About The Schmooze

These Jewish dads are tackling gay fatherhood, one podcast at a time

The Schmooze cannot independently confirm this, but America’s most popular podcast on gay fatherhood may be the result of a conversation from beyond the grave.

In 2016, Israel-American web designer Yanir Dekel was wrapping up his first year as the father of Ben and Adam, twins he’d conceived through surrogacy with his husband Alex Maghen. Finally, he was experienced enough at changing diapers and administering bottles to think about the big picture. How was he weathering the shift from a life of working out and hanging out to one dictated by sleep schedules? When he and his family were at the park and someone asked if it was “mom’s day off,” what was the best way to respond? How did it feel to be part of the first wave of publicly, unapologetically gay dads?

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Dekel started scribbling his thoughts in a journal. He published an article in Huffington Post about the lessons he’d learned (one key takeaway: make sure to take kids to gay spaces to give them “the opportunity to see why collagen lip injections are never a good idea for men”). And he consulted a psychic who he said put him in touch with his deceased aunt. In a warm and lengthy conversation, she advised him to write a memoir about the topics that were consuming him.

“You already have the idea,” she said.

Already the author of one memoir, Dekel didn’t follow this advice to the letter; but he did start a blog, Daddy Squared. It was a way to record his sons’ development and process his anxieties as a parent while, he hoped, providing insight to other fathers in the same boat.

Some of the posts on Daddy Squared would be at home on many a mommy blog (even the ones that aren’t so sympathetic to LGBTQ parents): early posts tackled devising schedules, choosing safe toys, and coaxing babies to sleep through the night.

Others, like a feature on networks of gay fathers in Queens, and a post on “dad-shaming” (the tendency to assume gay men are bad parents or scrutinize their behavior especially carefully), reflect the specific experience as gay fathers. For Dekel, mulling over these problems in his signature irreverent style (he sometimes refers to his twins as “poop machines”) was a way to “release the tension you have when you’re a parent.”

As podcasts began to replace personal blogs, Dekel, who had some radio experience, saw an opportunity to expand Daddy Squared. With his husband, he recorded the first episode of a podcast on gay fatherhood, focusing on the work it takes to maintain a marriage after becoming a father. Dekel hoped that a dozen people would download the episode. Instead, he said, hundreds streamed in the first week.

Three seasons and 30,000 downloads later, Daddy Squared has emerged as the the ground zero of gay parenting resources. On each episode, Dekel and Maghen host an expert to discuss a chosen topic. A surrogacy expert has appeared on the show to talk about how expectant parents can maintain healthy relationships with the woman carrying their child. Maghen, who works for Time Warner, recruited colleagues to give out “Gayby Awards” for their favorite children’s movies. In the most recent episode, the loss of a beloved dog prompts a father to consult a minister on explaining grief to their boys.

These days, Dekel occasionally meets strangers who recognize his voice from the podcast. But, he says, he’s lucky to live in a “bubble” where his work meets with praise, not hate. Online, he receives hate mail from as far away as South Africa.

“When you make yourself visible, you put yourself in the forefront of the war zone,” Dekel said. Despite the condemnation, he hopes his work will help normalize gay fatherhood outside his own community.

“I say, hey, if you just listen to what we have to say, you’ll see that our kids are just normal. That there’s not really that much of a difference.”

Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

Jewish fathers launch podcast on gay fatherhood

“Soon By You” debuts new episode about queer Orthodox Jews

“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.

These Jewish dads are tackling gay fatherhood, one podcast at a time

Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

“Soon By You” debuts new episode about queer Orthodox Jews

Donna Zakowska, fashion genius of ‘Mrs. Maisel,’ takes home costume design award

Midge Maisel has been the best-dressed denizen of the Upper West Side since 2017. Now, the woman who creates her enviable ensembles is getting some credit.

At the Costume Designer’s Guild Awards last week, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” costume designer Donna Zakowska scored big. Beating out onesies in “GLOW,” Soviet-chic greatcoats in “Chernobyl,” the beatnik duds of “Fosse/Verdon,” and even some competing fascinators on “The Crown,” she snagged the prize for excellence in the Period Television category.

The choice seems predictable enough (seriously, did we really think that Chernobyl, a show in which literally every garment is gray, was a contender?) but for Zakowska, it’s a long-awaited accolade. The designer was nominated in 2018, after the hit comedy’s first season, but lost out to The Crown’s Jane Petrie.

Zakowska, who spends up to 16 hours a day on set when the show is filming, personally designs the costumes for the main characters, while also supervising rental costumes for up to 1,000 extras per episode. She gets creative with her choices, sourcing Midge’s period undergarments from a lingerie designer in Paris, and even dipping into her own family closet.

“My mother was a crazy person with the ’60s hats,” Zakowska told the New York Times. Now, those hats are popping up wherever Amazon Prime subscriptions are found. In one of the show’s first episodes, a fortune teller who commiserates with Rose Weissman over her daughter’s scandalous new life as a divorcee wears an authentic Zakowska heirloom.

Zakowska won her award for the fifth episode of Season Three, “It’s Comedy or Cabbage,” in which Midge escapes to Miami on tour — only to be followed by her meddling parents. The shift to southern climes forced Zakowska to abandon her standard hat-and-coat ensembles, but she remained undaunted. In just one episode, Midge exhibits a day dress with a sweeping cape attached, a disco-patterned beach romper, and a hot-pink bathing costume complete with bedazzled cat-eye glasses. Meanwhile, Rose debuts what may be the single funkiest headpiece of the entire show: a straw hat with what looks like a dozen sea anemones glued to the top.

Yes, all these outfits sound like middle school fashion disasters you never want to revisit, but trust me (or just watch the episode) — you would wear a sea anemone, too.

