Jennifer Bleyer, a 25-year-old Columbia graduate and freelance writer living in Fort Greene, thinks her Jewish friends are pretty hip. She also believes that a disproportionate numberofthe hipster scrawling around her Brooklyn neighborhood happen to be Jews. And that’s why Ms. Bleyer decided one day that the world needed a magazine about cool Jews, and that she would publish it.
And now, flush with grant money from a fellowship supported by Jewish big shots like Steven Spielberg, Charles Bronfman and others, Ms. Bleyer and her post-collegiate buddies are busily working on bringing this new cool-Jew magazine to life. The first issue is due in January. They have assigned some articles and taken some photos, and they also have a title: Heeb, as in the old ethnic slur, short for “Hebrew.”
It’s the kind of title, of course, that makes a bubbie verbroigis. But it’s all part of what Ms. Bleyer termed an “image makeover.” “Who wants to call themselves ‘Jew’ ?” Ms. Bleyer asked. “We’ve been called Jews for 4,000 years. It’s played out. Heeb just sounds so much cooler.”
Using her $60,000 grant, Ms. Bleyer thinks she can publish at least one issue of Heeb . The idea is to publish it quarterly after that, but for that to happen, the magazine will have to raise more money. Ms. Bleyer said the goal was to raise $300,000. In the meantime,about10 people–mostly other folks in their 20’s–have signed on to the Heeb editorial board. No one’s getting paid for now, not even Ms. Bleyer.
Sitting on the sidewalk at Café Lafayette, a restaurant in her neighborhood, Ms. Bleyer–along with Michael Schiller, Heeb’s managing editor, and Nancy Schwartzman, the photo editor–went over the lineup for the first issue: a profile of hip-hop kid M.C. Paul Barman; a feature on an Australian punk band called Yidcore; a profile of painter Nicole Eisenman by novelist Ellen Miller; and an essay by a rabbi who has been involved in the anti-globalization protests.
“We should write something about Lizzie Grubman,” Ms. Bleyer said. “I was just thinking that.”
“Oh, I’m all over it,” Ms. Schwartzman said. “I’ve been following every, every story.”
“We also want to be the magazine that gives big props to Monica and Chandra,” Ms. Bleyer said. “Like, Jewish sluts of the world, unite !”
Ms. Schwartzman, 26, who by day works in the grants and programs department of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, had finished Heeb’s first-ever fashion shoot, which will feature mostly Jewish models wearing clothes by Jewish designers. She was reluctant to describe the shoot in much detail, but she said it was a “re-creation of a Jewish event–like really familiar, yet in the way we handled it, completely unfamiliar.” She also mentioned, in passing, a “circumcision” photo shoot she promised would be shot by a well-known photographer who’s agreed to do it for free.
Mr. Schiller, 27, who pays the rent by running a video-production company that primarily produces video press kits for Universal Records bands, said he was interested in non-Jews who reference Jewish culture. “I’d love to talk to Jay-Z and ask him why he throws up the sign of the kohanim on his album. And, I’d like to talk to some reggae artists about their connections to the whole idea of Zionism,” he said. “It’d be cool to interview Michael Jackson and ask him what he does with [Rabbi] Shmuley Boteach.”
Asked about the big names they’d like to see in the magazine, the Heeb editors mention Perry Farrell, the Lollapalooza founder who’s been rediscovering his Jewish roots as of late, as well as Neil Diamond and performance artist Annie Sprinkle. “We should get a little sex column going with Dr. Ruth,” Ms. Schwartzman added.
Ms. Bleyer, who grew up in Ohio, was involved in the indie punk scene, putting out zines–including one she did when she was 18, called Mazel-tov Cocktail , in which other Jewish punk-rock kids recalled their weird bar mitzvah stories and meditated on their parents’ objections to tattoos. Since she graduated from college in 1998, she has been freelancing for places like Spin, Salon and The Progressive . During the Presidential campaign, she covered Ralph Nader for Workingforchange.com.
The whole idea behind Heeb, Ms. Bleyer said, was to be a general-interest magazine in which everything is connected somehow to Jews.
“Think of it like a Jewish lowbrow Vanity Fair ,” she said. “Our whole definition of what is Jewish is just about as elastic and flexible as it could possibly be. If you’re Jewish or it has anything tangentially to do with being Jewish, or if you’ve ever met someone Jewish, or eaten a bagel–”
“–or if some of your best friends are Jewish–” Mr. Schiller interjected.
“–or if you’ve ever watched Seinfeld, it’s Jewish,” Ms. Bleyer said. “We all kind of come from the demographic of Jews who are not that involved in the community, but still, like, identify …. We’re trying to be as inclusive of everything as we can.”
