Editor’s Note: This adventure ran in 2014 as allotment of the Forward’s “Our Promised Lands” series. We’re re-revisiting it today in account of what would accept been Elvis Presley’s 85th birthdayt.
In the summer of 1954, Elvis Presley appear his aboriginal single. He had one problem: He couldn’t comedy it.
The ambitious 19-year-old accompanist was active with his parents at 462 Alabama Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. With hire at $50 a month, his ancestors was too poor to allow a almanac player. So, as he generally did, Elvis angry to his admiral neighbors for advice — Rabbi Alfred Fruchter and Jeannette Fruchter, his wife.
“He asked to borrow our almanac player. Mom said: ‘Elvis, you’re in luck. We’re activity abroad for the accomplished summer, so you can accept it,’” their son, Harold Fruchter, recounted.
Harold Fruchter has alone dim memories of accepting Elvis Presley as a bench neighbor. But he does apperceive that Elvis was the aboriginal actuality to backpack him up the steps, aloof canicule afterwards he was born, in July 1952. According to ancestors lore, aback Jeanette Fruchter came home from the hospital, Elvis ran bottomward and said, “Mrs. Fruchter, may I accept the account of accustomed your bairn upstairs?”
“Our addresses were the same, which agency my bearing affidavit has Elvis’s abode on it, which is appealing cool,” Harold Fruchter said.
Though the Fruchters larboard Memphis in 1955, their abrupt besom with the King larboard an constant mark. Until her death, Jeannette Fruchter batten of “the nicest boy you could anytime achievement to meet” with tears in her eyes. Aback he accelerating from L.C. Humes High Academy in 1953, she was there with a gift: Elvis’s aboriginal brace of cufflinks. Black onyx, to be exact.
The two families were close. Gladys Presley, Elvis’s mother, sat bottomward best afternoons afterwards assignment to babble with Jeannette Fruchter. Aback the Presleys were abbreviate on money, the Fruchters helped pay their electric and baptize bills. And Elvis Presley alike acted as a Shabbos goy for the family, axis on the lights and gas stove for “Sir Rabbi,” as he alleged Alfred Fruchter. Years later, the artist would explain his accord with the Fruchters to his aegis guards at a concert that Alfred Fruchter attended. Albert Goldman’s 1981 biography, “Elvis,” quotes him as saying: “Oh, we acclimated to alive beneath him on Alabama Street. He was absolutely nice to me, he’d accommodation me money, and sometimes he’d ask me to about-face on the lights for him on Saturday.”
It’s no blow that these two families concluded up neighbors. Mirroring a trend apparent beyond the South, the Fruchters, like abounding Jewish families, initially acclimatized in poorer city areas afore eventually accepting the agency to move out to the suburbs. (Both the Fruchters and the Presleys paid hire to a Mrs. Dubrovner, the wife of a adequate butcher.) It’s a aisle encapsulated by Memphis’s better congregation, Baron Hirsch. Originally amid in “the Pinch,” the city amount of immigrant communities, the association confused aboriginal to Midtown in the backward 1950s and again to abundant East Memphis, area it now draws up to 1,000 worshippers on the High Holy Days.
Alabama Avenue today.
In fact, 462 Alabama Avenue no best exists. In its abode stands a new accommodation circuitous boasting “smart — adult — style.” Run-down single-story homes still angle nearby, and beyond the artery trucks boom forth the highway.
The Fruchters confused to Memphis in the backward 1940s aback Alfred Fruchter became the aboriginal arch at the Memphis (now Margolin) Hebrew Academy, which he helped begin partly in acknowledgment to common all-overs about intermarriage and abridgement of Jewish education. His accouchement say he served as arch for three years afterwards pay.
The Presleys confused to Memphis from Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1948, aback Elvis was 13. Accepting fabricated alone $1,915 the year before, according to Vernon and Gladys Presley’s accumulated assets tax return, the ancestors lived in rooming houses for about a year afore clearing on Alabama Street. At school, Elvis struggled in several classes — conspicuously music, for which he becoming a C, as his eighth-grade address agenda shows. Aback his parents bought him a guitar for his 11th birthday, he was upset; he had capital a bicycle. Famously, he never abstruse to apprehend music. But according to Goldman’s biography, he did account from aboriginal acknowledgment to the masters — of Jewish cantorial music. While many, including The New York Times, accept scoffed at the abstraction that Elvis’s music may accept been afflicted by cantorial greats like Yossele Rosenblatt and Moishe Oysher, Jeannette Fruchter fabricated the case for it in a 1997 account with The Baltimore Sun. “My bedmate listened to his annal every Sunday, with the windows open, because it was so hot in Memphis, and you could apprehend them all over,” she said.
Courtesy of Harold Frucht…
Neighbors: Elvis sits beside the adolescent David and Debbie Fruchter.
But her bedmate was far from convinced. “Dad was so agitated by that,” Harold Fruchter remembered. “He said, ‘How could you anticipate that Elvis’s music was annihilation like abundant cantorial music?’”
In fact, the Fruchters were abashed at how acknowledged their adolescent acquaintance became.
“My parents didn’t apprehend him to become famous,” Judy, Harold’s sister, said. “They anticipation he had a nice voice, but they didn’t anticipate it was exceptional.”
That “nice” articulation abiding bought Presley a “nice” house.
The accompanist bought Graceland at age 22. Today, the abode receives added than 600,000 visitors a year and stands as the constant attribute of the best acclaimed amateur of the 20th century. The 13.8-acre acreage contains 23 rooms, including eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms. It additionally appearance a 15-foot white daybed and floor-to-ceiling stained-glass peacocks in the advanced active room, a custom-designed calm avalanche in the “Jungle Room,” a 360-degree mirror-paneled rec allowance absolute three televisions (so that he could watch all three networks at once) and a billiards allowance area 350 yards of ruche-patterned bolt band the walls and ceiling.
The Presleys’ brainwork garden.
Out aback is the “Lisa Marie.” Named afterwards Elvis’s daughter, the clandestine even has a absolutely abounding bar of bendable drinks (the King didn’t like booze — he adopted Diet Dr Pepper and adhesive Gatorade), a appointment room, a abounding pullout bed and a bath bore covered with flakes of 24-carat gold. The even was acclimated for ad-lib ancestors outings — like the time Elvis accomplished his babe had never apparent snow, so he flew to Colorado with her so that she could bung about a snowball or two afore branch appropriate aback home.
One of Elvis’s added acclaimed contributions to the acreage was a brainwork garden, area he, his parents and his grandmother Minnie Mae Presley are buried. Watching over them is a looming marble bronze of Jesus Christ on the cross, engraved with the name “Presley.”
This absorbing cairn belies rumors, circulating over the accomplished few years, that Elvis may absolutely accept been halachically Jewish through his affectionate great-great grandmother. That anticipation troubles the accepted bearing of Fruchters.
“All this allocution now about Elvis actuality Jewish — that’s absolutely disturbing,” Judy Fruchter said. “Because if he was Jewish, my ancestor was authoritative him befoul Shabbat. He’s apparently axis in his grave.”
Sigal Samuel is the Forward’s agent agenda media editor. Anne Cohen is a Forward agents writer.
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