Living the Jewish Life in Las Vegas
If you want to spark up conversation around the Shabbos table, bring up the idea of living in Las Vegas. Typical reactions may include noses scrunching up and looks of disbelief. Of course, you’re bound to hear “I’m not a gambler!” or derisive references to The Strip and Sin City. So it’s a surprise for many to learn that not only does Las Vegas offer much more than casinos and hotels, but that Vegas has become home to a thriving and growing Orthodox Jewish community.
Las Vegas is a desert oasis that offers a high quality of life at a lower cost of living. Housing is affordable and job opportunities can be found across many industries. People are friendly and customer service in local stores is top-notch. Shopping is world-class and the entertainment venues can put the big cities to shame. The city is surrounded by mountains offering a beautiful panoramic vista. Outdoor activities abound, including hiking, camping, cycling, skiing, boating, fishing, and kayaking. The climate is dry, the sky is often clear and a piercing blue, and Las Vegas sees more than 300 days of sun each year.
For the Orthodox Jewish community, Las Vegas is home to eight Orthodox synagogues, a growing number of kosher restaurants, a Kollel, and day schools. Torah living is very much alive in Vegas. Maybe it’s time you finally discovered “what goes on in Vegas”!
Welcome to Las Vegas
The city of Las Vegas is located at the southern tip of Nevada, in the southwest region of the United States, and borders California, Utah, and Arizona. In the 1800s, areas of the Las Vegas Valley contained artesian wells that supported extensive green areas or meadows (“vegas” in Spanish), hence the name Las Vegas. Established in 1905, Las Vegas officially became a city in 1911.
Las Vegas has a total area of 131.3 square miles and is one of the most populous cities in the American West with a population just over 550,000. The entire Las Vegas metro area has a population of over 2 million. More people are moving into the Las Vegas valley than those moving out.
Las Vegas is located in the Mojave Desert and is surrounded by mountains of varying color. City elevation is around 2030 feet (620 m) above sea level. A short 35-minute drive will take you up 8000+ feet elevation amid mountains and among cedars, spruce, and mahogany, while another short drive in a different direction will bring you to Lake Mead, the largest man-made lake in the United States and 16th largest in the world.
Las Vegas is an iconic city with an energy and character all its own. There is no other city like Vegas. Billed as The Entertainment Capital of the World, Las Vegas attracts people from across the globe. The major attractions are the hotel casinos. The more famous hotels are located on Las Vegas Boulevard, also known as the Las Vegas Strip (or just The Strip). Hotels can have thousands of rooms and some of the newer ones, like the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, and the Venetian, are quite glamorous.
Not long ago, the city of Las Vegas attempted to position itself as a family tourist destination. Whether the attempt was successful or not, the fact remains that many of these hotel casinos offer some very impressive and entertaining attractions for the young and old. The Mirage offers the Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat, home to several dolphins, as well as, Siegfried and Roy’s Royal White Tigers. Mandalay Bay is home to Shark Reef, North America’s only predator-based aquarium and exhibit. Another aquarium can be found at the Silverton, and visitors can view lions at the MGM Grand Lion Habitat.
Only in Vegas will you find America’s largest indoor theme park encased beneath a five-and-a-half-acre glass dome, complete with pink trim. The Adventuredome at Circus Circus is filled with action and thrills, promising fun for the whole family. Besides a number of extreme thrill rides, you’ll find a miniature golf course, laser tag, an arcade, clown shows, bumper cars, and midway booths.
Other popular attractions in and around Las Vegas, for both tourists and locals, include the Pole Position Raceway, gondola rides at the Venetian, the Fremont Street Experience, Ethel M Chocolate Factory, the Hoover Dam, and the Las Vegas Zoo.
Las Vegas also offers a mind-boggling array of choices when it comes to live music, comedy, theater, dance, museums, art galleries, and more. Whatever your taste in music may be, you will find a never-ending offering of live music playing in Vegas. At any given time, you can enjoy listening to live Ska, Rockabilly, Punk, Hip Hop, Blues, Classical music and more. And, don’t forget the many entertaining lounge acts found among the Las Vegas hotels.
