Dating has always been hard, especially when religion comes into the mix. Today, apps and websites such as Tinder — created by Jews — and JDate — created for Jews — can help only so much.
And for religious Jews, there can be even more roadblocks. They may face the added pressures of getting married in their 20s, trying to find a partner who is on the same level spiritually, and ensuring that, going forward, they are going to build a Torah-centric home together.
Stories about single, religious Jews and the issues they must deal with are rarely depicted on television and in the movies. That’s why Leah Gottfried decided to create the web series called “Soon By You,” which follows the lives of six Modern Orthodox singles. (The title takes its name from a phrase wishing singles good fortune in dating.)
“We want to show the world that Modern Orthodox Jews do exist, and that we’re normal and go through the same thing as everyone else,” said Gottfried, who also plays a role in the series. “We may have different traditions, but that’s what makes us interesting.”
The first episode of “Soon By You,” available for viewing on YouTube, follows David, a rabbinical student in his mid-20s who is living in New York City. He’s running late for a blind date, but when he gets there, it starts going surprisingly well. He and his date, Sarah, an artist, connect instantly, and sparks are flying between them.
Then, David realizes that he’s at the wrong table. He goes over to his real date at the restaurant, and Sarah’s date shows up, as well. When it’s clear their actual dates are completely wrong for them, the two keep sneaking off to the bathroom to speak with each other.
The episode was originally a short film that won best short at the Washington Jewish Film Festival. It was the Audience Award winner at the NewFilmmakers New York film festival and winner of the JFilm Robinson International short film competition. On May 22, it screened as an official selection at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.
Gottfried and her team are collaborating on “Soon By You” with the Jewish Entertainment Network (JenLA), a nonprofit group for Jewish professionals working in L.A.’s entertainment industry. They’re raising money through the organization’s website to support five more episodes of the series’ first season. Right now, they’re nearly finished editing the second episode.
“The episode takes the comedy to a whole new level and we introduce more characters,” Gottfried said. “We’re finding our voice and continuing the story.” Gottfried, 25, who lived in Los Angeles for six years when she was a teenager and attended Valley Torah High School, is now working on the show in New Jersey. She attended Yeshiva University in New York City, where she founded the film major program. Now, she owns a production company called Dignity Entertainment, which puts out music videos and feature films.
“ ‘Soon By You’ is my first personal passion project,” she said.
Danny Hoffman, who plays David and co-produces the series, said “Soon By You” is a lighthearted look at what can be a distressing phase of life for some people. He wanted to be involved because he strives to provide entertainment for the world and give some insight into the Modern Orthodox lifestyle.
“This can serve as an introduction to that sect of Judaism, with the main lesson being that for the most part, ‘We’re just like you,’ ” he said. “Our religious priorities dictate a large portion of our lives, true, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not completely comfortable or involved with the secular culture of our surroundings, which is the impression they may get from the popular depiction of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.”
Another one of the actors and producers, Jessica Schechter, has been in the Modern Orthodox dating scene for the last 10 years.
“It’s been quite a journey with a lot of ups and downs, but I’ve learned and grown so much from each of my experiences,” she said. “It’s so important to be able to find the humor in it all and I think that’s what the show is for a lot of us. The stories are inspired by true events but they have their own sitcom spin.”
Schechter said that being able to work on a project that carries meaning for her and allows her to be religious has been especially rewarding.
“It’s the ultimate dream to be able to act in a project that resonates so deeply for me, is so much fun, and is being generated by a religious creative team so I never have to worry about it conflicting with my religious observance,” she said. “It’s honestly a dream come true to be a part of this amazing show.”