The Las Vegas Jewish Community Joins Heritage Week

By Diana Presser

When Susie Tsyitee, director of the Las Vegas Arts Council, first approached the Las Vegas Jewish community about participating in this past August’s Heritage Week events, she thought that it would be the perfect complement to their theme, crossroads of diversity.

In the 20 years I have been a part of the local Jewish community, we have maintained the deli-cate balance between amicable relationships with the prevailing Hispano-Christian community, while following our Jewish traditions.  Amidst concerns of how the community-at-large would respond to a Jewish history exhibit, and ecstatic about our first such opportunity, the Jewish community began busily gathering Judaica and setting up an exhibit showcasing the historical, cultural and spiritual influence of Jews in Las Vegas: from the earliest arrivals fleeing the Mexi-can Inquisition, to today’s small, but vibrant, Jewish community.

Meanwhile, Susie Tsyitee was busy hanging the works of local artists like Diana Breyer and Ja-net Stein Romero.  The New Mexico Jewish Historical Society donated beautiful story boards featuring photographs of 19th century Las Vegas Jewish pioneers, like the Ilfelds and Taicherts, Temple Montefiore, the first synagogue in the New Mexico territory, and the Montefiore Ceme-tery.

On Friday, August 4, as the sun set over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, over 20 people from the larger community took their seats in anticipation of experiencing an Erev Shabbat service. A beautiful table was set: a white tablecloth, candlesticks, and challah. Rabbi Chavah Carp began with the traditional candle-lighting blessing, assisted by Las Vegas Jewish community board members, Dr. Thomas Strain, president, and Diana Presser, secretary.  At the conclusion of the service, there was a kiddush, which was enjoyed by all, followed by an oneg.

For the rest of the reception/oneg, Mark Gottschalk, local historian and author, presented a slide show of the Taichert family, one of the many German Jewish families who migrated to Las Ve-gas in the 1880’s, expanding an already hardy Jewish mercantile economy and ultimately estab-lishing Temple Montefiore and the Montefiore Cemetery.  The evening ended with a lively dis-cussion and questions and answers.

The remainder of Heritage Week continued to enlighten the attendees.  On Tuesday, there were four short films – all locally produced.  German Jewish Migration, a KNME de Colores episode, and Memories of Migration, produced by Shane Flores, depicted the immigrant experience for Jews here.  The last two films, Elie’s Overcoat, produced by Erik Howell, and Interviews: The Holocaust, produced by Jim Terr, were a reminder that we must never again permit hate and vio-lence to go unchecked — a particularly timely reminder as events in Charlottesville, Virginia had just unfolded.

On Wednesday evening, storytellers shared their Jewish Las Vegas experiences, including Molly Longoria, who talked about the crypto-Jewish community.  Other storytellers were Nancy Terr, lifelong resident, and Ted Herburger, groundskeeper and board member of the Montefiore Ceme-tery Association.

But what Jewish celebration would be complete without an appearance by Adelle Ilfeld regaling us with stories of her adventurous journey from Germany, to New York and then, with her fi-ancé, Charles Ilfeld, traveling cross-country to Las Vegas?

Called back to the 19th century, Adelle (perfectly portrayed by Karyl Lyne) departed and Thurs-day evening ended with storytelling by one of the Jewish community’s authors and photogra-phers, Sharon Neiderman.

As a truly memorable week of film, presentations, story-telling and local artists concluded, it seemed that – looking out upon the week’s activities — the life-sized cut-out photo of 1940s bride and groom, Lilo and Arnold Waxman, observed with great joy the activities of Las Vegas’ pre-sent Jewish community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *