By Michele Justic
In just two years, “Soon By You,” a comedic web series about Orthodox Jews dating in New York City airing on YouTube has attracted close to 8,500 subscribers. While it portrays characters who may be looking for love in all the wrong places, over 170K viewers have fallen in love with the show. From the moment the wrong/right Sarah met David on a blind date, devoted followers have followed their misadventures on the Upper West Side.
Based loosely on the hit Israeli series Srugim, which followed a group of singles and aired from 2008-2012, “Soon By You” takes a decidedly American approach by featuring fast paced encounters frequently juggling concerns of career, family, and relationships.
While it’s an ensemble production, a large part of the show’s success can be credited to its creator Leah Gottfried. On the show Leah portrays “flighty Sarah” though she says “artistic Sarah” more represents her personality. The actress’ exuberant, dynamic personality shines through the character and clearly is a secret to her success.
Leah pushed to create a film major at Stern/YU College for Women and was chosen by Jewish Week for its 36 Under 36 list. At age 27, Gottfried has achieved success some double her age might yearn for. Gottfried makes it all look easy, yet as was once said about Ginger Rogers, she did everything Fred Astaire did “backwards and in high heels.”
Q: First of all, we love the show. It’s so relatable but at the same time, farcical.
A: Thank you so much!
Q: Were you told being in the entertainment industry would be “bad for shidduchim”? Do you agree?
A: I always had a passion for performing and storytelling. It’s been a big part of me since I was really young. The idea of negating such a huge part of myself in order to find a partner seems so counterintuitive to me. I want someone who will appreciate my passions and drive and ambition and I could never be with someone who didn’t love and embrace all of me. No one has ever really told me that being a filmmaker was “bad for shidduchim,” and I absolutely don’t agree that it is. It’s actually been so good for me to fully be who I am without shame or fear and it’s attracted the right kind of people into my life. I don’t think you need to hide parts of yourself to find your ideal partner — just the opposite. Embrace what makes you unique and the right person will love you for it!
Q: Do you think of ideas on dates?
A: Yes! At times it’s been difficult not to take notes. My co-producer Jessica and I joke that a bad date is great because then we get story ideas.
Q: Does a bad first date mean no chance for good relationship?
A: If the date was bad due to external circumstances then I think there’s still a chance. But if it was bad because you didn’t connect at all then I’d say no chance for a good relationship.
Q: How did you come up with these characters?
A: Sarah Feldman was very much based on me. She came out of a place of feeling frustrated at being an artist and not connecting to people. Ben was based on many guys I had known or gone out with and David was the kind of dream guy I hadn’t met yet. Sarah Jacobs was just so fun to create — but also based on a few people in my life.
Q: Do you see the characters getting married? Would that be the end of the show?
A: To me the show is much more about the journey. I’m more interested in exploring the dating process and all the complexities that come with it than seeing the characters reach an end goal. I don’t know the ending yet, but if we did go long enough to see some of them get married I think that could be a really interesting stage to explore as well.
Q: Where did you meet the other actors/writers?
A: Jessica and I met around 10 years ago at the ATARA conference for religious women in the arts. We became fast friends and always wanted to collaborate but never had the chance. When I was producing the first episode I asked Jessica to be an assistant and an extra and she was so good that I promoted her to producer and wrote the role of Noa for her in episode 2. Danny and I first met on the set of a Jewish parody of the show “The Office” (please don’t look it up). He came in to audition for David and was perfect for the role. Now he is a producer and writer on the show. The other wonderful actors auditioned and I’m so grateful to have found the perfect actors for all the roles.
Q: How did the idea for popular 5TJT columnist Esther Mann come to play?
A: We came across The Navidaters on Instagram and met and fell in love with them right away. They came on as partners for a few episodes — we fund the show mostly through product placements and advertisements — and Jen was featured in episode four.
Q: How hard is it to act, write, and direct?
A: Very. I’ve gotten to a place where I have a system and it’s gotten easier and I’ve gotten better at juggling everything. It’s mostly about putting in a lot of time preparing. Episode 5 was particularly challenging, directing in a very long sparkly gown all day and getting myself into the mindset of Jacobs crying in the bathroom. I couldn’t have done it without my amazing team.
Q: Which world do you think has it easier/harder? The setups or the natural meetings? Men or women?
A: I always preferred natural meetings but I think that’s a really individual thing. I know there are difficulties from both sides but I would say women probably have it harder—if only for all the voices telling them what a crisis they are living in and how hard it is to snag a good man. I think our beliefs around that are what makes it most challenging. There is also definitely more of a stigma for an older single woman as opposed to an older man.
Q: Do you have any ideas to “end the shidduch crisis?”
A: First I would stop calling it a crisis. I would also stop putting pressure on people to settle down at a young age and give them the time, respect, and space they need to explore themselves and attract the right person at whatever time is right for them. I’d stop respecting people more solely based on their marital status and start seeing everyone first and foremost as human.
Q: What’s your favorite part of producing this show? The writing? The acting? The recognition on the street?
A: I do love meeting fans and seeing firsthand what it means to them. But I think my favorite part of the show is the premieres — watching the final product that I’ve worked on every day for 6 months up there on the big screen, surrounded by all the people I love supporting me, and hearing the laughter from the audience. There’s nothing like it.
Q: The question on everyone’s minds: when will the next show be out?
A: Good question! I wish I had a date for you, but know I am literally working on it every single day. We are currently fundraising for the entire next season and writing the episodes and we will definitely keep everyone updated. Follow us on Facebook for the official announcement (hopefully SOON).
Stay tuned as 5TJT.com will feature blogs from the cast members and will play its own part in the next episode to air. Visit SoonbyYou.tv. to learn more.