Elvis and Chanukah (2-Minute Mommy Peptalk)

Elvis and Chanukah (2-Minute Mommy Peptalk)

Some inspirational thoughts on Elvis Presley, the Jew, and Chanukah.

Last week I was surprised to find out that Elvis Presley’s great-great maternal grandmother, Nancy Burdine, was Jewish. So even though Elvis was raised as a Christian, he was halachically 100% Jewish.

And there’s some evidence that Elvis identified as a Jew. He once gave a large donation to a Jewish charity, he played racquetball at the Memphis JCC, and he made sure there was a Jewish star on his mother’s tombstone (in addition to a cross).

There are also many photos of Elvis wearing a Chai or a Star of David necklace. But if people would ask Elvis why he was wearing a Jewish symbol he would tell them, tongue in cheek: “I don’t want to miss out on going to Heaven on a technicality,” implying that wearing Jewish symbols was a way of spiritually covering his bets.

Those who knew Elvis claim that he was proud of his Jewish heritage, but he continued his family’s tradition of not publicizing their Jewishness. Growing up in Mississippi his parents had warned him not to tell people he was Jewish because “people don’t like Jews.”

But after, most likely, thousands of years of an unbroken Jewish chain, Elvis was the final link in that chain. His only daughter was not Jewish.

The Jewish response to this– to assimilation, intermarriage, to shame in ones Jewishness…is Chanukah. When we are required by Jewish law to light candles davka by our doors or in our windows, so they can clearly be seen by the Rabim, by many people.

That’s the choice we, as Jews, make every day, and especially on Chanukah, when we announce to the world “I’m a Jew!” and give our children and grandchildren the pride, the power, to continue this chain, to continue to be Jewish.

Happy Chanukah!


  1. I don’t remember where I read it, but it is claimed that as a teenager, Elvis used to borrow Chazzanus records from his Jewish neighbor.

  2. I like how you put this all together!
    A sad part of the Elvis story (lots of it was sad from a Jewish standpoint) – was that he was someone’s Shabbos Goy when he was a kid. – or possibly a Shabbos goy for the neighborhood, even.

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