Amy Winehouse Was Proud to be Jewish
by Chas Newkey-Burden
I was a bit puzzled as I read Anshel Pfeffer’s article in Haaretz about the Jewish Museum’s new exhibition celebrating the life of Amy Winehouse. I often enjoy Pfeffer’s writing, but this was just bizarre.
Headlined Remembering Amy Winehouse as the Jew she was not, his article takes issue with the exhibition’s description of her as “simply a little Jewish kid from North London with a big talent who, more than anything, just wanted to be true to her heritage”.
Yet that description comes from the mouth of Amy’s brother, Alex. It takes some chutzpah to try and contradict a presumably still-grieving man’s description of his own sister. Particularly when, as far as the reader can tell from his article, Pfeffer did not know Amy at all during her life.
He argues that the exhibition’s presentation of Amy’s Jewish side is “contrived”. Yet it is his article which seems just that: it is as if a stranger has shown up to a wake and begun to loftily heckle those who knew the deceased.
I researched Amy’s relationship with her Jewish identity when I was writing my biography of her. When she passed away, I wrote a short article for the Jewish Chronicle on just that aspect of her life. It is true, she was no Talmud-toting Stamford Hill frummer – but how many Haaretz writers and readers can say they are? Like several aspects of Amy’s life her relationship with her Jewish identity was complex, but she was Jewish and was proud to be Jewish.
Pfeffer’s piece would grate less if it was not riddled with mistakes. In paragraph one he writes, correctly, that she died at 27 years of age. Yet later in the article he says that she died at 30. Similarly, he claims that she died on June 23, 2011, but she actually passed away on July 23.
The online version of the article closes with a video of Amy at her worst: intoxicated, confused and deeply unhappy on-stage in Belgrade, in one of her final concerts. There are so many ways to remember Amy, I find it a shame when people – and there are many such people, Pfeffer is far from alone – choose the most tragic and salacious moments to illustrate a talent that was so immense and a character who was so gentle.
If you want to remember Amy the way those who knew and loved her best remember her, why not pop along to the exhibition, which runs until September 15. Find out more about the Amy Winehouse Foundation here.