What is a Heeb?

Caitlin Kenney

Heeb, a word derived from the anti-Semitic slur hebe, has been reclaimed by Jewish youth to proudly describe a person of Jewish identity and take the venom out of an offensive term. The term, a pejorative abbreviation of "Hebrew," has been reappropriated by the young Jewish intellectual community in New York City and sits at the center of the Jewish youth movement. People belonging to the “heeb generation” are often referred to as “heebsters,” a take on the term “hipster,” "rejewvenators," or members of Jewish counterculture. Arts, urbanity, intellectualism, and politics, typically progressivism, are often associated with Heeb culture.

Hasidic man praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall).
Hasidic man praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall).

Heeb Magazine: The New Jew Review embodies much of this culture, with a young Jewish intellectual readership and contributor pool. The subtitle is a play on the 1970s children’s show, The New Zoo Revue. The magazine was founded in 2001 in Brooklyn by young student activist Jennifer Bleyer, but soon after changed hands to Joseph Neuman, a Harvard Divinity School graduate. Heeb received financial support from director Steven Spielberg and businessman Charles Bronfman, who also cofounded Birthright Israel, which gives Jewish young adults aged 18 to 26 the free opportunity to travel to Israel.

Film director Steven Spielberg helped financially support Heeb magazine.
Film director Steven Spielberg helped financially support Heeb magazine.

Heeb Magazine leans left and has a reputation for edginess, satire, and criticizing Jewish popular culture. Amongst other high profile figures in the American Jewish mainstream, Heeb has loudly criticized Joe Lieberman for his support of increased military spending. Heeb also famously disparaged Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in a piece called “Back Off, Braveheart.” The issue included a controversial satirical photospread portraying a sexualized and nipple-pierced Christ wearing a loincloth made of a Jewish prayer shawl and a half-exposed and pierced Mother Mary. The ten-page spread received the attention of the Anti-Defamation League’s director, Abraham Foxman, who wrote Heeb a letter criticizing the spread as being offensive to Jews and Christians alike.

Several other media ventures head up hipster Judaism, such as JDub records, the not-for-profit, Jewish-focused music company that has turned out hit artists, including Matisyahu and SoCalled. Jewcy, a webzine and designer events promoter, Reboot, another music company and journal, and several popular blogs are also closely associated with the Heebster movement.

The Heeb movement has received criticism from many in the Jewish community who argue that hipster Judaism does not address deep-rooted religious and cultural issues central to a meaningful understanding of Jewish identity. Some critics point to the clique-like, exclusionary nature of Heeb culture, while other critics say Heeb culture is a form of assimilation that fosters complacency. Others argue that Heebsters are rejuvenating Judaism, finding creative ways to address real issues and needs of the Jewish community, and making a space for rebellion and pride in religious heritage to coincide.

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