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Blue Suede Jew?
August 27, 2014 2:34 PM   Subscribe

In Memphis in the early 1950s, young Elvis Presley would sometimes help out the upstairs neighbors, Rabbi Fruchter and his family, by acting as a "Shabbos goy," -- that is, by doing tasks that Jews may not do on the Sabbath. (The rabbi's son Harold, then a toddler, recalls the arrangement in an audio interview.) Yet Elvis knew he had some Jewish forebears. Tablet Magazine notes that his "great great maternal grandmother was Jewish and had a daughter who had a daughter who had a daughter that was Elvis’s mother." Though he embraced Christianity, he often used to wear a Chai necklace (sometimes paired with a cross), saying "I don't want to miss out on going to heaven on a technicality." In that spirit, a Hasidic Elvis impersonator named Dan Hartal, aka "Schmelvis," recently recited Kaddish at Graceland and traveled to Israel to plant a tree in Elvis's memory.
posted by GrammarMoses (13 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
This delights me on so many levels.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:38 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


The title of this post...

IS AWESOME!!
posted by BlueHorse at 4:32 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


This is almost exactly like my old post on Elvis Presley's possible Jewishness.
posted by jonp72 at 5:28 PM on August 27 [4 favorites]


As it happens, I recently rewatched the Schmelvis film in a fit of misplaced nostalgia. Sadly, it's neither good enough to be good nor bad enough to be awesome. I can't recommend the experience.

Synopsis: the filmmakers read the 1998 Wall Street Journal story about Elvis's Jewish lineage (which wasn't really news even then, but never mind that). They decide that this will make for a good film, as they can go down south in a Winnebago (road trip! wacky hijinks!) and confront ignorant rednecks with this information, dragging the Chassidic Elvis impersonator along. Surely they will get some great anti-Semitic reactions that will be cinematic gold!

This doesn't work out as planned. The reaction of everybody they talk to is "yeah, okay, so what?" Attempts at provoking the alleged Southern bigots prove fruitless. (In the film's most self-aware moment, the director notes "we went searching for rednecks, but along the way we realized that we were the real rednecks.")

In a desperate attempt to find something to put in this film, the gang goes to Israel. It's never entirely clear why, even to them. They then make one last trip to Graceland, to enter Schmelvis in an Elvis impersonator contest. This falls through when it turns out he doesn't actually know the lyrics to any Elvis songs, and he won't be allowed to sing any Jewish music.

In a subplot, they plan to gather further evidence of Elvis's Jewishness. But they can't afford to pay a private investigator, and they turn out to have practically no investigative skills themselves.

In they end, they attempt to assemble their footage into something coherent. They fail. (This is not just me being snarky; it ends up being a focus of the film itself.)

Mildly interesting footnote: one of the producers (who's in the film) is Jonathan Goldstein, better known for his later work on This American Life and WireTap.
posted by Shmuel510 at 5:40 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Dang it, jonp72, you're so right. My apologies; I owe you at least a previously, bordering on full double. I hope this one can stay, but I understand if the mods deem it a double.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:45 PM on August 27


Good lord, that's embarrassing.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:47 PM on August 27


I looked into this once, using my leet research skills. I don't believe the story of him having a ggggg-Jewish grandmother, which according to Tablet boils down to "two of her sons' names were Sidney and Jerome, and Elvis' mother has a six-pointed star on her grave."
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:08 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Dang it, jonp72, you're so right. My apologies; I owe you at least a previously, bordering on full double. I hope this one can stay, but I understand if the mods deem it a double.

I'll just chalk it up to great minds think alike.
posted by jonp72 at 8:08 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Everybody still wants a piece of The King.
NYT: Is Elvis a Mormon?
posted by fredludd at 8:24 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Nice title subby!
posted by Meatafoecure at 9:58 PM on August 27


[Previous post is almost 8 years old, well past any sort of statute of limitations as far as I'm concerned, rock on.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:42 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I was fortunate enough a few years back to tour Manhattan's Tenement Museum with a very knowledgeable docent. It was there that I first learned of Elvis' role as a shabbes goy. I was charmed beyond belief.

The Tenement Museum is worth a tour if you find yourself on the Lower East Side for any reason.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:47 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


In my head I can't stop hearing "I'm just a Shabbos goy" being sung by Elvis to the tune of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy". Help!!
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:21 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


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