Jumping from 55,000 in 1997 to 75,000 in 2000, the boom in Las Vegas’s Jewish community is well on its way to reaching, perhaps surpassing, the American Jewish Committee’s projected 2010 census of 100,000 Jews. But where exactly do all these Jews live? On the strip, among the neon?
No. Jews are flocking to Las Vegas suburbs like Summerlin. This summer, in response to the greater numbers, Chabad of Summerlin-Desert Shores, opened a 14,500 square foot community center. Shimmering in the 110-degree heat, the two-story building, faced in Jerusalem stone shows, was inundated with 500 Las Vegas Jewish community members, local dignitaries and well wishers at the official ribbon cutting. Later this fall there will be a gala dinner to dedicate the sanctuary, which will become known as Sanctuary Beit Alon, in memory of Alon Iny. At that time Chabad of Summerlin/Desert Shores will formally become known as the Schwartz and Iny Chabad Center. Brothers Ronnie and Noam Schwartz, and Haskell Iny, father of Alon Iny, were major benefactors in constructing the Chabad Center.
As the blue ribbon was snipped and the blessing over the mezuzah recited, Chabad of Summerlin reached a new level of visibility, sure to attract even more disenchanted Brooklynites and house-poor Los Angelenos to the area. “The shul has always been a magnet,” for Jewish people relocating to Las Vegas, said community member Herb Jaffe, a writer for Las Vegas Life and Style magazine. “Now it’s an even bigger magnet.”
Previously, worship at Chabad of Summerlin was confined to a storefront. “Saturdays you couldn’t find an empty seat,” said Rabbi Yisroel Schanowitz, Chabad’s representative in Summerlin together with his wife Shterna Schanowitz. “Now that we have room to grow, we are taking up the call and doing even more.” A full schedule of lectures, Shabbaton weekend gatherings, expanded children’s programs are planned, and a young couple will join Rabbi Schanowitz and his wife Shterna Schanowitz to handle the expanded menu of Chabad activities.
Inside the building that Martine Blum, a recent Summerlin transplant from Boulder, CO, can only describe as “awe inspiring,” high caliber construction details demonstrate the excellence that can be bought with a $4.5 million budget. “You look up, and the ceiling is high. Everything is kind of grand,” said Blum. Off the entryway, the sanctuary is a vast hall with tufted armchairs in rows. Crowned by a wooden ark, hand carved in Israel, the sanctuary can double as a hall for community gatherings. Lustrous handrails sweep along the steps up to the women’s gallery. To accommodate women who cannot climb steps, an additional women’s section is on the main floor. When forced to choose a favorite among the classrooms for children and adults, a computer lab for use, the full kitchen, and youth and adult libraries on premises, Jaffe seemed most delighted by the two mikvahs on premises. In addition to a regular mikvah, with spa-like amenities, Chabad of Summerlin boasts an additional mikvah for utensils, a first for Nevada.
When Jaffe and his wife moved out to Summerlin from New Jersey eleven years ago, he found out about Chabad by word of mouth. He showed up on Friday night, and was welcomed as the tenth man, completing the minyan for prayer services. At the time, keeping kosher in Summerlin required an ice chest and the will to make the four-hour drive into Los Angeles to stock up. Now Smiths, a supermarket chain, has opened up a “kosher experience” section with fresh baked goods and meat available. “Chabad has been instrumental in bringing kosher food to Las Vegas,” said Jaffe.
Kosher food, proximity to family in LA, work opportunities, and UNLV attracted Martine and Yoni Blum to Las Vegas. Economics figured in pretty prominently, too. A three bedroom home runs between $200,000-400,000, less than half a comparable home in the Jewish communities of Los Angeles would cost, and real estate taxes are low: below or at 1%. “I think moving into the building was a milestone for the community,” said Martine Blum. “We wouldn’t have moved here if there wasn’t what we deemed a thriving shul.”