MISSION AND HISTORY OF TEMPLE BETH SHOLOM
Our mission is to promote the role of the synagogue in Jewish life, to encourage the performing of acts of kindness, charitable assistance, Judaic learning, ritual observance, synagogue skills, community involvement, ethical behavior and support for the State of Israel.
Temple Beth Sholom was the first Jewish congregation to be established in Southern Nevada. Its members and programs have played, and continue to play, an integral part in the development of Las Vegas. No sturdier population has grown from such small beginnings as has the Jewish community in Las Vegas.
Old timers recall the days when there were only two members of the Jewish faith here – Eddie Blum (a part-time newsboy for the old Las Vegas Review) and Abe Abrams, known all over town as “Abe the tailor.” Others, who came after while the Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam) was being constructed, had no idea that “The Meadows” would one day become the “City of Destiny.”
The first beginnings of the Jewish Community in Las Vegas were through the efforts of Nate Mack, who came to town during the Dam era and found nine more of his “countrymen” here. Mack saw the possibilities of the area and knew, that if the city continued its growth, the Jewish population would also grow, so he set about organizing the first Community Center.
According to Temple member Adele Baratz, who arrived as an infant in 1928, “A few Jewish people were here. My mother used to cook for the Jewish men; there was an attorney (A. J. Schur) and another man that sold bootlegger supplies – my father worked for him.” In 1931 a group of about 25 including Sallie and Mike Gordon, A. J. Schur, Bill Mendelsohn, Harry Summit, the Friedmans and the Macks used to gather in the back of a store. They prayed and taught Judaism to their children. Sunday school classes were held at Sallie Gordon’s house, and occasional services were held in the Eagles’ Hall on Fremont. Baratz continues, “The Sunday School students were my brother (Charles Salton), Sallie’s daughter, another family’s children and me. When the other family moved away…well, there went the Sunday School.”
Nate Mack called a meeting in 1937…For several years the community arranged for a cantor from Los Angeles to conduct the services for the High Holy Days, and for the first few years these were observed in the Mack home at No. 7 Bonneville. It was tough to have a service in those days as there were only 10 men and every one of them had to be present for a minyan.
The “Sons and Daughters of Israel” disbanded in 1943 after many setbacks. At that point, B’nai B’rith formed a chapter and Sallie Gordon was President of the Ladies Auxiliary. “Many of the early Jews had never affiliated with anything,” Baratz said. “This began a sense of community. Sabbath services became more regular.”
TEMPLE BETH SHOLOM ON CARSON STREET
By 1943-44, the community grew larger and High Holy Day services were held in the Rectory of the Catholic Church at 2nd and Bridger. In 1945 the High Holy Day services took place in the old Elks Building. Led by the Mack brothers, a group of dedicated citizens gathered pledges to construct a building. In September, 1946, in time for the High Holy Days, the Las Vegas Jewish Community Center at 1229 Carson Street was erected for $26,000. All construction was done by Ira Goldring and completed in six months. Within a year, everyone had met their pledges and the mortgage was burned. The Building Committee was composed of Mack, Art Brick, William Mendelsohn, Dr. A. Coblenz and Sallie Gordon.
In 1947, Rabbi David Cohen was hired, with Rabbi Michael Kurz succeeding him. Although tickets were collected on the High Holy Days, comedian Joe E. Lewis and his secretary arrived without one. Lewis had his secretary write the check right there at the door.
As Las Vegas grew during the postwar years, so did the Community Center’s activities. These included the city’s first preschool program, youth dances, Jewish Family Services, and the Sisterhood gift shop. In 1947 the United Jewish Appeal raised $40,000, the highest per capita contribution made by Jewish citizens anywhere in the United States. In 1948, the State of Israel was born.
TEMPLE BETH SHOLOM IN THE 1950'S
A growing contingent of Jewish hoteliers in the ‘50’s resulted in holiday dinners at the Dunes, Riviera and the Sahara, and celebrities Steve Lawrence and Metropolitan Opera star Jan Pierce chanted Kol Nidre for Yom Kippur. By 1957, membership had grown to 175 families and the center included a complete kitchen, small offices and meeting rooms. At a pool party at the Last Frontier, Phil Silvers, Ray Bolger and Hopalong Cassidy auctioned autographs.
