Few things get people's attention in our politically correct society like a racial slur. But these days, slurs are sometimes being used by the very people they once described.
Take the new magazine Heeb, which debuted last week. Full of pop-culture tidbits and light fare, it was started by a woman in her mid-20s who found that a publication with wit and edge - and aimed at young Jews - was missing from newsstands.
She gave it the name Heeb, slang she picked up during college in New York, where kids from Long Island and New Jersey in the underground hip-hop scene would use it as a term of brotherly endearment - just the opposite of what non-Jews once meant "Hebe," in its original spelling, to mean.
Fans are packing Heeb's inbox with e-mails saying they like its mission (heebmagazine.com). But others in the Jewish community - young and old - find it difficult to believe that a word worthy of Archie Bunker should adorn a magazine for a group that has fought to be accepted.
"Heeb is an effort to get some attention with a tasteless title," says Sanford Pinsker, a professor specializing in Jewish-American literature and comedy at Franklin & Marshall College. "It would have to be explained to me that the person who called me a Heeb was not meaning to be offensive."
Ouch. That's not exactly what founder Jennifer Bleyer was after, but to those who react that way, she offers this suggestion: "Please get past the title and read the magazine. [It's] so much more about Jewish self-pride than self-hatred."
Aimed at ages 21 to 39, the quarterly magazine includes in its first issue features varying widely from thoughtful to silly. One of the better ones profiles a group with Jewish and Muslim members called the Old City Peace Vigil, in Jerusalem. Another article looks at what it means to be gay and Jewish. Elsewhere, it focuses on pop culture, finding anti-Semitism in pizza crust (a satirical piece) and Jewish connections to Star Trek and the Simpsons. Those kinds of connections are welcomed, as Heeb wants to be "Jewish by side glance and not head on," says Bleyer, a graduate of Columbia University.
An ad in the first issue proclaims, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Heeb." Bleyer envisions it being of interest to mainstream readers as are other ethnic niche magazines - like Giant Robot (giantrobot.com), an Asian pop-culture magazine.
Professor Pinsker admits Heeb is targeted at those half his age, but says even young people exploring their Jewishness today will want something more thoughtful. "This
is a group that seems to me to be putting together a magazine for the hip kids in lower Manhattan," he says.
Heeb's small staff is still sorting out its approach to religious topics. They've looked for issues of cultural identity beyond the Holocaust, though. And while a shoestring budget may impact their future, a dearth of ideas won't. "We've been around for 4,000 years," says Bleyer. "We won't exhaust the concept anytime soon."