Inside an 89-year-old synagogue on the Lower East Side, a group of scruffy young media types sit around sharing bialys, drinking Heineken, and talking sacrilege. Between jokes about mikvahs, freelancers take turns telling editor Jennifer Bleyer why they're dying to work for Heeb, her new magazine for hip Jews. "I thought it was a really awful idea for a while," says Elisheva Lambert, a photo editor. "Then I decided it was a really great one."
Set to hit bookstores in two weeks, the premiere issue of Heeb, subtitled The New Jew Review, includes a Neil Diamond centerfold and a Jewish-wedding fashion spread titled "Love, Challah and Betrayal."
"I like to say we're a cross between the Hadassah newsletter and Al Goldstein's Screw," says music editor Joshua Neuman. "Who's a Heeb and who's not is so much a part of it. People might expect to find Joe Lieberman, but no one is less Heeb than Lieberman."
Heeb owes its existence to a $60,000 grant from the Joshua Venture, a new foundation -- funded in part by Steven Spielberg and the Bronfman family -- that nurtures left-field Jewish social projects. Bleyer, a 26-year-old Columbia graduate who once published a punk 'zine called Mazeltov Cocktail, pitched the idea a year ago. "I never imagined it going this far," she says. "I've been introduced to some of the power hitters of the Jewish philanthropic world, and I'm in an audition stage, where everyone recognizes the untenability of what I'm doing."
Media recession notwithstanding, Bleyer has set a $450,000 fund-raising goal for the year. Heeb's advisers have included new-media analyst Douglas Rushkoff, former Penthouse exec Irwin Billman, and Michael Jackson publicist Susan Blond.
But Heeb could alienate a mainstream funder or two. The Anti-Defamation League has already objected to the title, and it's hard to picture the JCC smiling on a possible upcoming "best of anti-Semitic music" hot list.
Neuman isn't too concerned: "The more you distance yourself from the Jewish organizations, the more they court you -- they will do anything to make organized religion cool. It's the Shmuley Boteach phenomenon."
Still, staff members don't all agree on Heeb's long-term prospects. "There may be a huge audience for a smart-alecky pop-culture journal," notes one editor, "but eventually there needs to be an underlying vision."
Bleyer counters that Heeb addresses fundamental -- and timely -- differences with the Jewish Establishment. "A lot of post-September 11 paranoia among our parents' generation about anti-Semitism is unwarranted," she says. "And I think it's significant that this magazine is not all about Israel. It's not the all-encompassing Jewish identity that it was 30 years ago."
But Bleyer is careful not to take her project too seriously. "This isn't a moneymaking venture," she says. "This is a product of love and chutzpa."