Jennifer Bleyer, the 26-year-old editor of Heeb, a magazine aimed at young Jewish hipsters, once boasted that it’s easy to come up with story ideas for her editorial mix—because she can find a Jewish connection to almost anything. So during a recent interview, we decided to put her to the test.
Astrology? “We could do Uri Geller. He’s a psychic; he’s a Jew we could make fun of.”
Hollywood? “Is there anyone in Hollywood who is not Jewish?”
Carpentry? “Jesus was Jewish!”
Martha Stewart? “Discount shopping.”
Baseball? “Everyone talks about [the late] Hank Greenberg, but we want to do something on a lesser-known player like the Rockies’ Gabe Kapler—either a centerfold because he’s really hot, or a comparison between Greenberg, the good Jewish boy, and Kapler the bad Jewish boy.”
Shakespeare? “There’s Shylock.”
Heroin? “I’m reading a book about a Jewish girl’s heroin addiction, Like Being Killed, by Ellen Miller.”
New Haven? “That goes back to Joe Lieberman. We think he’s a dickhead.”
Heeb‘s 80-page second issue, published last month, lays out exactly why Lieberman’s a dickhead: Because as senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he has pushed for a huge spike in military spending. Lieberman should be honored to find himself in these pages. In addition to sloshing ink on some minor Jewish celebrities (such as Gen X novelist Jonathan Safran Foer and Al Goldstein, the “300-pound, 66-year-old megalomanic diabetic . . . pornographer”), Heeb introduces a formidable tribe of newcomers: boxing champs Michael Rothberger and Dmitry Salita, fashion designer Claude Sabbah, who happens to be both Jewish and Arab, a group of crusading rabbis in L.A. (pjalliance.org), and Shai Shahar, a former $150-an-hour gigolo who says he slept with over 500 women in almost 10 years.
Bleyer, a Columbia grad, former Harper’s intern, and widely published freelancer, seems to have mastered the language of satire. “My editorial vision is to look at what Jews are doing in the world right now,” she says. “Instead of concentrating on the obvious, we are interested in seeing what is Jewish by side-glance. The official Jewish community has certain Jews it claims as its heroes, but we want to be out there picking up the refuse.”
In between the “Bubbe-Licious” fashion spread and the paean to Milton Berle’s “famed schlong,” Heeb reveals its serious side in a long Q&A with Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein. Klein suggests that Israel’s prevailing mindset is a “psychology of being so determined not to have violence inflicted on you, that you can’t see when you inflict violence on others.”
You won’t find any screaming editorials in Heeb, but one of its as yet unpublicized goals is to draw young Jews into left-wing activism. “There are still Jews who are poor,” explains Bleyer, “but for the most part, my generation of European-descended Jews is the first to grow up with no experience of the working-class struggle. And now, because of the Jewish community’s upward class drift and rightward ideological drift, this generation doesn’t feel connected to the legacy of being social activists or muckrakers anymore.”
Heeb‘s seed money came from a $60,000, two-year grant Bleyer was awarded by Joshua Venture fellowship program, partially funded by Steven Spielberg, which encourages young Jewish entrepreneurs. The first issue, published in February, sold 18,000 copies and a few thousand subscriptions, according to consulting publisher Mike Edison. But some readers flinched at the name Heeb and accused the editors of being self-hating Jews.
Bleyer, who intended the name as an ironic twist on an old ethnic slur, thinks people need to lighten up. She points to the increasing presence of advertisers in the second issue (including Tanqueray and Stella Artois) as a “sign that the name isn’t turning people off.” The magazine uses donated office space and has a large volunteer staff. To offset a limited promotion budget, the mag, which sells for $4.95, is distributed nationally to the likes of Barnes & Noble and Hudson News.
This summer, according to Edison, Heeb landed a four-year, $40,000-a-year grant from the New York federation of the United Jewish Appeal’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal, which should help Edison achieve his goal of publishing on a regular quarterly schedule. Naturally, the editors would like to land more donations, but they insist on maintaining what Edison calls “the separation of shul and state.” “People have suggested that we do more stuff on Israel,” says Bleyer, “but we would turn down money before we would let someone influence our editorial content.”
Bleyer found it “horrifying” when a bomb killed seven at Hebrew University last week. But when asked to articulate Heeb‘s worldview, she echoes the hypercritical Naomi Klein. “We want to challenge the idea that there is unwavering solidarity in the Jewish community in America for everything the Israeli government does and every move the Israeli army makes,” Bleyer says. “A lot of American Jews are questioning whether this eye-for-an-eye military strategy is going to be good for Israel in the end.”
Bleyer tries to avoid the sanctimonious tone of some left-wing and Jewish publications. “I come from a progressive background,” she says, “but I find that reading The Nation is like doing homework. It’s more useful to have a fun magazine with progressive values interspersed through it than to have a magazine that’s exclusively about progressive politics. It’s almost like a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”