of Jewish singles trying to navigate their way through the jungle of Jewish dating. And nowhere does the Jewish dating scene show its truest colors more than in New York, the watering hole for single Jewish adults. Originally intended as a short film (and Best Short Film winner at the Washington Jewish Film Festival), the first episode acknowledges everything that could go wrong on a date, from the subway breaking down, to meeting the wrong person at the restaurant, no doubt drawing from the endless annals of dating horror stories.
As the first episode unwinds, we begin to get a sense of the four lead characters, each cleverly designed as foils for one another. Sarah Feldman (Sara Scur) is a witty and introspective artist who is supposed to be set up with Ben (Nathan Shapiro), an arrogant law student. Meanwhile, one table over, a different and more exuberant Sarah (Leah Gottfried) waits for her own date, a quirky rabbinical student named David (Danny Hoffman). When this “set-up” doesn’t go as planned, it leads the characters to question if the mix-up was really meant to be.
On a visual level, the filmography is top-notch and the acting is believable. Everything, from the set design, to the hair and makeup, is professionally done. This is no amateur endeavor. Two of the producers, Leah Gottfried and Danny Hoffman, both work behind the scenes as writers and producers in addition to starring on the show. A graduate of Stern College as the first Film Studies major, Gottfried drew inspiration for Soon By You from the Israeli TV show Srugim about Dati Leumi singles in Israel and from crazy dating stories from her friends. Hoffman, a YCDS veteran and a Speech/Drama major from Yeshiva College, started his involvement with the series as an actor and then worked his way up to a producer and writer, an aspect he enjoys immensely.
Although the series is currently only three episodes long, the creators “plan to keep writing and producing more episodes as long as people keep watching,” says Gottfried. As with any independent film endeavor, funding is the biggest struggle. Fortunately, Soon By You has partnered with Shabbat.com and The Navidaters, who have helped make the show happen. They also have a partnership with the Jewish Entertainment Network of LA (JENLA) who has enabled donations to the show to be tax deductible. (You can participate in that at JENLA.org/soonbyyou.)
Hoffman explained that the night the first episode aired on YouTube, they had no idea what to expect. “We were blown away by how quickly the numbers were climbing. We got about 5,000 hits in the first day, which took us completely by surprise.” The positive response was overwhelming. It was clear that the show had potential to grow to an audience experiencing or nostalgic for the single life.
But as much as Soon by You delivers in the humorous and relatable aspect, so far the series falls short when it comes to development. The plot runs slow and even appears quite thin at some points, constantly drawing on the same few facts we have about each of the characters for progression. In this stage, the characters are simply stereotypes that lack real substance, and in a world dominated by factory-produced entertainment via Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, it is crucial that the independent filmmakers create something deep as well as entertaining. Additionally, the show currently lacks diversity. As “different” as the four main characters are, they are all clearly on the same religious level, most likely graduates of Yeshiva University themselves. While the show currently has a primarily Jewish audience, in order to be successful among a wider range of people, the creators need to come up with issues and characters that break beyond the walls of simple “shidduch dating” and maybe even Modern Orthodoxy itself.
Fortunately, these problems are solvable. The second episode gives hope for more character and plot development with the introduction of two fresh characters, Noa (Jessica Schechter) and Z (Noam Harary). By the third (and arguably best) episode, their flirty banter threatens to steal the show. Additionally, in the third episode, the writers begin to touch on deeper issues regarding religion as it conflicts with work. If developed, topics like these could instill in the series the depth that it often lacks. These next few episodes will determine the direction that the show will take, and are therefore crucial.
Overall, Soon By You succeeds in bringing us one step closer to the entertainment that the Modern Orthodox world desires. “I think people are really hungry for this kind of Jewish content”, writes Hoffman, “and I’m really proud to take part in giving it to them.”