Jewish Las Vegas

I expect a Jewish newspaper to return to Las Vegas around Passover.

It will be called The Las Vegas Jewish Ink. It has no website yet.

“The Las Vegas Jewish Reporter” was closed by the local Federation last year.

Jewish Las Vegas is a feudal society. A few billionaires call the shots (some of the world’s wealthiest Jews live there, such as Sheldon Adelson of the Venetian) and the community is usually happy to follow their directions.

What troubles the Las Vegas Jewish Federation troubles most non-profits. There’s a lack of oversight. There’s not an engaged lay board. They’re not inspired and committed. They have no mission.

Casino operator Sheldon G. Adelson can write a $35 million check and start a Jewish day school in Las Vegas. It wasn’t a grassroots operation. It was top down.

It was all the don’s money and all the don’s way and serfs were only too happy for his generosity.

This reminds me of the difference between Stephen S. Wise temple (has the largest membership of any synagogue in the world last I knew) and Ohr HaTorah.

I used to go to Stephen S. Wise temple regularly for Shabbat between 1994-1997 (while also going regularly to Aish HaTorah). I loved it at both places.

Stephen S. Wise had a Sabbath morning program that started with a study session at 9am, followed by davening at 10am and lunch at noon.

Attendance at the study session was spotty. One Shabbat morning, one of the temple rabbis came in to conduct the study session and only a handful of people showed up. So it was decided top down to cancel the study session.

A lot of people got upset until Rabbi Tova August volunteered to lead the study session every Shabbat morning.

Towards the end of 1997, after this nastiness, I started going to Ohr HaTorah and though the Finleys ruled the roost, the temple was shot-through with enthusiasm and participation. It seemed like every member of the temple volunteered for some task (while almost all the work at Stephen S. Wise seemed to be done by the leadership and its employees).

The Happy Minyan, for instance, has leaders but it is still fundamentally a minyan where everybody shoulders the load.

YICC, by contrast, has a rabbi (Elazar Muskin) who is so hands on that he is also the shul’s executive director. Most shuls that size have two people doing those jobs.

So in Las Vegas, it’s not just the big shots seizing the power, the Adelsons and the Greenspuns etc, but the community cedes the power to them. It’s easier to give up responsibility. I know I don’t want to bother with too much volunteering. I want to concentrate on my blog and my love life.

The board of directors for the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas was chosen in a certain way. Then it was changed by the big shots. And the community went along because they were going to get a handout.

Given the level of in-fighting in the Las Vegas Jewish Federation, its very survival seems at stake. If things continue on their current course, if this story enters the mainstream news media, the Federation will dissolve because people will stop donating time and money. So what will replace it? Something better?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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