Ms. Bleyer, who said she goes to temple about twice a year, insisted she’s not out to bring wayward Jews back into the fold. “None of us are saying we can be the spokespeople for the young Jewish generation. We’re not out there, like, proselytizing. We’re certainly not trying to tell people to marry other Jews or go back to synagogue or whatever, you know,” she said. “We’re just trying to hold a mirror up to it and reflect what’s going on. There are so many Jewish filmmakers; there are so many Jewish musicians, actors and writers and da da da da , and we want to, like, just create a total venue for it.”
The initial funding for Heeb came from the Joshua Venture fellowship program, jointly supported by Mr. Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, as well as several others. Heeb is among the first of the eight grants the program awarded earlier this year.
Rachel Levin, an associate director at Mr. Spielberg’s foundation who sits on the board of Joshua Venture, said the film director wasn’t specifically involved in awarding the $60,000 grant to Heeb . “Steven knows about the Joshua Venture. I don’t believe that he knows about the magazine. But I think it responds to Steven’s interest in helping young people,” Ms. Levin said. “Steven cares about young Jews with ideas and the next generations of Jews. In every generation there are innovators, and in this generation I think Jennifer is one of them,” she said of Ms. Bleyer.
But what about that name, Heeb ? Ms. Levin said that she doesn’t have a problem with it. “It’s something that could grab a reader. ‘Heeb’ [the word] is experimenting in figuring out what it means to be Jewish. It’s purposefully in-your-face.”
Brian Gaines, the executive director of the Joshua Venture, wanted to make it clear that his foundation had awarded its grant to Ms. Bleyer, and not specifically to Heeb magazine.
“We frankly picked the project before Jennifer really had a name for the magazine,” he said. (Ms. Bleyer said she told the Joshua people that she was going to use Heeb before she formally got the grant.) Still, Mr. Gaines also sounded unruffled: “I don’t see the name as being self-hating. I think it’s somewhat whimsical in how they use it. I think the magazine actually celebrates Judaism. It may not be a traditional form of that, but Jennifer and that group of people who are involved in the magazine, they represent a lot of how young Jews view themselves.”
Ms. Bleyer emphasized the practical terms of calling the magazine Heeb : “Oh, come on–didn’t you hear it and say, ‘I have to write about this for The Observer ‘?” she asked over brunch. However, since Heeb put up a Web site, at heebmagazine.com, Ms. Bleyer said she’s received some angry e-mails. “There are actually some people, who are fairly prominent in the Jewish community, who have written me some nasty e-mails, who definitely said that they’re offended by the name,” she said. Not that Ms. Bleyer seemed to mind offending more conservative Jews. The joke on the Heeb staff, she said, is that anything too offensive for Heeb will go in “our sister magazine, Kike .”
Nonetheless, she’s had numerous people tell her it’s just funny. “Really, the name is just brilliant branding,” Ms. Bleyer said confidently. Judging from the reaction of the folks who turned up at the Knitting Factory on the night of July 22 for the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars show, Ms. Bleyer is probably right. Informed of Heeb, Marcy Brink, who studies Jewish culture as an anthropology grad student at Stanford, said: “I definitely would pick it up.” But she sounded skeptical, noting that a previous hip Jewish magazine, Davka, didn’t last long.
“I know there’s like perceived need,” Ms. Brink said. “But often those Jews who are like We’re Jewish! We’re cool! , they’ll read the magazine for one little time, but then after that it’s like, ‘But I don’t do enough Jewish stuff to maintain a link with this magazine.'”
For now, these concerns do not seem to be weighing heavily at Heeb . At brunch, Ms. Bleyer began to explain how being a leftist was part of her Jewish identity. “Like that’s the Jewish tradition. Jews were like the labor movement in this country–” She cut off mid-sentence as a drum beat could be heard coming from down the street. “Hey, what is that?” she asked.
Everyone at the table craned their necks. Up the street, a couple of kids came into view carrying a banner reading “Hanson Place Adventurer Club,” followed by about a dozen other African-American teenage boys and girls, dressed in khaki and blue uniforms modeled on the Boy Scout outfits, playing a beat more funky than martial.
“Wow, cool,” Ms. Bleyer said as the marching band passed in front of the restaurant. “They’re just cruising down the street on a Saturday.” Behind the kids in the band were a couple dozen adults carrying big bunches of multicolored balloons.
Ms. Bleyer was impressed. “That’s something we would find some way to write about at Heeb, ” she said. “We would find the Jewish connection.”
–additional reporting by Ian Blecher
The July 24 announcement that Michael Hirschorn was– gasp! –leaving Inside.com for VH1 came as little surprise. Mr. Hirschorn’s departure had been speculated upon for months, and mostly everyone figured he was headed to Behind the Music -land.