In 1952 the Temple leadership consisted of President Jake Kozloff, Rabbi Michael Kurz and Cantor Kinnory. As the Jewish population of Las Vegas increased, the congregation outgrew the Community Center. Melvin Moss and Irwin Molasky headed up a Building Committee which resulted in the purchase of property at 1600 Oakey Boulevard. The groundbreaking took place in 1956 and was organized by David Zenoff.
In 1957, Rabbi Dr. Bernard Cohen was hired, who suggested that the congregation affiliate with the United Synagogues of America, the official governing body of the Conservative Movement. On July 14, 1958, “Temple Beth Sholom” was unanimously chosen as the name by which the Jewish Community Center would subsequently be called. The sanctuary had seating for 320, while an adjoining social hall with a complete kitchen and auditorium sat 450 people. There were six Hebrew School classrooms, four combination Hebrew / Sunday / Nursery classrooms, a Junior sanctuary and a consecrated Jewish Burial Ground.
In October 1958 at Kol Nidre services, over 1,200 people were in attendance, with more than 200 children attending special services in the Junior sanctuary. By May 1959 the school rooms were completely furnished, permanent seats had been ordered for the sanctuary, the bimah had been remodeled and the kitchen was completed. On May 12, 1959, a double-ring ceremony took place at Temple Beth Sholom for Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher by Rabbi Bernard Cohen. Fisher had appeared earlier that morning before Judge David Zenoff for his divorce from Debbie Reynolds.
Before the end of the decade, Rabbi Harry Sherer had become the synagogue’s new spiritual leader. Although ordained under the Reform movement, he would adapt and act as a Conservative rabbi.
TEMPLE BETH SHOLOM IN THE 1960'S
Under the leadership of Past President Jack Entratter and current President Harry Wallerstein, Temple Beth Sholom tripled its membership to 400 family and 75 single memberships. Max Goot announced that the original Temple on Carson Street had been sold to the Greek Orthodox Church.
In 1963 the Youth program was under the leadership of Cantor Joseph Kohn and field trips were arranged to both Phoenix and Los Angeles. For the first time, installation of Temple Board Members, Men’s Club and Sisterhood leaders took place at the same time. On February 28, 1965, Rabbi Aaron S. Gold became the newest rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom. Shortly thereafter, Leo A. Wilner was appointed Executive Director and would remain in that capacity for the next 15 years.
On May 1, 1967, Priscilla Beaulieu married Elvis Presley at the Aladdin Hotel. Their civil ceremony was performed by Past President David Zenoff, now Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. By the end of the year, Temple Beth Sholom’s total membership reached 750 families, making it the largest synagogue in Nevada.
TEMPLE BETH SHOLOM IN THE 1970′s
As a result of increasing membership, there was a problem seating everyone for High Holy Day services, resulting in the stage in the social hall and the gymnasium being used for the very first time. Under the leadership of Irwin Kishner, the Building and Planning Committee were successful in completing the Ruby Kolod Recreation Center which included a basketball court, exercise room, two handball courts, racquetball courts and men’s and women’s shower / locker room facilities. There was even a large sauna room donated by Dr. Leon Steinberg and Dr. Leonard Raizin.
In July, 1973, Rabbi Philip Shnairson assumed the pulpit. At a Ritual meeting with Cantor Kohn, Dr. Maurice Pearlman, Jerry Blut, Leo Wilner and Eli Welt, a recommendation was adopted that girls be permitted to have a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday and that women be encouraged to wear head coverings at Shabbat services. Eventually, aliyot would be extended to women as well.
The membership fortunes of the synagogue began to decline when Dr. Eugene Kirshbaum informed the board he had been approached about the possibilities of forming another Temple in Las Vegas. He stated this was not a rebellion within the synagogue, but rather the result of the increasing Jewish population growth in Las Vegas. That summer, Dr. Kirshbaum resigned from the Board to take an active part in the formation of Ner Tamid, a new Reform temple.
In June, 1974, Lt. Gov. Harry Reid, who would ultimately serve as Senate Majority leader during the administration of President Barack Obama, officiated at the Temple’s installation of officers.
In 1978, Dan Goldfarb served as President and Rabbi Lederman was hired.
