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Going to Elvis’s Chapel

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I had the first Jewish wedding at Graceland


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Brooke and Mike 'can't help falling in love' at Graceland

My first instinct when my Prince Charming asked me to marry him was to head down to City Hall for a no muss/no fuss wedding—at 10:30 a.m. to avoid the lunch rush. When my Mom, with tears in her eyes, asked me if I was not going to have her under the chuppah with me, I realized that I not only wanted her there, I wanted my Judaism there too. Chuppah, Mom and all.

My mother was a single parent and worked very hard to take care of me and my sister after our Dad died. She sent me to Jewish Day School, Jewish camp and on trips to Israel. She made sure that I would have the skills and knowledge to be a strong Jew in a non-Jewish world. So on second thought, no offense David Orr Cook County Clerk, you’re no rabbi. 

I am such a proud, hard core, in your face, I-bring-the-Jew-to-the-table kind of girl, that I don’t know what I was thinking. I take pride in speaking Hebrew, wearing my “Herzl is my Homeboy” t-shirt and knowing my Jewish history. I corrected a tour guide at the Coliseum in Rome who generically claimed slaves built the Coliseum. Oh contraire, JEWISH slaves built the Coliseum. I can’t believe I was going to skip the chuppah. I realized then that I still wanted my wedding to be small and Jewish but I also wanted it to be unique.

Thinking of what was different and Jewish, I first though of Curacao’s synagogue. A quick cruise from Florida, a stop at the synagogue. How lovely. But a residency requirement from Curacao nixed that. Being a CTA fan, I considered renting an El train. Three hours gets you and your guests wherever there is track and you can even have food and drinks! But, ultimately, it was a comment from Patty, the event planner at Graceland, which made up my mind.

Prince Charming—also known as Mike—and I had been to Memphis and were charmed by the city and its close/solid Jewish community. When Patty gave us the price of having a wedding at Graceland she mentioned that it included the minister. When I told Patty I was Jewish and would be using a rabbi she said, “I don’t think we’ve had a Jewish wedding here before.”  Light bulb!  I asked her to check on that and two days later she called to say that if Mike and I chose Graceland, we’d be the first Jewish couple to marry there. In my own little way I was going to be a pioneer.

Because we started planning this July 4 wedding on June 5—that’s four whole weeks!—things started to come together quickly. We had the place (Graceland) and the city (Memphis) but no rabbi, hotel, restaurant, etc. Keeping with our Memphis/Jewish theme we decided to have dinner on a Riverboat on the Mississippi and serve BBQ brisket, cornbread challah, greens, corn and an oh-so-southern Red Velvet cake.

To make the wedding a bit more Elvis-like, we had a Cantor officiate instead of a rabbi—thank you Cantor David Julian for making our wedding more meaningful than I could ask for. And to make it more “us” we made our own chuppah (which was then schlepped from Chicago to Memphis by car—thanks Mom) and ordered blue suede kippot, as is only right at Elvis’s house.

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Blue suede 'kippot'

It wasn't city hall on a Tuesday and I'm glad. It was a great ceremony, blending the best of the unconventional feel we wanted and Jewish traditions that are so important to us. Being the first Jewish couple to wed at Graceland secures for us a special place in history and I couldn't have been more excited to say my "I do" in front of family, God and Elvis.

Brooke Mandrea has been asked 6 times, said yes 4 times, but has only gotten married this once. She is a city girl who rarely ventures north of North Avenue. When she is not being a Jewish pioneer, she works on Overseas Programs and Projects at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Luckily, that is exactly what she would want to do even if she didn't have bills to pay. She is also a voracious reader but only a few pages at a time.

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