On his way out the door, Mr. Hirschorn voiced confidence in the future of Inside.com, now run by media tsk-tsk- er Steve Brill, even if he made it sound like he was breaking up the Guess Who.
“The sexy start-up period of Inside.com is over–that’s the bad news,” Mr. Hirschorn said. “The good news is that we’re still around to go into a slightly boring middle age. My dream for Inside.com is that five years from now, people will go, ‘Man, this is just such a hackneyed publication, not like it was five years ago.”
At VH1, Mr. Hirschorn will be a senior vice president charged with expanding the regular news offerings on the boomer-happy MTV sister. The job will include developing VH1 News specials and documentaries, as well as producing shorter reports to air during the day.
“This is a pretty hands-on job,” Mr. Hirschorn said. “A significant part of the job is running a daily news operation.”
As soon as Mr. Hirschorn’s departure became public, Mr. Brill put out an internal memo announcing that David Kuhn–who’s lately been piloting a U.F.O. called Brill’s Content Quarterly–will add the title editor in chief of Inside.com to his burgeoning business card. Brill’s Content editor Eric Effron was made editorial director of Inside.com.
Mr. Brill also told his staff: “I’m sorry to announce that Michael has decided to leave Inside.com …. I know that this is not a surprise and, indeed, it’s an understandable transition. But it’s nonetheless a great loss for all of us.”
Kurt Andersen, who is currently serving Brill Media Holdings in the amorphous role of vice chairman, was not mentioned in Mr. Brill’s memo, raising eyebrows among the Inside staff that the co-founder may be the next to exit.
Mr. Andersen disputed that speculation, emphasizing that his job is basically now a consulting role. “No one would notice if I left beyond the people in the office,” he said. “I’m very pleased to have Mr. Brill let me use his telephone for a few hours a day.” Asked just what that meant his job is, Mr. Andersen said, “I’m a vice chairman!”
These days, Mr. Andersen explained, he doesn’t edit any copy or write any display type; he mostly spends his time in meetings where he’s asked to pipe up and give feedback on new advertising campaigns. He added, “Which is what vice chairmen do, which is precious little.”
By all accounts, the funeral of former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, this business’ bright, crusading avatar, was a deeply moving event, filling the brim of Washington National Cathedral with people. More than anything, though, it was a Washington event celebrating the life of a woman whose newspaper changed the way the town’s business was conducted forever. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose administration crumbled in the wake of The Post ‘s Watergate coverage, gave a tribute. Former Republican Senator John C. Danforth gave the homily.
But why did the front row look like something straight out of the opening game of a Yankees-Mets World Series–with Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, sitting along with Senator Hillary Clinton, her husband (a former President) and Vice President Dick Cheney?
The answer lies with Lally Weymouth, Ms. Graham’s daughter. A writer and noted socialite, Ms. Weymouth lives in New York full-time. It was Ms. Weymouth who had the difficult task of putting together the ceremony arrangements following her mother’s death last week.
“I don’t know anything about how the seating decisions were made,” said Guyon Knight, a spokesman for The Washington Post , “but the Governor and the Mayor are good friends of Mrs. Weymouth.”
For his part, a spokesman for Mr. Pataki said the Governor “is a friend of the family. That’s the seat they gave him. This is the family’s decision.”
Probably less shocking than the fact that Lizzie Grubman actually sat down for an interview for this week’s New York is the magazine’s cover photo. There’s Ms. Grubman, posing in a black scoop-neck, sleeveless top, her arms bent, looking pained and anxious, like someone who’s … been accused of running over 16 people outside a Hamptons nightclub.
But the cover photograph, and a similar shot inside, were taken more than a year ago by photographer Erin Patrice O’Brien for the last issue of Details , before Condé Nast closed the doors on its schizophrenic men’s magazine and shipped it off to Fairchild. The story, titled “Aren’t You Famous Yet?”, involved a three-day photo shoot in a New York studio, in which Ms. O’Brien photographed the likes of Ms. Grubman and Elizabeth Harrison.
“The style I was going for was this old Russian style,” Ms. O’Brien said. “That’s why the lighting is so harsh. I think she looks good. She was really nice on the shoot. It’s not that I’m friends with her or anything, but she wasn’t a nasty person.”
A New York spokesperson said Ms. O’Brien and photography director Chris Dougherty had been talking about another project a few weeks back when Mr. Dougherty asked Ms. O’Brien about Lizzie.
“At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell the picture,” Ms. O’Brien said. “I kind of think it’s bad karma to profit on someone else’s misery.
“But the truth is that I like the picture,” Ms. O’Brien continued. “And my rent just got raised.”