Dave Love of Sunburst Kosher Tours had a look of unmistakable disgust on his face as he handed the Monitor a copy of Heeb magazine. “Can you believe this garbage?” he asked, referring both to the publication’s content and some of the sponsors listed on its masthead.
If Heeb magazine were a person, it would be a creature of indeterminate gender and sexual preference, body festooned with numerous piercings and sundry other exotic modifications, given to mouthing swatches of radical and anarchist flapdoodle.
Launched in 2002 to a good deal of fanfare, Heeb was touted as an irreverent, in-your-face “alternative” to main stream Jewish media outlets, aimed at hip young Jews who viewed traditional Judaism and Jewish culture as hopelessly passé. The magazine’s founding editor hinted at what was to come when she told the Village Voice, “The official Jewish community has certain Jews it claims as its heroes, but we want to be out there picking up the refuse.”
That’s refuse – defined in our handy dictionary as trash, rubbish, garbage – and with Heeb it certainly is a case of garbage in, garbage out. Successful it’s not; intended at the start to be a quarterly, the magazine just recently put out only its fourth issue in two years, and its circulation is under 20,000.
How bad is Heeb? In issue number three – and bear in mind that a good deal of the content cannot be described in detail in a family newspaper – readers were treated to a letter to the editor from a moron who decided to have the family dog bat-mitzvahed and thoughtfully sent along a photograph of the proud pooch wearing a little tallit, which Heeb of course saw fit to publish.
Next, someone identified as a contributing editor edified readers with the observation that “Italians are basically Jews with better food. Just ask my boyfriend’s extended family, who spends every birthday, anniversary, and simcha sucking up marinara at Anthony and Mario’s checkered tablecloth in Jersey.”
Then there was the memorable profile of “ManWoman,” a biological male covered with more than 200 swastika tattoos of varying size and design who swears he’s no fascist, only someone earnestly doing his part to rehabilitate what he describes as “a good luck symbol known around the world.”
Another profile introduced Heeb’s readers to a poor soul claiming to be an “Orthodox comedian” whose act includes this line destined for the Comedy Hall of Fame: “A lot of people say to me, “Dave, how can you, an Orthodox Jew, use a Braun razor made in Germany?” And I say, “Hey, give credit where it’s due: Those people know how to take the beards off of Jews.?”
And let’s not overlook the piece by a Jewish woman who went to the West Bank as a “human rights observer” and writes of her shame that Jews “could be capable of perpetrating heinous crimes against other humans.”
Despite its negligible impact, Heeb deserves our fleeting attention, not so much for its product as for the cautionary tale it tells about what happens when organizational desk jockeys think they’ve found the key to being cool – and end up looking silly in the process.
Remember when network television discovered the counterculture in the late 1960’s? Middle-aged writers of dramas and situation comedies suddenly began inserting hippie-type characters into their scripts, with predictably laughable results. What viewers usually ended up getting was one of two extremes – either some fortyish actor foolishly trying to pass as a flower child (think Bob ‘Gilligan’ Denver in a Beatles wig) or some hideous long-haired villain straight out of the Manson family.
In the case of Heeb, the adults at seemingly sober organizations like the Joshua Venture Fellowship and the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation thought a magazine aimed at the fringes somehow spoke to a cross-section.
They weren’t alone: For the first two years of its existence, Heeb was also sponsored by UJA Federation of New York, which spent $108,000 on the magazine. After a recent flurry of negative publicity, UJA announced the funding would stop immediately, a year ahead of schedule. Heeb’s new editor says he’s determined to keep the magazine going.