“Soon By You” — the frum and funky “Friends”-esque sitcom taking the Upper West Side by storm — is finally back. In its first season, the show played for laughs while taking on some of the big issues in the Orthodox community today: should women be able to lead prayers? Is it time to change the rules that allow husbands to withhold divorces from their wives?
Now, filmmaker and “Soon By You” creator Leah Gottfried has partnered with JQY (a support center for queer Jewish youth) and Eshel (a nonprofit working for LGBTQ inclusion in the Orthodox community) to explore the dilemma faced by queer young people who want to embrace their sexuality without leaving their communities.
“Soon By You” takes its title from an adage familiar to single women at Orthodox weddings: meaning something like “your turn next,” it’s a phrase in theory optimistic and in practice just as stress-inducing as you’d expect. The sitcom follows a collection of Orthodox twenty-somethings who really do want it to be their turn next — so much so that they are willing to spend literally all of their time on paint-and-sip first dates with potential life partners. But they also want to reconcile observant lifestyles with the trappings of modern yuppie life: ambitious careers, egalitarian relationships, yoga memberships (transgender activist Abby Stein makes a brief cameo as a supremely unflappable yoga teacher), and loving relationships with their gay brothers.
In this season’s most recent episode, struggling artist Sarah is just settling into a relationship with David, a strong-jawed, chore-doing, generally non-toxically masculine rabbi. But things get complicated when they run into Sarah’s brother Joey and his friend Chana while boating in Central Park (because what else would four young professionals be doing in the middle of the afternoon?). David thinks that Joey and Chana are an item, but to Sarah’s dismay Chana reveals that they met at JQY, diving into an advertisement-length spiel (in case you didn’t know who was sponsoring this episode) about the various services they provide.
Awkward silence, allusions to intolerant family members, and a boat overturn ensue, but in the end the stakes prove low: David instantly assures Sarah that he can be a rabbi and accept her brother’s sexuality, Sarah promises Joey that she’ll work on their recalcitrant mother, and Chana gives another quick pitch (“Do you know about Eshel?” she asks in the dulcet tones of a commercial introducing a new drug for opioid-induced constipation, while soothing pharma Muzak plays in the background).
“Soon By You” is the work of a woman at home in her faith and identity. It doesn’t feel the need to explain or justify Orthodox customs, but neither is it interested in establishing Orthodoxy as the one true path or inducing the viewer to abandon her wicked Reform ways (if anything, this viewer is pretty allured by the painting and sipping). It’s gratifying to see references to Jewish culture surface not as clunky gestures towards inclusion but in organic and funny ways — asked if he and Sarah are getting serious, David replies, “It’s not like we’re getting genetic screening yet.” Gottfried has moved her genre forward by creating a show about Orthodox Jews, not Orthodox Judaism.
But in this episode, that approach falls a little short. The sequence of secrecy giving way to acceptance and newly-opened minds is generic, with little mention of the specific complexities of being queer in traditional Jewish communities. “Soon By You” has debuted a significant and necessary episode, all the while downplaying the reasons for which it is significant and necessary.
You can watch the show here.
Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.