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Virtual Jewish World:
Nevada, United States


Virtual Jewish World: Table of Contents | North America | United States


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The two principal Jewish communities are in Las Vegas and the Reno-Carson City area which numbered some 2,100 Jews in the mid-2000s. There are Reform synagogues in State-line and Summerlin. Reno still has three synagoguesReform, Conservative, and Chabad – as well as a mikveh. More than 600 Jewish families are estimated to move to Las Vegas each month, and in 2013 it had some 76,300 Jewish residents. Las Vegas boasts 18 congregations, three day schools, and a Holocaust memorial and resource library. Chabad operates four centers employing seven full-time rabbis. Orthodox residents and visitors can avail themselves of three mikva'ot (ritual baths), six kosher restaurants, a Glatt Kosher market, and two kosher stores embedded in local supermarkets. Three major casinos, meanwhile, maintain full-service kosher kitchens. Community affairs are chronicled in two community newspapers, The Jewish Reporter and The Israelite, and a monthly periodical, Life & Style: The Las Vegas Jewish Magazine. A Hillel Union at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, tends to the needs of Jewish students on campus.

Jews first went to Nevada from California in 1859 with the discovery of gold on the Comstock Lode and the silver rush around Virginia City in 1862. The gold and silver strikes brought a flood of emigrants from all corners of the country, including Jewish engineers, storekeepers, traders, lawyers, journalists, doctors, and fortune hunters. Nevada's first directory in 1862 listed 200 Jews in Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City, Austin, Dayton, Eureka, and Carson City. All but the latter were ghost towns by the 1960s. A congregation and B'nai B'rith lodge were organized in Virginia City in 1862. In the same year a burial society was organized there and in Eureka. Worship services were first held in Carson City in 1869. When the U.S. went on the gold standard and silver deposits gave out, Nevada's population shrank and the Jewish communities in the mining towns faded away. Carson City still has a historic Jewish cemetery known as the Bonanza Days Jewish Cemetary. A short-lived community grew up at Goldfield at the turn of the century when new gold and silver discoveries were made there. In 1969 the oldest permanent Jewish community was in Reno, which became the state's principal city after the mining towns were abandoned in the 1870s.

Among the pioneer Jews was Herman Bien, a rabbi, who opened the first Jewish school at Virginia City in 1861, and served in the first territorial legislature. He was one of four Jewish members of the convention that drafted the state's first constitution in 1864. Adolph Sutro , later mayor of San Francisco, who arrived in 1860, built the Sutro tunnel that greatly aided mining operations. Albert Michelson , the United States' first Nobel Prize winner, spent his boyhood in Virginia City, where his father was a storekeeper. Joseph Goodman was co-owner of The Territorial Enterprise, the first printed newspaper in Nevada, which employed Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) as a reporter. Samuel Platt, whose father came to Carson City in 1864, served as speaker of the state legislature and U.S. attorney for Nevada, and was three times Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. Col. David Mannheim commanded troops in the Indian wars of the 1860s, and Mark Strouse was the first sheriff of Carson City. Milton Badt was chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court from 1947 to 1966, and David Zenoff was appointed to the court in 1965. The mayor of Las Vegas from 1999 was Oscar Goodman (1939– ). Brian Greenspun, the scion of newspaper magnate, land developer and arms smuggler to pre-state Israel, Herman "Hank" Milton Greenspun (1909–1989), was the editor of the Las Vegas Sun and active in real estate and casino management. Casino mogul Steve Wynn (1941– ), who built the opulent Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas hotels, is credited with the Las Vegas Strip's successful marketing, during the 1990s, as a family friendly environment. Rival Sheldon Adelson (1933– ), who built the Venetian Hotel, established Las Vegas as a major convention and trade show venue. Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (1951– ) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998 and won her fourth term in 2004. Jacob "Chic" Hecht (1928– ) served in the Nevada State Senate from 1967 to 1975, as a Republican in the U.S. Senate from 1983 to 1989, and as U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas (1989–94).

Many Jews serve the casino industry; others are retirees, many more are professionals, physicians, lawyers and accountants, meeting the needs of a booming economy and a growing population. While attention is concentrated on the Las Vegas strip, family life thrives in the suburbs around Las Vegas in Summerlin, Desert Shores, Seven Hills and Green Valley, and Henderson.

As of 2013, Nevada's Jewish population was approximately 76,300 people.


Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved. B. Postal and L. Koppman, A Jewish Tourist's Guide to the U.S. (1954), 293–8; R.E. and M.F. Stewart, Adolph Sutro; A Biography (1962), 41–58; AJA, 8 (1956), 103–5. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: O. Osraelowitz, United States Jewish Travel Guide (2003).

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