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Interfaith Celebrities: Amy Winehouse's Non-Jewish Husband and Nicolas Sarkozy's Half-Jewish Wife

June 5, 2007

Winehouse: Jewish Wedding, No, No, No

 

Singer Amy Winehouse--who British tabloids have dubbed Amy "Wino"--recently married her on-again, off-again boyfriend Blake Fiedler-Civil. Contrary to some reports, it was not a traditional Jewish wedding.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregor   (BRITAIN)

British Jewish pop singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse, 23, recently exploded on the international music scene. Her 2003 debut album, "Frank," a jazz-inflected work, was critically well-received and sold quite well. However, it was by no means an American blockbuster and Winehouse remained pretty obscure in the United States.

In October 2006, Winehouse's second CD, the '60s girl-group-inspired "Back to Black," was released in Britain and sold big from the start.

In April 2007, Winehouse was named Best British Female Artist award at the British equivalent of the Grammies and "Back to Black" was released in America to great sales and critical acclaim. Since April, Winehouse has performed on most of the major American talk/entertainment shows, like David Letterman, and she's done a limited schedule of American concerts. This past weekend, she was the main musical performer at the MTV Movie Awards (hosted by Jewish comedienne Sarah Silverman, who is dating non-Jewish late night host Jimmy Kimmel).

Winehouse was born in London to Jewish parents who are described as jazz musicians. However, her father made most of his living as a cab driver while her mother works as a pharmacist. My sense is that Amy is "culturally Jewish" in some ways, but has no formal religious background.

Winehouse was a classic "bad girl" growing up. She was expelled from one school at 12 for not doing her work and, early on, was mostly into music and, to some extent, substance abuse.

Winehouse admits to heavy alcohol and marijuana use, although she appears to have somewhat cleaned up her act of late. The hit track from her new CD is called "Rehab," with an infectious chorus that goes: "They tried to get me to go to rehab, I said, no, no, no."

Visually, Winehouse is striking. She is not classically beautiful, but her very angular face is interesting and not easily forgotten. Most of her body is covered in tattoos and her short frame is topped by a massive bouffant.

Early last month, the British tabloid The Sunday Mirror claimed that Winehouse and her non-Jewish boyfriend Blake Fiedler-Civil were planning to marry in a traditional Jewish wedding this summer. Given Winehouse's personal history and what I know about the British gossip press, I was highly skeptical of the claim.

Here are some excerpts:

Winehouse will ditch her wild image to marry her fiancé in a traditional Jewish wedding this summer...[fiancé] Blake Fiedler-Civil has even agreed to convert to her religion...Scruffy ex-barman Blake, 24, has told pals he will do anything to make his future wife happy, is expected to don a skullcap and morning suit...A friend of the couple said, "Amy asked Blake to convert to Judaism. It isn't religious so it's not skin off his nose.. For Blake and Amy, family is very important. They are very close to their parents so they want them to be there...a rabbi will preside...Blake will break a glass on the floor to mark the start of the marriage before the couple host a lavish party."

Give me a break. The British gossip press is constantly "converting" non-Jews who date a Jewish celebrity. An interfaith couple go out for a little while and then an article appears in a Brit gossip rag that "so and so" is "fascinated by" a celebrity's "Jewish faith" and the non-Jewish partner is converting to Judaism. The article then makes its way onto various gossip web sites and then nothing else is ever heard about the conversion.

You don't find this type of article in the American gossip press, and I have a theory why the Brits love to make them up. In America, Christianity and Judaism are serious topics. Americans have the highest church or synagogue attendance rates in the Western world and, as everybody knows, religion is a serious force in American politics. By and large, a celebrity's religion is treated with respect by all sectors of the American media and nobody thinks it's fun to make-up stories about such and such celebrity or their partner converting to another faith.

However, Britain, like most of Western Europe, is almost a post-religious society with one big exception (Islam). Weekly church attendance rates are around 5 percent.