Do you enjoy theater and live shows? You’ll find a very impressive line-up of shows that call Las Vegas home. Currently, some of the best-selling shows include Blue Man Group, La Reve, Carrot Top, Penn & Teller, Zumanity, Donnie & Marie, and LOVE. La Cirque du Soleil, whose productions are something to behold, offers no less than five different shows. You’ll also find Broadway shows like Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia!
And, when it comes to comedy, you can catch everyone from Jay Leno, Ray Romano, and Kevin James to David Spade, George Lopez, and Jerry Seinfeld. Just like the music scene, the comedy scene in Vegas brings in everyone who is someone. Impressionists and magicians round out the plethora of live acts to be found in Las Vegas.
For something a bit more on the quieter side, you can visit one of the many museums that Las Vegas has to offer. The Las Vegas Art Museum, a local affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, features rotating exhibits from the world’s top artists, past and present. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts, located in the Bellagio Hotel, presents world-class exhibitions of art and objects drawn from internationally known museums and private collections. Past exhibitions have included Monet masterworks, Andy Warhol’s celebrity portraits, Faberge treasures from the Kremlin, and Alexander Calder mobiles.
The Las Vegas Natural History Museum is quite expansive offering a number of unique exhibits as well as a children’s hands-on section. The Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History offers exhibits of archaeology, anthropology and natural history of Mexico and the Southwest, plus a traveling exhibit gallery. The Lied Discover Children’s Museum offers more than 100 hands-on exhibits in the arts, humanities and sciences making it one of the country’s largest children’s museums! The Springs Preserve is a 180-acre cultural and historical attraction on the site that was once home to natural springs and abundant water. The Preserve is home to entertainment, exhibits, galleries, trails and gardens that provide recreational and educational opportunities to visitors. The Springs Preserve also offers hiking trails and numerous activities for children to learn and play.
Other museums in Las Vegas include Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Liberace Museum, a couple of exotic and classic auto museums, the Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, the Mob Museum and an exact replication of King Tut’s tomb as discovered by Howard Carter in 1922.
Loving the Outdoors in Las Vegas
Many of you may be surprised to learn that Las Vegas offers one of the best all-year-round climates in the country. Located in the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas’ climate is arid with very little or no humidity. Seasons vary with very hot summers, mild winters, an abundance of sunshine, and very little rainfall. Summer days (July & August) can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but because there’s little or no humidity some people find it more comfortable than the hot & humid East Coast summers. Winters in Las Vegas are mild, getting cool and windy, with daily highs around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and nightly lows around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It rarely ever snows in the city, yet skiing is only a 45-minute ride away.
As you may now suspect, there is an abundance of outdoor and recreational activities available. Walking, hiking, cycling, camping, boating, and fishing are all popular activities among residents of Las Vegas. You can find many clubs to join in Las Vegas specializing in any of these recreational pursuits.
Lake Mead, the largest man-made lake in the Western Hemisphere, is only a short drive from Las Vegas. It occupies about 1.5 million acres — twice as much as Rhode Island — and about 820 miles of shoreline. Established as a national recreational area, Lake Mead offers year-round swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking, sun bathing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. Facilities include eight campgrounds, five motels, seven RV campgrounds with hookups, five marinas, boat and jet ski rentals, beaches, restaurants, cafes, snack bars and a visitors center.
Only a short 45-minute drive from downtown Las Vegas, Mt. Charleston rises to a height of 12,000 feet in elevation and is a popular retreat during the summer, offering cool mountain breezes and scenic beauty. It’s a pleasant surprise to find yourself among forests of cedar, juniper, spruce, aspen, and mahogany, and seeing waterfalls and wildflowers, all while being so close to the desert. Local wildlife includes hummingbirds, songbirds, wild burros, mule deer, elk, and desert tortoise. With a total of 52 miles of hiking trails, there is some amazing hiking to be had on Mt. Charleston. Cabins and campgrounds are available as well.
During the winter, the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, located at Mt. Charleston’s Lee Canyon, offers local residents 40 acres of ski terrain, with 10 different trails, the longest of which is 3,000 feet. The summit is located at 9,370 feet with a vertical drop of 860 feet. The resort also offers 30 acres of snowboarding terrain. Another popular ski resort among Vegas locals is the Brian Head Resort, located in Utah and a 3-1/2 hour drive from Las Vegas.
