Craig Lebrau
Craig Lebrau

Transforming the melting pot into a beautiful mosaic

Jewish communities in Nevada flourish in the cities of Henderson and Summerlin

People in countries across the world dream of becoming jewels in the crown of the American Melting Pot. In fact, America’s 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, aptly said, “There is here a great melting pot in which we must compound a precious metal. That metal is the metal of nationality.”  

And among the brightest of jewels that sparkle on the melting pot crown are the Jewish people, who came in waves from Europe to the U.S. Historically, the first group of Jewish people to arrive in the U.S. were Sephardic settlers from Spain and Portugal. As records show, the first group of Sephardic settlers arrived from Brazil in New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan, New York, in 1654. Then, in the 1840s, German Jewish people arrived in the U.S. in significant numbers. Subsequently, between 1880 and 1924, over two million Eastern European Jewish people arrived in the U.S. from Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Romania. The later waves of immigration were  spurred by economic hardship, persecution and the massive social and political disasters of 19th century Europe. And by 1924, nearly 2 million Jewish people from Eastern Europe had immigrated to America. Most of today’s American-Jewish communities are said to be descendants of German and Eastern European Jewish immigrants.

What is more, the immigrant groups that dominated at a given time, influenced the character of the entire American Jewish community at the time. For instance, Eastern European Jewish people brought with them ideological principles such as Jewish nationalism, socialism, and securing economic and social equality, which led to a strong bond between the Jewish community and liberal politics.

Meanwhile, German Jewish people who sought a peaceful new life in America were enamored by New York and decided to settle there and engage in the arts, business, and literature.

However, Jewish settlers who first arrived in Nevada in 1850, were lured by the discovery of gold in Nevada’s capital, Carson City.

And, as history records, Las Vegas, the state of Nevada’s largest city, began as a Jewish mob town. Nevertheless, the arid desert with its scorching temperatures and dusty landscape, offered a second chance to perpetrators to go beyond criminal origins and reputations, to be touched by communal and civic responsibility. Many offenders were initiated into rehabilitation through joining synagogues and funding parochial schools. In fact, Nevada’s first Jewish synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, was founded in Reno in 1911, and remains as a place of worship even today.

Contrary to its original image of being a Jewish mob town, the Las Vegas of today showcases the fastest growing Jewish community in the U.S. For instance, around 600 Jewish people relocate to the Las Vegas metropolitan area every month, and they include professionals like doctors, teachers, accountants, engineers and others required by this once-small tourist town now transformed into the nation’s fastest-growing metropolis. Active retirees, young families and singles from cities like Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Detroit add variety to this booming community.  Thus, the current number of Jewish people in the Las Vegas area could be around 70,000 or as many as 100,000. The area also holds 19 synagogues served by about 40 rabbis, several Jewish community organizations promoting generosity and care, a number of Jewish delis and kosher restaurants, markets with kosher food sections, a Jewish newspaper and a Jewish magazine.

Many Jewish families are also moving into Summerlin, a master-planned community in Las Vegas Valley. Summerlin, named after Jean Amelia Summerlin, grandmother of billionaire land developer Howard Hughes, contains 22,500 acres, with about 5,500 gross acres for future development, with infrastructure, including a thriving retirement community Sun City Summerlin, open spaces and common areas. Summerlin has four Jewish schools including the Adelson School, which is the only PK-12 Jewish community school in Nevada.

As with the other prospering Jewish communities in Nevada, Summerlin has around 100,000 residents who enjoy 250 neighborhood and village parks, over 150 completed miles of trails, 26 public and private schools, 14 houses of worship and ten golf courses. It is a fast-developing community, with a comprehensive walkable urban center envisioned for the near future.

Likewise, Nevada’s second-largest city, Henderson, has become the dream home location for over 40% of the 70,000 or more Jewish families in Southern Nevada’s Las Vegas Valley. Every summer, new families relocate to Henderson from New York and California, lured by economical housing, great snowless outdoors and parks and trails. They are transforming the laidback desert suburb into a rising hub of Orthodox Jewish life, with thriving modern amenities like supermarkets with kosher food, kosher restaurants, religious schools and summer camps, four synagogues and a Jewish cemetery. Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel of the Conservative Midbar Kodesh Temple, says Henderson is unique because “you can live here and avoid the common vices normally associated with Las Vegas.”

As former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said, “We become, not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”

About the Author
Craig Lebrau is the Director of Cato Media. A former programmer, Craig is interested in Israel's startup ecosystem and aims to share his insights learnt from expanding to and managing business in Israel.
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