A Posterchild Burns Her Image

On Nextbook, Jenn Bleyer discusses the rise and fall of her career as Heeb‘s founding editor.

But as more people got into Heeb, the more disconnected I felt. After a while, it was like I was putting out a magazine for people with brown hair. Sure, I have brown hair. I like having brown hair. But I can talk about it only so much until it feels irrelevant, not to mention self-indulgent. Being the poster girl for hipster secular Judaism wasn’t really me. And although I was glad for Heeb’s success and worked very hard for it, the popular message was, roughly speaking, that being Jewish is cool.
Being Jewish, cool? Um, dork factor: ten.
It’s not cool now, it never has been, and it never will be. But, this was the message taken by many people, and I was its mortified messenger.
I preferred the definition of Jews as ultimate outsiders. That I bore this ridiculous message of coolness made me want to crawl under a rock. I finally felt true Jewish guilt, having created and unleashed a monster against my core beliefs. I didn’t want to be a “cool Jew.” If anything, I wanted to be a holy schlepper.
So after four issues and almost three years, with an easy exhale, I left.

Full story.

18 thoughts on “A Posterchild Burns Her Image

  1. As a Heeb subscriber, I couldn’t help but read the Nextbook piece. It surprised me that Bleyer came to feel the way she did about the magazine and its community, but I can sort of see where she’s coming from. The “Cool Jew” (or Jew-wannabe) t-shirt-&-panty craze is a fad and will pass, just like the Hollywood Kabbalah trend (please!). She makes a good point about the inevitability (and perhaps necessity) of Jews always being outsiders. It’s hard to stay “on message” if you’ve been co-opted by the establishment.

  2. I have so much more respect for Jen Bleyer after hearing about her personal history. I sometimes glance through Heeb, but never subscribed because it still seems more like a fluffy, quasi-hipster project than a magazine that really speaks to the reality, and diversity, of young Jews in the U.S. today. Seriously, isn’t there ANYTHING to being Jewish besides having brown hair and liking Eastern European foods? I agree with dybbukingolem that ultimately the Cool-Jew fad has no substance and almost nothing to add to the cultural dialogue. I’m impressed that Jen left the magazine when she felt like a hypocrite; I just wish she had put more of herself — her own questioning and sincere religious searching — into Heeb. Oh well, maybe this is where other people need to step in.

  3. i’m just wondering if anyone here would buy (or does already buy) “less hipster” jewish mags. do you guys read moment? or the various synagogue movement mags? zeek? or what? just curious what alternative monthlies/quarterlies folks are reading out there, as much as heeb may or may not speak to you, i would be curious to know what does, or what would.

  4. i’m a big Zeek fan… It should be noted that Jen is the realest of the real, and anyone who’s ever seen her sing shabbos zmiros has to know that already.

  5. indeed a lot of people think and believe Being Jewish (or arab) is cool?
    ” It’s not cool now, it never has been, and it never will be” .
    peace to all.

  6. I couuld care less if being Jewish is cool or not- im just proud to be in the tribe.
    I was never impressed with Heeb. It was too gloosy and trying to be too cool and not very real.
    Plotz- now that was cool, and real.

  7. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but it seems to me that one of the most significant themes undergirding the last two or three generations has been the idea that being the ultimate outsider IS cool.

  8. I suppose, cipher, it depends on your definition of “cool.” To some people, the word refers to the “doing-my-own-thing, avant-garde, underground” ethos, which arguably fits in with the “ultimate outsider” status. I suspect, however, that “cool” as used today most commonly refers to that which is currently seen as “in” or “hot” as defined by the entertainment media and by peers whom you admire. So by that definition, someone who insists on behaving differently from the mainstream–e.g. by supporting Israel, having one or two drinks a night instead of six, dressing modestly (not necessarily Orthodox-level, but modestly)–makes you profoundly uncool.

  9. sarah:
    I look through Tikkun, Moment, and Zeek actually looks promising since it’s kinda aimed at young people. I guess the problem with the other established Jewish mags is they’re not really aimed at younger Jews. It feels like the age group between 19 and 35-40 (middle age) is pretty under-served. The “hipster” thing isn’t a problem per se; I’d read Heeb if it actually tried to be smart and focus on real issues.

  10. I like to read Zeek, Jewschool, Foreward, Commentary, Haaretz online. Heeb was fun, but I think I prefer seriusly minded reads like the above to the kitsch vibe that was Heeb. I also found the ‘intellectual’ Chabad magazine “Wellsprings” can be quite good.

  11. I like Heeb — and I dug Jennifer Bleyer’s essay. Do any of you look at Nextbook, the site where it was posted? It’s geared a lot more to a younger crowd than, say, Commentary or Moment but without losing intellectual oomph.

  12. Yes, I like Nextbook. Not all the time, but occasionally it will have something I’ll read all the way through.

  13. I like Heeb because it’s funny. Despite the occasional half-hearted jabs at the Israeli and American evangelical right, it’s not really designed as Tikkun-for-young-adults . As for Tikkun, I used to read it before it became Let’s Hear It for Michael Lerner Magazine. Moment is marginally better since Herschel “Sensationalist” Shanks stopped editing but still not that intellectually meaty. Commentary is…well, Commentary; not much change on that front. I would recommend checking out Olam (which is online and also appears as a supplement in some local Jewish community papers). It has a diversity of voices religiously and politically, and is often thought-provoking. As for Zeek, I’ve heard of it, but get the feeling from the above comments I should check it out more.

  14. i find this interesting as Bleyer not only hired a PR company to exploit the whole “cool Jew” fad thing but accepted funding from major corps. whose main goal is to make Jews cool. She knew that when she took the money. Now, that she realizes how lame it all was decides that she wanted no part of it? It took her four issues — a year — to come to that conclusion?

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