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What Jewish History Forgot

March 27, 2016 | by Marnie Winston-Macauley

Wyatt Earp, Elvis Presley and Alexander Hamilton all had Jewish connections.

We all know that Western gunslingers became a staple of TV and films, but did you know that the first film cowboy hero was the son of a Rabbi? What about the Royal Family of Monaco? (Hint: There was a Jewish princess – a real one!), or that Elvis cut his “Houndog” teeth to Cantorial music? For every great Jewish story we heard or believe, there are thousands more that are untold. The is the real story and claims behind the story. In my new series, What Jewish History Forgot, these fascinating facts and claims will come alive.


We all know Elvis Presley as the southern boy who became the King of rock and roll as well as a cultural icon. But did you know that from an early age, The King was heavily influenced musically by a rabbi? That many of his song-writing teams were Jewish, and more, there has been serious speculation that Elvis himself, was “technically” a Jew? Or, that Founding Father and first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, attended a Jewish school? A Jewish pirate with a mission? The legendary Jean Lafitte had his reasons. A legendary gambler and gunfighter buried in a Jewish cemetery (undercover?) Wyatt Earp, married to Jewess Josephine “Josie” Marcus in 1880 had his ashes laid to rest in the Marcus family plot at the Little Hills of Eternity Jewish cemetery, in Colma, California – which was founded by Senator and Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater’s Jewish grandfather, Michael Goldwater!

Let’s look.


When Elvis Presley was a teen living on Alabama Street in Memphis, his family lived below Orthodox Rabbi Alfred Fruchter, the leader of Temple Beth El Emeth. The Rabbi and his rebbitzen owned something the Presley’s lacked: a phonograph. According to Tim Boxer’s Jewish Celebrity Anecdotes, young Elvis, while washing his fifty dollar 1942 Lincoln Zephyr coupe, would hear the rabbi’s cantorial records of artists such as Shlomo Koussevitsky and Moishe Oysher. In 1954, Elvis asked to borrow the rabbi’s record player. He had recorded a song called “I Love You, Mama.”

During his frequent visits with Rabbi Fruchter he celebrated Shabbos with the family, and wore a yarmulke in their home. Reportedly, he had a Star of David engraved on his mother’s tombstone and was generous in his contributions to Jewish causes. He wore a “chai” (the Hebrew letters chai and yud, meaning life) which, according to some accounts, he was buried with.

Years later, Rabbi Fruchter said Elvis, when as a young man played his song, it had a strangely familiar rhythmic sound. Could it be the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was influenced by liturgical music? More, many of his early hits, including “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” were written by the Jewish duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Sadly, they never composed “All Farmisht Up.” Throughout his career Elvis continued to use a number of Jewish song writers.

But wait … it may go further.

It's a little-known fact that Elvis Presley – the most Christian icon of American pop culture – may have been Jewish. According to his biographer, Elaine Dundy, Elvis’s Jewish connection is through maternal great-great-grandmother, Nancy Tackett, a Jewess. In the book Shmelvis: Searching for the King’s Jewish Roots written by Jonathan Goldstein with the help of a Canadian Hasidic Jewish Elvis impersonator, Dan Hartel, whose stage name has been Schmelvis," Goldstein claims to have traced Elvis's Jewish roots all the way to the ancient kingdom of Israel.

Jewish? Not Jewish? One thing we DO know. The King was aware of and admired his Jewish roots.


Our first Secretary of the Treasury was not a practicing Jew, but his mother, Rachel Fawcett Levine, probably was or converted to Judaism when she married her first husband at age 16 (in the 1750s), one John Michael Levine, a Danish Jew living in the West Indies. Alexander Hamilton’s biological father, James Hamilton was a non-Jewish Scotsman. But young Alexander, born in the West Indies on this date in 1757 (or 1755), attended a Jewish school, because as Rachel had never divorced her first husband, he was considered illegitimate in the eyes of the church.


Vocation: Pirate? The legendary French-American pirate, Jean Lafitte who sailed the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century, claimed Jewish ancestry through his grandparents in a journal entry. As for his “career” choice, he had his reasons. A free-thinker, buccaneer, alchemist, but loyal family man, was greatly influenced by his bubbe, Zora Nadrimal, who raised him. According to his diary, he was born in Port-Au-Prince in 1782. His mother, Maria Zora Nadrimal, died soon after, and the young Jean was raised by his Jewish grandmother, Zora.

His grandfather, Abhorad Nadrimal, was jailed, tortured and died in prison in Spain. Jean was raised on stories of his suffering, and thus he developed a hatred of all things Spanish. Lafitte described his grandmother as also training him in the habits necessary to the development of a strong personality, prepared him to face the vicissitudes of life with a firm and determined will and capable of ignoring all obstacles that would retard the development of his mind.


The gambler and gunfighter of OK Corral fame was “believed” to be married to his beloved Jewess – and his ashes are spending eternity in a Jewish cemetery. Earp met the young and exciting Josephine “Josie” Marcus in 1880. Together, for over 40 years they lived an adventure, going from boom town to boom town, investing in mines, real estate, entertainment establishments, and oil wells. Upon his death in 1929, his ashes were buried in the Marcus family plot at Hills of Eternity, a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California. Josie was laid beside him in 1944.

While working as a sports writer and Western film consultant in Los Angeles (where he helped promote much of the Earp myth), he died of liver failure in 1929. His wife brought his ashes to be buried in her family plot which they still own in Colma.

The plot gets JEW-cier! The late Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater’s pop and zayde, originally Polish, were religious Jews. The Senator's grandfather, Michael Goldwater, was very active in Jewish affairs on the western frontier. In California he was a VIP in three Jewish congregations. In San Francisco, he was chairman of the committee that founded Hills of Eternity Cemetery at Colma, California (the very same place where Earp and his Jewish wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus were buried). His zayde also headed the first Hebrew Benevolent Society and chaired the first Zionist meeting in San Francisco in 1898, where Barry Goldwater’s father, Baron, was Bar Mitzvahed.



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