Jews in Nevada
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Nevada Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
List of Illustrations and Tables
Nevada Jewish history has been so well hidden that even natives are unaware of its presence. The present volume is an offering to both the Jewish and general readership about this people’s place in the state’s development from mining camps to a premier tourist destination.
Introduction Celebrating Tradition and Resisting Assimilation
Nevada Jewry would not have existed without millions of its ancestors maintaining Judaism. Comprehending its history requires some understanding of the milestones remembered for more than two millennia and the struggle for acceptance in a Christian world. There were also the lures of accommodation or assimilation, especially in the isolation of Nevada’s desert, where Torah ...
1. Peddlers and Merchants, 1850–1863
Small-time trading had been the lot of about 85 percent of Prussian Jews in early-nineteenth-century Europe. Although many European countries banned trade with non-Jews before emancipation, peddlers became an indispensable link between isolated farmers and urban suppliers, often bartering manufactured goods for agricultural products. Some engaged in brokering ...
2. From Territory to Statehood, 1861–1865
Whereas miners moved from one place to another, depending on their luck, merchants had to decide whether to rent a firetrap or take a chance and build in stone. Jewish entrepreneurs were as cagey as the next person, but attempting to assess the most profitable location was a gamble, given the uncertainties of mining. Impossible winters in Virginia City, the difficulty of bringing ...
3. Riveted Jeans, Shopkeepers, and Ranchers in Railroad Towns, 1868–1880
As the Comstock’s ore production continued to giddy heights, the demand for a rail connection to Reno and San Francisco overcame years of bickering and competing proposals. Theodore Judah was the chief architect of the Central Pacific Railroad’s route through the Sierra Nevada from Sacramento east through the Donner Lake pass and across northern Nevada to Utah.1 The project began in January 1863, ...
4. A Gunfighter, a Physician, an Alleged Arsonist, and a Reform Congregation, 1865–1885
By western standards, Virginia City and Carson City were law-abiding places. Pioche, however, was considered the wildest town in the West. Located in southeastern Nevada, Pioche was slow to boom and with no need to be on a railroad line. Mining discoveries drew more than five thousand treasure seekers to the area by 1872, including a small but influential group of Jewish ...
5. Settling, Praying, Working, and Partying in the Halcyon Years, 1865–1880
All of Nevada’s towns and mining camps had a cosmopolitan international population drawn to the United States by its economic opportunity.1 Jews emigrating from Prussia and eastern Europe were also fleeing discriminatory laws, military service, and pressures to assimilate. Once here, they did not—like San Francisco Italians—wish eventually to return to the old ...
6. Women, Their Children, and Their Occupations, 1860–1900
Jews migrating to Nevada in its first twenty years were usually young bachelors who tended to get married late in life and to considerably younger women. Jewish men already married or engaged usually traveled alone to Nevada and later brought their families to the state, if the prospects proved promising. A few Jewish men and women never wed, and others married outside the faith.
7. Coping with Depression, 1880–1910
When Frederick Jackson Turner announced in 1893 that the frontier had ended three years earlier, Nevadans were not cooperating. Turner and the director of the census, Harold Simonson, theorized that settled civilization began and the frontier ended when the average population reached 2 persons per square mile. Though an average 2.4 Nevadans per square mile had settled ...
8. Dashed Hopes, New Discoveries, and the Goldfield Bubble, 1890–1920
When the state’s economic prospects seemed so bleak, Ephraim Deinard of the Hebrew Agricultural Society of the United States unveiled a plan to triple Nevada’s population with thousands of East European Jews.1 In August 1897, Governor Reinhold Sadler delegated Republican Theodore R. Hofer and entrepreneur Morris Cohn (father of Felice) to take out an option on fifty-five ...
9. Building a Tourist Economy and a Permanent Synagogue, 1897–1946
Before and after the Goldfield excitement, a central issue facing Nevada was diversifying its economy. Exploiting Nevada’s vast unsettled land agriculturally required better management of water resources. Until then, other expedients were necessary. Jewish state senator Herman Freudenthal introduced the first substantive bill of the 1903 legislative session, calling for an appropriation ...
10. The Early Years of Las Vegas, 1905–1955
Las Vegas started as a watering stop on a trail—and later a railroad line—that came and went to more important places. Neither born of a mineral bonanza like so many Nevada towns nor the product of Benjamin Siegel’s alleged desert vision, it had one of the state’s oldest recorded place-names. Its abundant springs led to its being named “the Meadows” (Las Vegas) by travelers on the ...
11. Building a Temple, Keeping a Rabbi, and Schisms North and South, 1950–1980
At midcentury, Congregation Beth Sholom had a full-time rabbi, David Cohen, cantor Herman Kinnory, and a Jewish Community Center it had outgrown. Jake Kozloff, a former Pennsylvania brewer who had just purchased the Last Frontier, was president of Beth Sholom when its members decided to build a temple at Sixteenth Street and Oakey Boulevard. Kozloff’s restaurant at the ...
12. Antisemitism in the Twentieth Century
Nineteenth-century Nevada Jews were largely untouched by overt acts of discrimination or prejudice. This benign environment was due to Jewish civic leadership, their economic contributions, the smallness of the Jewish population itself, and the fact that Jews were just one ethnic minority in a state with the highest percentage of foreign-born citizens. At the turn of the century, ...
13. Civil Rights and Uncommon Causes
“Both Jews and Blacks are a pariah people—a people who had to make and remake themselves as outsiders on the margins of American society and culture.” Black professor Cornel West thus introduced his 1995 dialogue with Rabbi Michael Lerner on how to begin the healing of hostile relations between the two—particularly in large East Coast cities.1 Jews moving to Nevada from these areas carried memories of friction and camaraderie.
14. The Varieties of Religious Observance, 1974–2005
Few better represented the struggle to maintain a Jewish identity in rural Nevada than Morris and Lina Badt. All their children were raised Orthodox in San Francisco schools, spending summers and holidays in Elko. Milton counted Hebrew among his several languages and abstained from pork but never affiliated with a synagogue. All the Badt children promised their mother to marry Jews.
15. Yiddishkeit, or Ways of Being Jewish, 1931–2005
“Kosher Las Vegas, nu?” This slippage into Yiddish is simply a preparation for what is to come after a taste of traditional Jewish fare. Strictly kosher foods are prepared according to ancient dietary regulations called “kashruth.” Meat must come from an animal with split hooves that chews its cud. Fish that lack fins or scales, such as shrimp and lobster, are forbidden, as are birds of prey.
16. Walking the Walk, 1970–2005
The characteristic of being “Jewish” might be observed in one’s organizational affiliations, dress, or speech. However, Jewish values learned from childhood, such as tzedakah and tikun olam, inform the social consciences of religious adherents and those who have abandoned any external observance. These are matters of remembrance and intention. No substantive documentary ...
Conclusion: The Past Need Not Be Prologue
When Isaac Cohn began his half-century residency in the shadow of the Comstock in 1850, few could have imagined the extent to which his fellow Jews would be instrumental in shaping Nevada’s economic, social, and political landscape. They were among the first to arrive in Nevada’s many isolated mining outposts. In those camps that became settled towns, Jews ...
Index [Contains Image Plates]