Philly Group Brings Together Artsy ‘Heebs’

By Tami Fertig

Published October 14, 2005, issue of October 14, 2005.
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The Collaborative, an innovative Philadelphia-based Jewish networking group, understands what your mother might not: If you’re not into praying, meeting members of the tribe can be tough. Steering away from synagogues, the group brings together young Jews at local apartments, restaurants and bars.

Hence “Heebs in the House” — a literary and musical showcase held last weekend at a packed neighborhood bar in the increasingly hip Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia.

Headliners Amy Webb, editor-in-chief of a new interactive online magazine, Dragonfire, and Liz Spikol, managing editor of Philadelphia Weekly, one of the city’s two largest alternative weeklies, read funny, bittersweet Jewish-inflected memoirs. Event coordinator Aaron Oster cooed about his coffee addiction; Adam Blyweiss brought poems about Jewish dating; Matt Sutin read poetry about the baser instincts; Aryeh Shalom (the evening’s self-proclaimed “token Orthodox Jew”) belted out love songs for his wife; Josh Madoff put ancient Jewish melodies to Afro-Cuban rhythms (“Afro-Jewban,” he called it). By evening’s end, the Collaborative was planning on making “Heebs” a quarterly event.

“People don’t want to go to synagogue like their parents and grandparents used to do,” said Collaborative executive director Ross Berkowitz. Instead they meet for drinks, go bowling, knit and chat.

With a budget of roughly $110,000, which comes primarily from a private donor, with some support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the group hosts weekly events for women, singles, couples, older sophisticates and now, artists.

The Jewish Artists’ Collective, as the Collaborative’s most recent subgroup calls itself, hopes to bring Philadelphia’s community of Jewish artists under one roof. Sure, little clusters of Jewish artists exist around the city, but until now there hasn’t been one central address. “Pre-Collective, I had no idea there were other Jewish poets, writers and artists living in Philadelphia,” said poet Jason Weinberg, editor of the the Collective’s online monthly literary journal, Grogger. “We are devoted to making creative noise,” he said.

A few get-to-know-you gatherings at people’s apartments got the ball rolling for a Jewish open mic this past August. The event featured poets, interpretive dancers, an impromptu jazz band and a performance by Death Tarte, a comedy duo that “makes Jewish moms lament,” according to Monique Powell, one half of the act. The duo, which also emceed the “Heebs in the House” event, delivered a song about being a Jew in the Deep South.

“It’s not all klezmer music and the Bible,” Berkowitz said. “There’s some cutting-edge stuff coming out of Philadelphia.”

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