Costumes have been central to “Mrs. Maisel’s” success, helping the show distinguish itself from the crowd of historical dramas and emerge as one of the major period pieces of the decade. So it’s no surprise that while costume designers often go without public credit for their work, Zakowska frequently gets kudos from cast members.

“These costumes change the way I move, and breath, and walk, and talk,” Rachel Brosnahan, who portrays the show’s titular character, told NPR. Her onscreen father, Tony Shaloub, attributes his Emmy win Zakowska’s costume choices — after all, he pointed out to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, he was the only nominee who got to wear a romper onscreen.

Frankly, the male romper is the one Zakowska creation about which I remain skeptical. But if anyone can make it a trend, it’s she.

Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

Donna Zakowska, fashion genius of ‘Mrs. Maisel,’ takes home costume design award

‘Leaning in’ to marriage: Sheryl Sandberg announces engagement to Tom Bernthal

Sheryl Sandberg may be the queen bee of Facebook, but to reveal her upcoming nuptials she turned to the platform favored by cool kids worldwide — Instagram.

On Monday, Sandberg announced her engagement to strategic consultant Tom Bernthal in an effusive post that could have been ripped from a Valentine’s Day rom com.

“You are my everything,” she said. “I could not love you more.”

Comments immediately flooded in from the likes of Ariana Huffington, Katie Couric, and — in a very meta social media move — Instagram’s official account itself.

Sandberg was previously married to Dave Goldberg, who died suddenly in 2015. Left to raise two young children on their own, Sandberg relied on her husband’s family, with whom she retained a remarkably close relationship. Sandberg has said that her mother-in-law encouraged her to consider new relationships, promising to dance at her wedding should she marry again. It’s a promise she’ll have to keep thanks to Rob Goldberg, Sandberg’s former brother-in-law, who introduced her to Bernthal last spring.

Since 2012, Sandberg has been Facebook’s most recognizable leader besides its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. She’s presided over the platform’s growth into a multi-billion dollar corporate octopus with tentacles in every online pie; and she’s endeavored to protect it at all costs (even by hiring consultants who smeared proponents of tech regulation, like George Soros, with anti-Semitic slurs).

One of the most prominent women in the Silicon Valley tech bubble, Sandberg has also branded herself as an advocate for all women in the workplace. But her 2013 book-slash-movement, “Lean In,” garnered criticism for placing the burden of breaking glass ceilings on female professionals alone, ignoring the myriad factors besides individual determination that prevent women from achieving careers as illustrious as hers.

In “Option B,” a 2017 memoir about grief and resilience, Sandberg focused on a different kind of individualism, encouraging women to mourn — and move past mourning — at their own pace. She frankly acknowledged that this was easier said than done: Sandberg herself embarked on a new relationship when she felt ready to do so, ten months after her husband’s death, only to receive a flood of hateful messages on the social media platforms she’d helped create.

“Men date sooner, men date more, and women get judged more,” she told the Guardian.

Before founding his consulting firm, Kelton Global, Bernthal worked for the Clinton administration and NBC News, where he won an Emmy award for his production work. People reported that he proposed to Sandberg after a hike and picnic lunch. And while Sandberg can clearly put as many diamond rings on her own fingers as she wants, he gave her an engagement band set with five diamonds, representing her two children and his three.

Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

Sheryl Sandberg announces her engagement

The ‘Italian’ hand gesture’s also Israeli — plus, more Jewish emojis, please?

The Unicode Consortium, also known as “the emoji people,” released its list of 65 new icons on Thursday, thrilling at least two groups with their inclusion of what they’re calling the “Italian hand gesture” of pinched fingers and a raised hand. Of course, Italians love it — they use it to signal disagreement.

But a certain other Mediterranean group, likewise stereotyped as excitable and prone to gesticulation, will find the little image handy (sorry, not sorry) as well. For Israelis, it means something almost untranslatable that’s sort of like “hang on/be patient/just a minute.”

The Unicode Consortium has already blessed the Jewish people with a bunch of emojis, like a synagogue, a star of David and a menorah. People weren’t thrilled with the bagel, sure, but it’s more than offset by the Vulcan hand gesture, which has its origins in the Jewish priestly blessing.

Still, it’s a great day to start planning for next year’s release. Some ideas, inspired by 2020, from Los Angeles writer Esther Kustanowitz.

Person with ugly Hanukkah sweater Change the skin tone to whatever you want; Jews come in all shades.

Three iMessage dots, but the dots are Stars of David A way to say, “Nu? You don’t write, you don’t call…”

Fondue pot with a star of David The new fondue pot emoji has a cross/plus sign on it; this tweak indicates that the fondue is made from lactose-reduced or vegan cheese and safe for the lactose intolerant.

Anatomical digestive system The new emoji list has anatomical heart and lungs. But the Jewish community needs more.

Matzah For a certain time of year, and in extreme cases, to be used in tandem with the anatomical digestive system.

Sweater or jacket For Jewish parents reminding their children to dress appropriately for the weather.

Bowl of chicken soup with matzah balls “Get your flu shot!”

Mel Brooks as the 2000-Year-Old Man The Jewish way to say “OK boomer.”

Larry David/Bernie Sanders A two-for-one image for anyone who feels the Bern or their own misanthropy.

Steven Spielberg with baseball hat The emoji that says, “dress any way you want; you’re a famous movie producer.”

Esther D. Kustanowitz is a writer, editor and consultant who lives in Los Angeles. She also co-hosts The Bagel Report, a Jewish pop culture podcast and writes about #TVGoneJewy, the increase of Jewish content on television.

The ‘Italian’ hand gesture emoji is also Israeli

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