40 years after the passing of Elvis Presley, less well known parts of his life are becoming known. One of these was his ties to Jews and Judaism. 10 years ago Elvis’s Jewish hair stylist, Larry Geller wrote a book about his special relationship he had with Elvis from the moment they met until the time Elvis asked him to quit his and become his personal hair stylist. The moment Elvis asked him to quit his job elsewhere was when Larry told him he was looking for true meaning in his life and a pure connection to G-d in his life. Elvis heard that and immediately took a liking to Geller and wanted to hear more about this quest. Elvis wanted to meet Larry on a daily basis.
Geller told Maariv newspaper writer Dudi Patimer in an interview about the chapter in his book about Elvis’s relationship with Judaism: “One day I was doing Elvis’s hair and I found him holding a Bible in his hands. When I asked him why he was crying he answered, “I want to be a Jew like you of the highest caliber. Jews are the chosen nation and I too want to be part of the chosen nation.”
Geller also adds that though Elvis’s mother was Jewish Elvis’s father was Catholic and hid their Jewishness from their surroundings for fear of racism. When Elvis was a young man his family lived in a Jewish neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee in a building with an orthodox family named Fruchter. Rabbi Alfred Fruchter was the first person to teach Hebrew in Memphis. He was married to Janette and had 4 children; Judy, Harold, David and Debby.
“If my father would have known for sure that Elvis was Jewish he would have taught him Judaism and brought him back”
Geller says that Elvis’s mother and Mrs. Fruchter were realty good friends that would have a daily cup of coffee together. They lived in a small building and were great neighbors. Harold says; “Once my mother told me the Presley’s couldn’t pay their electric bill and we helped them and paid it.” Harold is a professional musician in a Jewish wedding orchestra.
“As an orthodox family we kept Shabbat and every Friday night the Presley’s would eat by us. My father told me that Elvis really loved our ‘kneidalach’ (matzoh balls). Elvis loved Jewish music and my father would give him cantorial records from cantor Moshe Oysher.
“When we needed to light the gas or light, Elvis was our “Shabbat Goy” (to do what we couldn’t do on Shabbat) but if we’d have known he was really Jewish my father would have brought him back to Judaism,” says Harold.
“When Elvis died, I said Kaddish for him in Hebrew”
Geller writes of Elvis’s relentless search for spirituality. “Elvis was thirsty to learn more about Judaism and delve deeper into it. I brought many books to read on Judaism and even taught him Kabbalah, Jewish tradition and its symbols, and even the Hebrew alphabet.”
In 1970 Elvis was the best man at the wedding of radio personality George Klein who was his best friend. Klein says: “Elvis was my best friend. We met in 8th grade in 1948. When I got married in 1970 Elvis signed as a witness on my ‘Ketuba’ (Jewish marriage contract) with the Rabbi’s permission who knew of Elvis’s Jewish roots.”
Klein says that when the first representatives of the Jewish day school in Memphis came to Elvis for a donation, they asked him for $1,000. He asked them to wait a few moments and came back with a check for $150,000! Klein says: “Elvis wasn’t just kindhearted, he really loved Judaism, there’s no other way to explain it. When he died I said Kaddish for him in Hebrew.”