Since the 1930s, when a small group of about 25 people who gathered in the back of a store to pray and to teach their children about Judaism, the Jewish community has made as significant an impact in shaping Las Vegas. Through the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project, the UNLV University Libraries ensures the unique historical contributions of our region’s Jewish population are preserved and shared.
Looking for letters about Frank Sinatra's donation to a local Jewish congregation? Or historical records that reveal the early thinking behind Green Valley? What about the letters, speeches, and research materials of U.S. Senator Chic Hecht or U.S. Representative Shelley Berkley? How about old photographs capturing the glamor of Las Vegas’ pioneers mingling with celebrities at casinos like the Sands in the ’50s and ’60s?
The UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division has collected and digitized these materials, oral histories, and more as part of this vital preservation project. This year, the University Libraries plans to launch a web portal so these treasures can be accessed, studied, and shared.
The materials include the stories of Jewish individuals describing their move to Las Vegas in search of economic opportunity and subsequent contributions to the development of the city from the railroad town it once was to the tourism and entertainment capital that it is today. The Jewish community has grown alongside the valley, and today there are nearly 20 different Jewish congregations and more than 50 other Jewish organizations and schools.
The Jewish community continues to be a strong supporter of the University Libraries’ Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project, donating historical records, financial resources, and time. Roughly 40 individuals provide input and ideas to the University Libraries via four community advisory boards.
From July 2014 to June 2015, a one-year grant from the Library Services and Technology Act funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Nevada State Library and Archives sustained the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project. During this first year of the project, the University Libraries recorded 58 new oral histories, digitized about 40 older oral histories, acquired 19 new archival collections, scanned more than 9,500 pages and images of historical content, wrote approximately 125 biographies and organizational histories, and began developing the project’s web portal. These activities are ongoing, and the University Libraries hopes to raise private funds to extend the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project into a three-year initiative.
More information and project updates are available on the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project website.