‘Heeb’ collection proudly pushes the envelope

If B’nai B’rith International Jewish Monthly or Hadassah magazine were the periodicals of your Bubbe and Zayda, and Commentary and Moment are the magazines of your parents, then Heeb is the “zine” for your grandkids or even great-grandkids. The articles, cartoons and photographs adorning the pages of Heeb are not only amusing but deliberately push the envelope of outrage to the point that they might make the late, great Lenny Bruce blush.

So it is with a new volume titled “Sex, Drugs & Gefilte Fish: The Heeb Storytelling Collection,” (Grand Central Publishing, $13.99). The book, edited by Heeb arts editor Shana Liebman, offers short fiction and essays, including a poignant and affecting story by St. Louis writer Byron Kerman, called “The True Meaning of Christmas.”

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The book includes such selections as a story about the young stand-up comic Ophira Eisenberg, who hooks up with a fellow comedian for what turns out to be a disastrous one-night stand in which she has to compete with the guy’s weird collection of stuffed Garfield dolls — and doesn’t have to wait until morning to hate herself.

There are also other ultra bad-taste pieces about such shanda topics as “Hanging Out with Porn Stars on Christmas Eve,” “Eating Nachos with the Mossad,” “Observing the Dyke Days of Awe” and a laugh riot about getting held up at a Weight Watcher’s meeting.

If you are willing to put aside uptightness and stop worrying about what the Gentiles would think of such a book, you might find it therapeutically amusing.

In truth, Jews have always been on the cutting edge of popular culture, constantly testing the waters and pressing for full expression in the arts, including comedy. Indeed, Lenny Bruce is remembered as much for his struggles for freedom of speech as for his purple comedy bits, which discussed sex, drugs and — most controversially — religion. If it had not been for Bruce, Mort Sahl and Buddy Hackett, among other Jewish comics, there might never have been a “Saturday Night Live” — or Heeb magazine.

Meanwhile, in “Sex, Drugs & Gefilte Fish,” Kerman’s “The True Meaning of Christmas” story, which is sweet and evocative, contrasts to some of the raunchier ones in the collection. Kerman movingly recalls a trip he took during Christmas break when he was a sophomore in college. “At the time, I had three not-anywhere-close-to-being girlfriends: Kira, Sarah and Catherine, who, I realized, were all from Atlanta. So I decided to drive the 14 hours from Chicago to Atlanta to hang out with them over the holidays.”

The only problem was that Kerman “didn’t really plan” the trip and took it for granted that with three female buddies in Atlanta, at least one could help him enjoy the holiday break. He did have a good time for three days with Catherine, who then informed him that she had to leave for a mother-daughter trip of her own. Kerman also found out that Sarah was in Poland “on one of those concentration camp trips,” and that Kira couldn’t put him up because her mom had given their guest room to one of her cousins.

This left Kerman with 12 days left in Atlanta with no place to stay and no friends there.

After 10 desultory days of visiting museums, etc., he found himself in a bar far from home on Christmas Eve. While he was forlornly reading the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the bartender put four quarters in front of him to play some songs he liked on the jukebox. “Then, this couple, a guy in a cowboy hat and his blonde girlfriend, came over and asked me what I was drinking.”

Kerman, the lonely Jewish guy out of town on Christmas Eve, found that he was having the best time of his life in a bar. “I had just suffered for 12 days with no friends but now people were taking pity on me because I was alone on Christmas Eve. I decided not to tell anyone I was Jewish. I was having too much fun. I actually had people to talk to!”

He recalls that the next morning he had “a much, much bigger epiphany — one that has stayed with me to this day.

“Why should there be a season or a week or a day dedicated to actually giving a s–t about your fellow man? How about every f——g day?” he asks. “Yes, Christmas worked for me that day, but why should anyone in real pain put stock in a special time of year when people are being guilted into being nice to others.”

Thus Kerman is not only grateful for the kindnesses shown him on that Christmas Eve in Atlanta, but also for the fact that Jews don’t “have a holiday where we pretend for even a second that the world runs on kindness. Thank God.”

“Sex, Drugs & Gefilte Fish” isn’t for the faint-hearted. However, the deliberately provocative collection provides an amusing — if sometimes raunchy — look at a new generation of Jewish writers.