Allow me to wax hyperbolic for a moment here: the spring issue of Heeb boasts the best cover image of any publication in recent memory. In it, a fetching gal's reflection peers askew from a mirror, upon which sits two razor blades and three lines... of Gold's Prepared Horse Radish. I don't have the slightest idea what it's meant to evoke or signify (if anything), but it grabs me nonetheless. If nothing else, it sets the stage for the content that follows, practically screaming "if you don't find this arresting, go spend your hard-earned magazine dollars on Family Circle."
Such is the subtlety of Heeb, which bills itself as "the new Jew review." Strenuously avoiding every stereotype of the East-Coast Jew - there's nary an exclamation-point-laden recollection of online dating gone awry to be found - Heeb doesn't survey the notion of religious identity so much as show how that identification manifests itself in a broad range of cultural offerings. Thus, we're treated to an interview with writer/activist/self-proclaimed reluctant Jew Larry Kramer and a shorter Q&A with comic strip auteur Ron Regé, whose panels cast the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a decidedly non-Marmaduke light.
As humorless as the culture/identity stuff may sound, the mag lives and dies with its wit. "Urban Kvetch" offers 100-word mini-rants on everything from Easter to the closing of a beloved underwear store. There's a "Schwartz of the Month" contest (readers can vote for their pick online - this is surely democracy as envisioned by the country's founding fathers); a "Porn Star's Bar Mitzvah" spread (which has to be tougher to compile on a monthly basis than, say, a listing of craft festivals); and a "Jewdar" look at Jews in pop culture and the news (sharpest line: "Call us paranoid, but as far as we're concerned, the road to genocide passes through a Broadway production of 'Yentl' starring Hilary Duff").
The humor often tiptoes on the line of good taste - a photo of a thickly bearded Heeb editor in a faux spread on the day jobs of the mag's staffers lists his occupation as "flight school student" - but it's uniformly unconventional and, oh yeah, funny. Again: not for everyone.
So wait - if at least 75 percent of the adult U.S. population won't "get" Heeb, why am I bothering to write about it? This is, after all, ostensibly a forum designed to inform media and marketing folks about titles they might not have time to read themselves, yet might be a good venue for their ad dollars.
It's because Heeb is one of the very, very rare magazines that does niche right. For all the talk about reader engagement and loyalty and environment and blah blah blah, most supposed niche magazines remain quite accessible to a wide swath of potential readers. Not Heeb. If you're not relatively young and intelligent with a distinctly multicultural sensibility (or, um, Jewish), you'll loathe this magazine. But if you fall into the mag's narrow target audience, you'll devour it whole only minutes after it's dropped into your mailbox. If I'm an advertiser with relevant products - say, Puma, Apple, or any number of progressive-minded record labels or film imprints - that's the sort of "engaged" audience I want drooling over my wares.
End of rant. To sum up: There aren't too many magazines that couldn't use an infusion of the intellect and personality that fuels each issue of Heeb.