Uri Yoeli, left, at the Elvis Inn, his restaurant/convenience store/gas station in Neve Ilan. (photo by Deborah Fineblum Schabb)
To appreciate how much Israelis love Elvis Presley, you just have to hear three generations of the Mizrachi family of Rehovot crooning, “Wise men say only fools rush in … but I can’t help falling in love with you.”
The Mizrachis – mom Aliza, sons Asaf and Yehoram, and granddaughter Kahila – had just downed some American-style burgers at the Elvis Inn, a restaurant, convenience store and gas station that proudly claims to be the only Israeli institution devoted to “the King.” And they were busy inspecting the impressive Elvis memorabilia and tchotchke collection on the premises.
Drivers passing through this corner of the hills surrounding Jerusalem often do a double take from the car window when they spot not one, but two way-more-than-life-sized statues of Elvis. Unless, of course, they’re among those who, like the Mizrachis, make a special pilgrimage to the Elvis Inn, located in the small hillside town of Neve Ilan.
Where else can Israelis hear all Elvis, all the time, piped into a 1950s-style diner while they feast on burgers and fries? Where else can they purchase an Elvis mini-alarm clock, a platter-sized “Elvis in Jerusalem” plate, or a postcard with Elvis wearing tefillin in front of the Western Wall? (The latter souvenir comes thanks to Photoshop, since the King was never in Israel – the closest he got was Germany, and there is no evidence that he ever wore tefillin.) Better yet, buy a cup of coffee for 15 shekels (about $5 Cdn) and you get the ceramic Elvis mug to take home as a souvenir.
But nothing of this Elvis sanctuary was in the picture when Uri Yoeli was a 12-year-old growing up in Jerusalem, the seventh generation of his family to do so. The year was 1958 and the Israeli preteen had a girlfriend who was a hardcore fan.
“She gave me a picture of a man and said it was someone named Elvis,” he recalled. “The next week she gave me a small record – One Night with You.” Back then, his family owned one of just a handful of gramophones in all of Jerusalem, and being willing to repeatedly play the Elvis record instantly made Yoeli one of the most popular kids in the neighborhood.
“I didn’t understand one word of English but I knew this was great music,” he said nearly six decades later. So began a lifelong devotion to the King, punctuated with trips to Graceland (Elvis’ Memphis shrine) and an impressive collection of Elvis memorabilia, much of it now on display at Yoeli’s Elvis Inn.
Even during his years of Israel Defence Forces service, Yoeli’s Elvis fascination continued; he bought whatever posters and records he could get his hands on. In 1974, when he had the chance to open a gas station in Neve Ilan, he put a few of the Elvis pictures on the wall behind the cash register.
“That’s when I saw people’s reaction: ‘Wow, Elvis!’” he said. Thus, the Elvis Inn was born.
Over the years, the venue has grown, adding the two oversized statues – the brass one is a towering 16 feet high – and attracting not only Israelis, but plenty of Americans on vacation looking for some old-fashioned home cooking. (Note: any Elvis fans who keep kosher will have to pass on the food at the inn.)
To read more, visit jns.org.