Las Vegas’s Jewish population has steadily grown over the decades since the 1930s. From notable gaming and tourism leaders to politicians and civic leaders, educators and builders, the religious identity of Jews in Las Vegas started with one small gathering to twenty-some synagogues that represent the diversity within the Jewish community.
UNLV Libraries’ Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project documents the story of Jewish migration to Las Vegas. Hundreds of photos and more than 150 oral histories reveal the history of who, and why, a variety of Jewish people chose to make the Las Vegas Valley home. The project’s collection details the Jewish community’s growth amid relative mild bias and discrimination.
Here are highlights from the project.
By the 1930s, the Jewish population had grown to include young families. In fact, Las Vegas has such a young history that we know exactly when the first registered Jewish birth occurred. It was to Mike and Sallie Gordon of their daughter Roberta Gordon Kane in 1932. The Gordons owned and operated liquor stores, which often served as the location for early Jewish religious observations.
Living next door to the Gordons’ was the Nate Mack family: Nate Mack, a Polish immigrant, his wife, Jenny, and their son Jerry. The entrepreneurial Nate Mack saw promise in the desert and put roots down in 1929.
Among Mack’s significant initiatives was to lend $1,000 to a young Hank Greenspun to start the Las Vegas Sun newspaper. Mack also encouraged the highly successful partnership of his son, Jerry Mack with E. Parry Thomas, which is recognized on the UNLV campus in the name Thomas & Mack Center.
Las Vegas also has been home to an extraordinary population of Holocaust survivors. In 2017, Henry Kronberg, a Holocaust survivor and resident of Las Vegas since 1962 until his passing in 2021. Watch the full documentary video of his personal story and the context of the Warsaw Remembrance Garden at Temple Beth Sholom.
Since 1980, Holocaust education in Nevada remains an important mission of the Nevada Governor’s Advisory Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust. The Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center of Las Vegas provides materials and educational opportunities.
To explore more historical images of the Jewish community in Las Vegas, please visit the Southern Nevada Jewish History Project.