Schmelvis: In Search of Elvis Presley's Jewish Roots


199 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55022-462-X
DDC 782.42166'092





Reviewed by Debbie Feisst

Debbie Feisst is the reference/Internet resources librarian in the
Information Services Division of the Edmonton Public Library.


Their interests piqued by a 1998 article in the Wall Street Journal that
claimed Elvis Presley was Jewish, journalists and filmmakers Max Wallace
and Jonathan Goldstein journeyed from Montreal to Memphis and eventually
to Israel, trying to prove Elvis’s Jewishness and reveal assumed
anti-Semitic sentiment in middle America. Schmelvis chronicles their
experiences, serving both as a travel journal and as a behind-the-scenes
companion to the documentary film produced by the authors entitled
Schmelvis: Searching for the King’s Jewish Roots. Travelling in a
rented Winnebago (“the Winnebagel”), Wallace and Goldstein, along
with Evan Beloff (whose Auntie Pearlie helped finance the trip),
cameraman Ari Cohen, and a Hasidic Jewish Elvis impersonator named
Schmelvis, set off to Graceland. To increase the group’s legitimacy
they enlist Orthodox Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who refuses to travel with the
group but instead insists on flying to Memphis and then renting an
air-conditioned Cadillac. Schmelvis and the Rabbi are instantly at odds
with one another; Schmelvis feels that Rabbi Poupko is not serious
enough about his faith, while the Rabbi dislikes Schmelvis’s
holier-than-thou attitude.

Elvis’s maternal great-great-grandmother was Jewish. According to
Jewish law, identity is passed along matrilineally: therefore, Elvis was
a Jew. This is the premise of the documentary. The authors expected to
travel to Memphis (during Elvis Week, no less!) and record Elvis fans’
shock as they learned that Elvis was a Jew. They were surprised,
however, to learn that they themselves were the prejudiced ones, the
“actual rednecks,” and that their preconceived notion of Southerners
did not hold water. Since no one really seemed to care that Elvis was
indeed a Jew, they continued on to Israel.

The book’s format is all over the map, with much of the material
being in the form of poems, notes, pictures, recipes, and dialogue. This
wacky work will likely not appeal to hard-core Elvis fans, who may very
well consider it to be blasphemous, but fans of kitsch will find it an
entertaining and quirky read.


Goldstein, Jonathan, and Max Wallace., “Schmelvis: In Search of Elvis Presley's Jewish Roots,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,