If you didn’t know, my mother is an amazing storyteller.
It’s not just her books that are riveting, but her basic family lore. Her grandmother’s escape from Warsaw, growing up in bohemian Miami Beach in the 1950s, how I knocked my front teeth out the first day of JCC summer camp in 1976—all told in fascinating and colorful detail.
Sometimes, however, I suspect her stories employ a certain poetic license. Now, I’m not saying she makes things up, but she has been known to embellish, like when she tells people my literary genius was evident at an early age because I analyzed John Steinbeck when I was 4. (I was 7, and all I got out of it was that Lennie should not be around pets.)
I’m just saying this is where I learned that sometimes creatively interpreting the truth makes it way more entertaining, especially at the dinner table.
For my entire life, I’ve heard about how my grandparents had a friend who knew Elvis Presley as a teenager. Not only knew him, but actually had him come over on Saturdays to act as a “Shabbos goy“—someone who can turn the lights on and off and turn on the over during Shabbat, when those acts are forbidden to observant Jews.
This is a great story, right? The King of Rock swiveling his hips through the livingroom on Friday night to flip the light switch? That famous pompadour crooning “Wise men say…” along with the kaddish? It also sounds totally unlikely.
For the decade-plus I’ve been a digital yenta, I’ve been combing the interwebs for corroboration to no avail. I am ashamed to admit I have assumed my mother was either unknowingly repeating someone else’s fiction or had confused Elvis’ love of all things Jewish with her own teenage obsessions. But still, a good story.
But lo and behold, lookie what’s on the Tablet Magazine’s Vox Tablet podcast today: An interview with Harold Fruchter, a Jewish wedding singer who grew up in Memphis in a duplex in the early 1950s. Fruchter’s father was a rabbi, and when the family needed someone to flick a switch on Saturdays, the nice young man named Elvis would come upstairs to help out.
Fruchter recounts how Elvis called his father “Sir Rabbi,” and that his mother bought Elvis cufflinks for his high school graduation. The Man Who Changed Music Forever borrowed his Jewish neighbor’s record player so he could listen to his first recordings.
Mindblowing! I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Mom. The part about me being a genius is real, too, right?