Other popular recreational areas in or near Las Vegas include Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire, Spring Mountain Ranch, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley National Park, and Zion National Park. Nevada is also home to approximately 300 hot springs, many of which can be found near Las Vegas.
If you’re someone who misses the ocean or wants to get in some surfing and/or deep-sea fishing, you’ll be happy to know that a 4-5 hour drive will bring you to the Pacific Ocean, whether it’s by Los Angeles or San Diego. If you’re a golfer, then you probably already know that Las Vegas is home to 35 golf courses, including 20 world-class courses.
Las Vegas Business and Economy
Although the tourism and gaming industries have a strong presence and provide tens of thousands of jobs, the economy in Las Vegas is diversifying, providing many new career opportunities. According to Recruiting Nevada, over 167,000 jobs will be created in the Las Vegas area over the next 5 years.
In February 2007, Inc. named Las Vegas “Hottest City in America” among large cities, and in 2006 Forbes magazine named Las Vegas as one of the top three best cities to find a job. Las Vegas has consistently maintained the highest new job growth in United States. And, since 1990, Las Vegas has also ranked number one in high-tech job growth. Many technology companies have either relocated to Las Vegas or were created there.
Constant population growth has also fueled the construction industry, although excess housing inventory has resulted in a slowdown in residential construction. In addition to Construction, other key business sectors of Las Vegas include Distribution & Trade, Financial Institutions, Gaming, Government, Manufacturing & High Technology, and Travel & Tourism.
A 2007 poll revealed that Las Vegas has the most favorable business climate for new corporate investments in the West, beating cities such as San Francisco, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. Due to its location, Las Vegas has an excellent transportation and communications network. Eighty percent of Western U.S. markets within 500 miles of Las Vegas are served by overnight truck delivery at discounted rates. For this reason, many national and global companies, including logistics companies, are setting up branches in Las Vegas.
The economy in Las Vegas is running at full force and the focus is on economic diversification and workforce development. There are more than a dozen hospitals and medical centers, over 300 public schools, and countless new housing communities. More than 25 different banks serve the city, along with more than 15 credit unions and savings and loans. Job opportunities can be found in financial services, professional and business services, management and administrative services, health services, education, and government.
Jewish in Las Vegas
Until recently, Las Vegas was touted as the fastest growing Jewish community in the United States. Although there appears to be some debate over actual figures and to the claim’s validity, there’s no doubt that the Jewish community in Las Vegas, including the Orthodox community, is growing.
Fifty years ago, there was only one synagogue (Conservative) in Las Vegas. Today, Las Vegas is home to 20 synagogues, including seven Orthodox shuls. Forty years ago, the total population of Las Vegas numbered around 90,000 people. Today, the number of Jews in Las Vegas is nearing 80,000, with most of that growth occurring during the past fifteen years. Although a large number of the Jewish population in Las Vegas remains unaffiliated, the Orthodox community numbers around 1,000 members and rising.
As an oasis in the desert, Las Vegas has become fertile when it comes to Kosher food. In fact, many are surprised to learn just how abundant Kosher food is there. Albertson’s and Smith’s Food, two large supermarkets, offer very impressive Kosher departments, including aisles of packaged goods, deli, baked goods, Glatt Kosher meats, cooked foods, sandwiches, and freshly-cooked rotisserie chicken.
The selection of Kosher restaurants has improved significantly over the years. At the time of this writing, there are approximately seven Glatt Kosher restaurants. A number of Kosher caterers round off the selection of Kosher food to be found in Las Vegas.
Chabad has had a strong presence in Vegas for many years and one of their more successful accomplishments has been the creation of the Desert Torah Academy. The school, which currently sits on its own 2-1/2 acre campus, is accredited by the National Accreditation Board of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and the National Council for Private School Accreditation. Desert Torah Academy offers both Judaic and General Study programs that meet the highest standard of both the educational and Chinuch worlds. Grades run from pre-school (Torah Tots) through Grade 8. Due to continuing demand and growth, plans are in the works for a major capital expansion of the Desert Torah Academy Day School and Torah Tots Preschool into a $12 million mega Jewish community campus.
