It could have been a scene from New York's beatnik past: A group of young hipsters gathered at a Greenwich Village apartment for an artistic venture they hoped would change history -- or at least rock the establishment. But these beats call themselves Heebs, and their universe is the alternative Jewish world.
"Heeb is a special subset of the genus Jew," explained Joshua Neuman, 31, the new editor-in-chief and only paid staffer of Heeb magazine, a hipper-than-thou take on modern Jewish identity. With its gritty irony, the nearly 2-year-old magazine taps into a young Jewish generation that thirsts for Judaism but rejects its standard trappings.
Other cultural phenomena of the same trend is the blaxploitation spoof "The Hebrew Hammer," starring Adam Goldberg; and Jewish apparel like Rabbi's Daughter's tank tops such with words like "Shiksa" and "Meshuggah," and Jewcy, a clothing line that also sponsors entertainment events and gives the proceeds to Jewish non-profit organizations.
But not everyone is sold on Heeb's message. The magazine's debut prompted concern at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the groups says it's still concerned.
Adopting a "title for a publication that is offensive to many Jews is unnecessary and in my view counterproductive," said Ken Jacobson, ADL's associate national director.
Others say the magazine fills a critical niche.
Rejecting Heeb is like saying "the Beatles were bad for today's youth when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show," said Roger Bennett, vice president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, whose network of young philanthropists, Natan, gave Heeb a $20,000 grant last month.
Heeb, which publishes twice a year, has maintained a circulation of roughly 20,000, but Neuman estimated that its readership has reached 90,000. A quarter of the magazine's subscribers are in New York, followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle.
Though the magazine is crammed with kitsch, it also tackles issues of substance. In the current issue, for example, editorial director Mike Edison goes undercover in Jews for Jesus as a would-be convert. Describing with humor the tactics of the Christian missionaries, Edison adds a jolt of Jewish pride.
"I'm a New York Jew. I can kvetch and haggle with the best of them," he writes. "Salvation, however, is the one thing I will not buy wholesale."