The Times Square tower where Conde Nast pumps out titles like The New Yorker and Vogue is a river away from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where Jennifer Bleyer lives. It’s a boundary that Bleyer is making very clear.
The third issue of Heeb, Bleyer’s year-old magazine, hits the streets later this month with a striking disclaimer: "Please note that this is not a f-ing Conde Nast publication. It is a tiny independent venture, publishing by the skin of its teeth about twice a year on nothing that even resembles a schedule. Thank you for your patience."
Many of Heeb’s 2,000 subscribers might have plunked down their $18 for a quarterly magazine, but Bleyer is not apologizing for the delay.
For the past few months, she’s worked 12-hour days and weekends, living on her usual six hours of sleep.
"Basically, it’s just me putting it out of the house by myself," she told The Jewish Week after meeting to finalize the cover for issue No. 3, due out Feb. 24.
Bleyer, 27, an introspective woman with huge eyes and slender fingers, is equally unapologetic about what some critics call the magazine’s New York-focus – "We live here, it’s what we know"-for the magazine’s name, which angered the Anti-Defamation League, about most of the other criticism lobbed at the self-dubbed "New Jew Review" ever since it swaggered onto the scene last February.
"We’re just trying to do something interesting for Jewish people," said in an interview at an East Village bagel shop. "If you want it, you can have it. If not, not."
The most stinging swipes were critiques of the magazine itself. "That criticism was more painful to me. Media people saying, ‘You don’t have a good feature well.’" These days, she’s just as likely to call Heeb "a big art project" as "an alternative magazine." She and her crew of 10 volunteer editors concede they’re still adjusting the formula.
Still, without hesitation Bleyer claims – with supporting fan mail – to have produced "the most interesting thing happening in Jewish world right now."
The in-your-face attitude is the kind of stance one would expect from a magazine that gave six pages to "Screw" magazine publisher Al Goldstein or did a photo spread of curly-headed Jews titled "Jewfros." Far from alienating readers, "Heeb" was picked up by Barnes and Noble, Borders Books and smaller newsstands from San Francisco’s Height-Ashbury district to Tower Records on Lafayette Street in Manhattan, where it sold out after four weeks.
Even before the first issue was printed, Jewish archives were calling Bleyer to ask for copies. The magazine has surfaced at a Las Vegas sisterhood and a college class on Jewish American identity, and has been passed around Jewish high schools. Utne magazine is running a profile of Canadian anti-globalist Naomi Klein from Heeb No. 2 in its upcoming issue.
Behind Heeb No. 3’s cover photo of a chasid cum Superman, readers will find a forum, "Is George Bush Good for the Jews"; a photo essay on Jewish women’s bodies, "sexy, zaftig, big noses"; an investigation of Jewish humor that asks, "Are we still funny?" and the return of Grandma Miriam, who in this issue goes to Walmart with $20.
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"I knew intuitively there would be an audience for this," Bleyer said. Most of the e-mail "Heeb" receives comes from 20- to 30-year-olds who are turned off by a general Jewish fascination with what Bleyer calls the backward-looking "permaculture" or an obsession with "continuity," the Jewish institutional buzzword often associated with outreach to unaffiliated Jews.
Of course, not everyone loves "Heeb." Many readers and journalists have written with disappointment about a lack of depth, a lack of "oomph" and an overdone effort to seem cool.
"This sucks," one reviewer wrote about issue No.1.
As a Columbia College student, Bleyer published her own punk ‘zine, Mazel Tov Cocktail, and later wrote freelance for Spin and Harper’s.
She started "Heeb" with $60,000 from the California-based, Steven Spielberg-supported Joshua Venture. A call for volunteers brought in 60 souls, many of whom are still on the ever-growing masthead, whose combined resume includes The New York Times, Village Voice and New York Press, among other publications.
Bleyer kept the project rolling last year with another $48,000 from the UJA-Federation of New York.
With another issue in the bag, Bleyer is waiting to see if the federation will come through with a grant of $60,000 for 2004, enough to cover the $25,000 it cost per issue, to pay Heeb’s sole employee – herself.
Already the magazine has branched out to sponsor edgy cultural events, and there’s talk of a full-fledged "Heeb" enterprise, including a Heeb store, a Heeb book and even Heeb TV. "My real interest is turning Heeb into a real cultural force, rather than, ‘I love what you’re doing with this magazine,’" said, Joshua Neuman, the music editor, who joined Bleyer’s team after reading Mazel Tov Cocktail, and after his plans to start a Jewish punk band, the Elders of Zion, fell flat.
A Midwest native, Bleyer says she "grew up on punk rock and hip hop, and I’m also Jewish. That’s my Jewish identity." Meeting other Jews at urban music gatherings and underground art parties and traveling across the country as publisher and editor of Heeb have proven that most Jews identify themselves as she does – holistically.
"It’s not that no one wants to eat matzah ball soup, she said. "They just want to eat it with gazpacho."
Heeb No. 3 celebrates its launch Mon., Feb. 24, 9 p.m., at a free party featuring DJ Princess Superstar at West 8th Bar, 40 W. 8th St., (212) 477-9333, Man., 9 p.m. On Tues., Feb. 25, Heeb and Goddess Productions sponsor "Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad," at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St., Man. (See arts listing on page 46.)