More recently was the formation of the Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas. Led by headmasters Rabbi Moshe Katz and Rabbi Zev Goldman, the Yeshiva Day School is affiliated with Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, based in Queens, NY, which is a major American, Lithuanian-style Talmudic Haredi, but non-Hasidic, yeshiva. “Our goal is to educate children to the point where they can then attend a Jewish yeshiva high school”, says Rabbi Goldman. “We offer a full Limudei Kodesh (Judaic studies) program and a full Limudei Chol (secular studies), as well as phys ed, art, music, karate, and even pre-law for older students.” The Yeshiva Day School will be seeing a 50% increase in student enrollment for 2009, with the growth coming from both local children and from families moving to Las Vegas.
One important fixture of the Orthodox community that’s notably missing in Vegas is a yeshiva high school. Currently, local students who want to continue their Torah education will typically attend a yeshiva high school in nearby Los Angeles. With the continuing growth of the Orthodox community, however, it’s only a matter of time until a yeshiva high school is established.
Other Las Vegas Jewish day schools include Solomon Schechter, the Milton I. Schwartz Hebrew Academy (elementary & middle school), and The Adelson School (high school).
Another sign that the Las Vegas Orthodox Jewish community is growing is the formation of a community Kollel that started in August 2008. The Kollel is a project that was developed with the cooperation of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim andTorah Mesorah. The Kollel has been greatly successful, having established two shuls and a day school.
Due to the tremendous amount of residential development that occurred during the last real estate boom, there is now a surplus of housing inventory available. Combine that with the relatively depressed state of the real estate market and Las Vegas offers a great variety of affordable housing. Because the Orthodox synagogues are all in different areas of Vegas, you should have no problem finding something nice and comfortable in your price range.
“Las Vegas is one of the most dynamic cities in the world and with a rash of foreclosures not since 1998 have we seen such good deals!”, says Joyce Scheinman, long-time resident, Realtor, and member of the Chabad of Green Valley. “The Jewish population in Las Vegas is increasing by leaps and bounds. Moving to Las Vegas is no longer a gamble; it’s now a sure thing!”
Property taxes are low, as well as homeowner association fees, and there are no hurricanes or earthquakes to worry about. You’ll find the majority of neighborhoods around the shuls to be attractive, very clean, and well-kept. Streets tend to be wide, easy to drive, and well maintained. You’ll find an abundance of single family homes of varying sizes, styles, and prices around the shuls, as well as condominium communities.
The Eruv in Las Vegas
Under the guidance of the Community Kollel of Greater Las Vegas, the existing Las Vegas West Side Eruv has been greatly expanded with the recent addition of Section 2, which has gone operational as of 10/23/2015. The Las Vegas West Side Eruv now now includes the area from Flamingo to Cheyenne and from the 215 to Buffalo/Durango.
Orthodox Shuls in Las Vegas
There are currently ten Orthodox shuls in the Las Vegas valley: Young Israel of Las Vegas, Community Kollel of Las Vegas, Shaarei Tefilla, Or Bamidbar, Chabad of Southern Nevada, Chabad of Summerlin, Chabad Hebrew Center, Chabad of Southwest Las Vegas, Chabad of Green Valley (Henderson) and Ahavas Torah Center (Henderson). A new Chabad is currently being planned for the Red Rock area.
Young Israel of Las Vegas
The Young Israel of Las Vegas, led by Rabbi Yitzchak Wyne, is located in the private upscale community of Peccole Ranch in the Northwest area of Las Vegas. Peccole Ranch is comprised of 630 total acres, including 284 acres of common area and 46 acres of beautifully landscaped tree-lined greenbelt paseos and walkways. You’ll find that the lovely greenbelt walkways can significantly shorten your walk on Shabbos to the Young Israel. Lots of nearby shopping include a couple of Kosher restaurants and the Albertson’s with the robust Kosher department. Downtown Las Vegas is a reasonable 15-20 minute commute.
