Life magazine: Viva Oy Vegas!
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Life magazine: Viva Oy Vegas!

Louisa Walters found spieling and synagogues sit happily side-by-side in Nevada it’s Disneyworld for grown-ups.

Louisa Walters is a features writer

Louisa and her family in Vegas!
Louisa and her family in Vegas!

It’s like Marmite – you love or hate it. It’s the best fun you can have with your clothes on.

You’ve heard all this about Las Vegas.

But I bet you haven’t heard this – it has a thriving Jewish community with 20 shuls (seven of them orthodox), Jewish schools and plenty of kosher restaurants. No, me neither.

The city of Las Vegas in the state of Nevada was founded in May 1905. For 40 years it was sparsely populated, located in a dusty desert.

The first generation of residents could never have imagined the tourist paradise their city would become.

Today Las Vegas has a population of 625,000. It is home to approximately 80,000 Jews and has one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the USA.

In the mid-20th century, Jewish mobsters were attracted to Las Vegas because the casinos were not regulated and were a great source of cash.

It is well known that the Jewish ‘mob’ was responsible for transforming this spot in the middle of nowhere into the city of lights, entertainment and action we see today.

The entrance to the city

Meyer Lansky is perhaps the best known of the Jewish founding fathers. He was a major investor in the Flamingo Hotel and Casino that was built by ‘Bugsy’ (Benjamin) Siegel, and he allegedly arranged Bugsy’s murder in 1947 when he became convinced that Siegel was doctoring the accounts. There is a memorial to Siegel in the grounds of the hotel and lots of interesting facts about mob activities at The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas.

Founding fathers: Meyer Lansky (left) and Bugsy Siegel

The most notable Jewish character of the modern era is Steve Wynn, founder of the Mirage, Bellagio and eponymous Wynn large-scale luxury casino hotels.

Born Stephen Weinberg in 1942, his father ran bingo parlours. There is very little Yiddishkeit on the strip today, but chicken soup is served daily at the Wynn buffet.

Another influential Jew in Las Vegas is Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands property development corporation. He and his wife, Dr Miriam Adelson, are huge benefactors of the Birthright campaign, donating $200 million to ensure that all American Jewish children get to go on a trip to Israel.

Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles tribute show Love at the Mirage Hotel

The Goldman family emigrated from Manchester to Las Vegas 15 years ago when their children were aged 13 and 12. “We came here when an opportunity arose for my husband to open a design centre in Las Vegas, as he was working in the gaming industry in the UK,” says Angela Goldman.

They live in Summerlin, a planned community in the suburbs north-west of the city, about 20 minutes from the strip. It is a large-scale residential neighbourhood with many amenities – parks, swimming pools, golf courses, schools, restaurants and shops. It is beautifully maintained and within it there are gated communities. 

Wynn Hotel

“The Jewish population is scattered all over the valley,” says Angela. “The majority of Jews, including us, live on the west side, as there are more synagogues here. There are a few Jewish schools – the main one is around the corner from our house. There are quite a few kindergarten and elementary schools affiliated with the synagogues.”

Angela and her husband grew up in a close-knit Jewish community in Manchester. “We have not found the same community ‘feel’ in Las Vegas, yet it is a great place for Jews to live,” she says.

“From a personal standpoint I have not experienced any antisemitism. There is a Jewish magazine called David and a newspaper called the Israelite. Keeping kosher is easy – plenty of supermarkets have a kosher section. There is one near us called Kosher Supreme and you can buy just about anything, from latkes to brisket. There are also lots of kosher restaurants.”

The entrance to the city, and Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles tribute show Love at the Mirage Hotel

Louisa rolls the dice…

STAY

Splurge: Wynn, Encore

Save: The Mirage

SEE

Splurge: Michael Jackson ONE, Beatles Love, Absinthe

Save: Terry Fator, Carrot Top, Matt Franco (Check Groupon, Travel Zoo and MLife for discounts)

EAT

Splurge: SW Steakhouse, Beauty & Essex, Spago

Save: The Cheesecake Factory, Maggiano’s Little Italy, RA Sushi

SHOP

Splurge: Palazzo, Forum,
Fashion Show Mall

Save: North Premium Outlet

DID YOU KNOW…

In 1959 Elizabeth Taylor married Eddie Fischer
at Temple Beth Shalom 
in Las Vegas

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