In an atmosphere such as this, Judaism and Jewish religious customs are regarded as exotic and quaint. So, the Brit gossip press rationale is, "Why not add a little spice to the article but making up a conversion to Judaism story?"

Well, the Mirror article could not have been more wrong in every detail and you have to know, now, that the Mirror made it up out of whole cloth.

Winehouse and Fiedler-Civil (who is described as a 'go-fer' for rock bands) were married in a civil ceremony before a justice of the peace in Miami on May 18. Only a few friends were in attendance.

On May 26, Winehouse told the Daily Mail, another Brit tabloid, that she planned to have a second wedding in Britain for her family and friends (her parents found out about her Miami wedding from a newspaper article). She said, "People have been talking about me having a Jewish wedding, but I'm not interested in that, that's bullshit. We are just going to have a nice family party to celebrate in December."

More Jewish Connections in the New French Government

 

It is well-documented by now that the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is the grandson of a Greek Jew. But did you know that his wife, Cecilia, is the daughter of a Russian Jewish father and a Spanish Catholic mother? REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes   (FRANCE)

The interfaith background of Nicholas Sarozky, the new French president, was covered in an article in the last issue of InterfaithFamily.com's Web Magazine.

As the article says, Sarkozy's maternal grandfather was a Greek Jew. According to blogger Aimee Kligman, who really appears to know her stuff, Sarkozy's wife, Cecilia, is the daughter of a Russian Jewish father and a Spanish Catholic mother. Like her husband, she was raised in the Catholic faith.

Sarzoky, the leader of a conservative political party, surprised most political pundits when he named long-time Socialist party politician Bernard Kouchner as his foreign minister. Kouchner, the son of a Jewish father and a Protestant mother, has often talked about his Jewish heritage in past interviews, although he was raised in no faith and is not religious.

A physician, Kouchner is most famous worldwide as the founder of the humanitarian organization, "Doctors without Borders."

Kouchner has an uncanny ability to maintain friendships across all sorts of ideological, religious and ethnic divides and one could speculate that his interfaith background has something to do with this. He may be unique---somebody who can be friends with conservative Israeli politicians while still being trusted by Palestinian radicals (Kouchner's humanitarian help to Palestinians goes back decades).

Oh, Those Hebrews Love Christmas!

You have to laugh at those right-wing windbags (to use a polite term) on the Fox network and elsewhere who go on about a "war on Christmas" every December. They haul out a few isolated incidents to make their case and declare that Christmas is "endangered": "incidents" like a department store asking its clerks to say, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," or some Jewish family objecting to a Nativity scene on public property.

It's shameless pandering that fires up Christian conservatives and gets them to tune in to Fox and to send money to the organizations that play-up this "issue."

In the real world, Christmas is HUGE and it was just announced that the holiday will get yet another boost in the arm this coming December when, for the first time, the famous Radio City Music Hall Christmas show is televised.

Who had the idea to do this? Not the "brain trust" on Fox News. No, it was Don Hewitt, who is most famous as the CBS news producer who created "Sixty Minutes" and oversaw the show for decades. Like Irving Berlin, who wrote "White Christmas," Hewitt is Jewish.

Hewitt, 85, grew up in the New York City suburbs and his parents took him, as a child, to the Radio City Christmas show. Hewitt is almost a legendary figure and his sterling reputation was a key factor that led the Radio City management to consent to a TV broadcast of their Christmas show.

Hewitt says, "This 75th celebration will warm viewers' hearts with the magical holiday spirit that has created wonderful memories for more than 62 million people since its inception in 1933; I am thrilled to be involved."

The show will be televised on NBC and will be hosted by "Today" show co-hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera. Lauer is Jewish on his father's side (he was raised in no faith) and Viera's husband is Jewish.

 

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant "oldies but goodies") will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L'Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties).

The author welcomes questions and celebrity "tips," especially about people you personally know. Write him at middleoftheroad1@aol.com. And feel free to comment below.

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