TEMPLE BETH SHOLOM IN THE 1980′s
In 1983, Temple Beth Sholom member Jacob “Chic” Hecht was elected the Republican senator from Nevada. In 1986, he met with President Ronald Reagan to urge him to ask Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to ease emigration requirements for Soviet Jews. During the balance of the 1980’s, “Operation Exodus” brought waves of Jews to Israel from the dissolving Soviet Union. Senator Hecht was later named U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas.
In 1987, Las Vegas elected its first Jewish Mayor, Temple Beth Sholom member Ron Lurie. Lurie defeated Vegas World owner Bob Stupak, who would later implode his hotel to build the Stratosphere Tower. In 1988, member Rita Abbey created the “Wall of Creation” on our bimah, a photo of which was included in the new United Synagogue Calendar. Later that year, a 40th Anniversary Gala was held at the Alexis Park hotel with Fiddler on the Roof star Theodore Bikel as our special guest.
TEMPLE BETH SHOLOM IN THE 1990′s
During the 1990’s, Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat entered into an agreement to begin the peace process in the Middle East. In the Nevada desert, Las Vegans belonging to Temple Beth Sholom began negotiating their own peace process with respect to the land they occupied. In an internal survey, it was found that most members wanted to stay in the present building and that there was not enough of a financial base to relocate to the western part of the city, where many of its members were now living. The Temple Board had been led to believe there were 900 families when, in fact, there were only 300 families. It turned out that 221 families had formally resigned while 620 had been carried on the books for at least a year without having paid any dues.
In 1995, Jerry Blut was unanimously elected President and, in 1996, Susan Loeb was hired as Executive Director. Jay Moss was appointed a member of the Land Search Committee and located two different pieces of property in the Summerlin section of town. Sandy Mallin, who would soon serve a record breaking six years as President, announced that Sharon Sigesmund had offered the synagogue a sizeable donation for the Capital Campaign, and the new sanctuary would be named for her. Attorney Jeff Zucker reviewed the paperwork for the Summerlin property. With the influx of fine restaurants to Las Vegas, Chairpersons Sandy Mallin and Arlene Blut invited Spago to cater the Sharon Sigesmund gala – the first event catered at the Temple by an outside restaurant, but entirely Kosher.
In 1997, Temple Beth Sholom’s property on Oakey was sold to Spring Meadows Presbyterian Church (later the home of a United Methodist Church), and seven acres of vacant land off Town Center Drive was purchased. For the next few years the synagogue operated as “a congregation in exile.” Services were held at the Milton Schwartz Hebrew Academy, with two trailers providing office space at the Hebrew Academy. So as not to leave anybody from the central city behind, a shuttle service was provided to transport members to and from Summerlin.
About the time the project was going forward, Rabbi Felipe Goodman was hired. He began at the Oakey location and was then involved in the move. Under the leadership of Rabbi Goodman, attendance grew to 150 on a Friday night at the Hebrew Academy. In the fall of 1998, President Sandy Mallin, Architect Brad Friedmutter and Rabbi Goodman spoke at the groundbreaking of the new synagogue facility with over 200 people in attendance.
In December 1999, over 700 people attended “Tribute,” a roast honoring members Carolyn and (Past President) Mayor Oscar B. Goodman at The Four Seasons Hotel. Chaired by Arlene Blut, Sandy Mallin, Tom Letizia and David Chesnoff, the event netted over $200,000. “America’s Happiest Mayor” and his wife (now Mayor Carolyn Goodman) continue to be active, involved members of Temple Beth Sholom.
TEMPLE BETH SHOLOM IN THE NEW MILLENIUM
Temple Beth Sholom moved into its new home on August 7, 2000, and the first Shabbat service in Summerlin drew about 500 people. On September 24, 2000, the current building was dedicated. The 14 foot high mahogany doors were taken from the original Temple on Oakey, while the façade around the main entrance was lined with more than $300,000 worth of Jerusalem stone which gives off a golden glow as the morning sun shines upon it. ”Let’s Make a Deal” host Monte Hall narrated a program written by Rabbi Goodman and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) orchestra played a variety of music. The Temple’s Religious School students danced with huppahs, while the Temple benefactors brought in the Torahs. Southern Nevada’s first Jewish congregation to be established would now be housed in America’s newest, largest and most spiritually uplifting house of worship.