Young Israel is one of the larger Orthodox communities, offering daily services, an abundance of classes & educational programs, youth groups, Shabbos hospitality, and an eruv.
Community Kollel of Las Vegas
A Kollel is a group of dedicated Jewish families who live, learn, and teach in the community. The Community Kollel of Las Vegas was started in 2008, developed with the cooperation of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim and Torah Mesorah. The Kollel has been greatly successful in Las Vegas, having established two shuls and a Jewish day school.
Located in Summerlin, and within the eruv, the Community Kollel of Las Vegas offers daily and Shabbat services, as well as a plethora of classes and educational programs. A team of nine rabbis are enriching the Las Vegas Jewish community with the warmth, vitality, and joy of Torah learning and Jewish living.
Shaarei Tefilla, led by Rabbi Yaakov Wasser, is located in an older part of town and was the first Orthodox synagogue in Nevada. Shaarei Tefilla is under the auspices of the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America. The shul offers daily services, an eruv, a mikvah, youth groups, Shabbos hospitality, and a pre-school for children ages 6 months to 5 years.
The shul is located in the central area of Las Vegas, closer to downtown and The Strip, among homes that were built in the ‘50’s. Homes tend to be smaller, but sit on relatively larger lots than those found in the newer communities. Wood floors are commonplace.
Chabad of Southern Nevada
The Chabad of Southern Nevada, established in 1990 by Rabbi Shea & Dina Harlig, has emerged as a dynamic force for Jewish life in the Las Vegas Valley. Chabad’s beautiful central campus includes the Desert Torah Academy, a day school for grades K-8, Preschool, Hebrew school, summer day camp, synagogue, adult education center and state-of-the-art mikvah. Daily services are available, as well as a community eruv. The Chabad of Southern Nevada is located in the central area of Las Vegas, close to downtown and The Strip.
Chabad of Summerlin
In April of 2006, Chabad of Summerlin in Desert Shores, led by Rabbi Yisroel Schanowitz, opened a magnificent 15,000 square foot center – complete with a synagogue, mikvah and educational center. Daily services are available, as well as a plethora of adult education, women’s programs, and youth programs.
Summerlin, an award-winning master-planned community developed by the Howard Hughes Corporation, encompasses 36 square miles, offering a Performing Arts Center, a Cultural Center, and is home to the Nevada Ballet Theatre. Desert Shores, a neighborhood in Summerlin and home to the Chabad, offers a wide range of housing options including lake-front homes. Residents of Desert Shores enjoy a handful of man-made lakes, a sandy beach, water sports and extensive walking and biking trails. Residents also have access to the Desert Shores Community Center, a recreation facility that features swimming beaches, volleyball courts, and picnic areas. Homes in Desert Shores are stylish and spacious.
Chabad Hebrew Center
Led by Rabbi Shmuel Attal, the Chabad Hebrew Center, located in Summerlin and near the South Shores and Desert Shores communities, offers daily, Shabbat and holiday services. They are currently in the process of building a new shul.
Or Bamidbar is a Sephardic Orthodox synagogue located in the Winchester neighborhood of Las Vegas, within the central area of Las Vegas and close to downtown and The Strip.
Ahavas Torah Center (Henderson)
Ahavas Torah Center is Green Valley's newest orthodox congregation and was founded by Rabbi Yehoshua Fromowitz, one of the original Kollel rabbis to Las Vegas. A dynamic congregation, ATC offers daily and Shabbos services, as well as educational classes and youth groups. Ahavas Torah Center is located within the Henderson Eruv.
Chabad of Green Valley (Henderson)
In 1998, the Chabad of Green Valley was started by Rabbi Mendy and Chaya Harlig. The Chabad now offers a full schedule of lectures, shabbatons, women’s programs, and a teen program. Prayer services are currently limited to Shabbos and Sunday. The Chabad of Green Valley is moving forward on plans to build a new multipurpose facility on its recently-acquired 4-acre parcel of land.
Henderson, the “little sister” of Las Vegas, has evolved into a flourishing community. Henderson offers award-winning master planned communities, a revitalized downtown business hub and a vast array of parks, recreational facilities, and dining and retail options.