Elvis & Hanukkah: 'A beckoning candle'

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – After George Copen lent his Hanukkah menorah to a good friend more than 30 years ago, he just kind of forgot about it.
“Janelle McComb said she wanted to borrow it for a little while, so we thought sure, why not,” said Copen, standing in the lobby of the Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum on Wednesday afternoon.
At sundown, Copen and other members of Jewish Temple B’Nai Israel began the observance of Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday when Jews recall rededicating the Temple in Jerusalem after defeating the Syrian-Greeks in the second century B.C.E.
Copen had come to the birthplace at the invitation of McComb’s grandson, Blair Hill, who serves as the museum’s assistant director. Hill’s father, Jim, and Copen grew up as best friends in Tupelo.
Turns out that Copen’s Hanukkah menorah, which is a candelabrum with nine stems – one to hold a lighting candle – had been on display since McComb opened the museum in 1992. It got there by way of a simple oversight.
McComb appears to have forgotten that she borrowed it, and Copen forgot he had lent it. McComb was a friend of Elvis’ and often visited the King of Rock ’n’ Roll at Graceland. She had all sorts of memorabilia of Tupelo’s native son, and when she died, the menorah, along with several other items in her estate, went into the museum.
Copen found out that his family’s menorah was in the museum a couple of years ago, when a friend told him to go by and have a look at the display.
Visitors to the museum might recall seeing the chrome menorah. It’s in a glass case, along with a photograph taken by McComb. The photo is titled “He touched me,” and it shows the menorah, sitting in a church with stained glass windows, along with a guitar and stoles from the vestments of a Christian minister.
“The photograph is meant to illustrate how important religion was in Elvis’ life and music, and how universal his appeal is,” said Hill.
On Wednesday, Copen was joined by his younger brother, Steven, in lighting the menorah as a kickoff to the holiday.
On each of the next seven evenings, Jews worldwide will give gifts, eat special foods and recite prayers, remembering their ancestors who died to preserve their way of life.
Copen’s Hanukkah menorah will remain on display at the museum. “It’s a beautiful family heirloom,” said Copen. “But why take it home when it can stay here, where so many people can enjoy it?”

Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.

To celebrate
■ Join the members of Temple B’Nai Israel for a special, Hanukkah celebration, including a pot-luck dinner and a dreidel spinning contest on Sunday, at 5 p.m. at 1301 Marshall St. Visit shalomtupelo.com for more information.