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Interfaith Celebrities: The Amy Winehouse Grammy Mystery and The Rise of Paul Rudd

Feb. 5, 2008

Will Winehouse Show?

Amy Winehouse
As talented as Amy Winehouse is, her addictions threaten to destroy her career. Earlier this year, her mother wrote a public letter to Amy, imploring her to enter rehab and noting Amy's "strong Jewish heritage." REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

The "juiciest" story leading up to the 2008 Grammys (Sunday, Feb. 10, 8 p.m., CBS) is also the "Jew-iest": will British pop sensation and tabloid trainwreck Amy Winehouse appear at the awards?

Winehouse is nominated for six major Grammy awards, including record of the year ("Rehab"); album of the year ("Back to Black"); and song of the year ("Rehab"). After spending the past year ignoring pleas to get help for her out-of-control drug and alcohol abuse, Winehouse finally is in rehab. Some sources say that her friend and producer, Mark Ronson, convinced her. Winehouse previously ignored an open letter from her mother to get help, a letter which cited Amy's "strong Jewish heritage."

Last June, I devoted a column to Winehouse and her marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil, a non-Jewish British guy. Since last June, things have gone downhill for the couple. Winehouse has missed tons of gigs due to "ill health." A couple of weeks ago, she was videotaped smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine.

Fiedler-Civil has been in jail since last November. He allegedly assaulted a man in a bar. He was out on bail on that charge when he was arrested and jailed for allegedly attempting to bribe the man to change his story.

Ronson is nominated for producer of the year for records he did with Winehouse and with Brit singer Lily Allen. Ronson was born in England of Jewish parents and he was raised religiously Jewish. His parents divorced when he was a small child. When he was 8, his mother re-married Mick Jones, a non-Jewish British rock musician who is most famous as the lead guitarist for the band Foreigner. Ronson grew up surrounded by music.

Ronson moved to New York with his mother and stepfather when he was 10. He became a top club DJ in the early '90s and gradually moved into record production.

Ronson recently mentioned that he and Winehouse want to make a holiday album with Hanukkah and Christmas songs. Winehouse, he said, plans to write some original Hanukkah tunes.

Other Jews nominated in the pop/rock/folk categories include: Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Dave Koz, David Bromberg, Cathy Fink, David Bryan (the drummer for the band Bon Jovi), and Geddy Lee (the bassist for the band Rush. His parents are Holocaust survivors.).

Streisand has been married twice, first to Jewish actor Elliot Gould. They had a son together--Streisand's only child. In 1998, Barbra married non-Jewish actor James Brolin (the father of actor Josh Brolin, who's currently in Oscar favorite No Country for Old Men). They had a lavish Jewish wedding, although James Brolin did not convert to Judaism. Their marriage appears to be going strong after 10 years.

In jazz, Jewish Grammy nominees include Josh Redman and the late Michael Brecker, both saxophone players. Redman is the son of a black, non-Jewish father (the late jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman) and a white, Jewish mother. One of the most acclaimed jazz players of our time, Redman is also a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University. Josh clearly identifies as Jewish and he's played on CDs featuring contemporary artists re-interpreting traditional Jewish tunes. However, I don't believe he was raised with much religious observance.

In country, Andy Statman is nominated for best country instrumental song. Statman, who plays clarinet and mandolin, is a devout Orthodox Jew. He is considered one of the best bluegrass and klezmer musicians of all time.

Statman was one of the founders of the progressive bluegrass music movement of the '70s and he's one of a surprisingly large number of urban Jews who have become top bluegrass players (Bela Fleck, David Grisman, John Cohen, etc.). Heavily Jewish New York City is known as the best market for bluegrass music outside the South.

One of Statman's best friends is Ricky Skaggs, a famous bluegrass player whose musical roots are in also in gospel music. A religious Christian, Skaggs says:

"There's something that Jewish people love about bluegrass. I'm trying to get my thumb on it as well. There's something very spiritually connected to Israel. I don't know exactly how."

Jorge Drexler, a native of Uruguay who now lives in Spain, is nominated for best Latin pop album. Drexler, a singer/songwriter, is the son of a German Jewish father who fled the Nazis and settled in South America and a Catholic mother. He was trained as a medical doctor (but hardly practiced) before returning to music, his first love.

In 2004, Drexler became the first Uruguayan to win an Oscar. His song, "Al Otro Lado Del Rio," from the movie, The Motorcycle Diaries, was awarded the Oscar for best song.

Although raised without religion, Drexler has touched on his Jewish heritage in his songs. He told an interviewer, "As a child I felt Jewish. And I still do in a strange way--which is a very Jewish way to feel."

Last but not least is Nora Guthrie, the daughter of the late folk music legend Woody Guthrie, who wasn't Jewish. She is up for a Grammy for her liner notes for a CD of her father's music. Nora's brother is famous folk singer Arlo Guthrie. Arlo and Nora were raised their mother's Jewish faith.

A Bash Fit for a King

CNN chief national correspondent John King, 43, is set to marry CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash, 36, this May. King, who is of Irish Catholic background, told the New York Post: "I'm studying to convert and will consider inviting you to my bar mitzvah. Mazel tov. On a more serious note, I took a class and am working with a wonderful rabbi in D.C., and it has been a remarkably enriching experience."

Dana's father, Stuart Schwartz, is the senior broadcast producer for ABC News, where he primarily works on "Good Morning America." (He's won a raft of awards, including 12 Emmys). Dana's mother, Frances Weinman Schwartz, is a Jewish studies educator and her books include Jewish Moral Virtues and Passage to Pesach. Dana's ex-husband, lawyer David Bash, is the son of a rabbi.

Ay, There's the Rudd

Paul Rudd
Paul Rudd has rapidly become one of the most sought-after comic actors. He stars in a new romantic comedy, Over Her Dead Body, which opened Friday, Feb. 1. REUTERS/Chip East

The likable and handsome Jewish actor Paul Rudd, 38, has turned in charming movie and TV performances for almost 15 years. In the last two years, his stock has risen following his wonderful comic performances in the big box-office hits, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up.

Rudd's fellow actors also like him. Recently, Julia Roberts, who starred in a Broadway play with Rudd, told Variety: "Paul's the most unexpected movie star. Comedy is hard work, he makes it look easy. At a dinner party, if you're seated next to Paul, you'll leave thinking, I'm so funny. I always want to be seated next to Paul."

Rudd stars in the new film comedy, Over Her Dead Body, as a skeptic who falls in love with a genuine psychic (Lake Bell). However, their romance is hampered by the ghost of his late fiancée (Eva Longoria Parker). The pretty Jewish actress Lindsay Sloane, 30, has a big supporting role as Rudd's sister.

Bell, 28, is a tall beauty best known for playing Sally Heep on TV's "Boston Legal." Recently, GQ magazine asked Bell how she got into the comedy in the first place. Bell replied:

My dad's a Jew and my mom's a WASP, so that should pretty much say it all. It was a comically dysfunctional family. I even wrote a movie about it: NOCD. In WASP culture--you'll know about this, right? I can see that shirt is all buttoned up--they say, "Not our class, dear" when something is gauche. It's a comedy about an 18-year-old boy, the perfect WASP in training, who finds out that he might be the product of an affair his mother had with a Jewish shrink.

So far as I can determine, NOCD has not yet been turned into a film.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Hebrew and Yiddish for "good luck," a phrase used to express congratulations for happy and significant occasions. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Hebrew for "Passover," the spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. 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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