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The history of Las Vegas’ Jewish community is coming together at UNLV

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Photo: Hadassah Life Party, December 1966 from MS-00417, Sands Hotel Collection / Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Within the sprawling contemporary Las Vegas landscape linger millions of personal stories that are lost to history or buried in the larger picture. Delving into the files (digital and physical) at UNLV’s Special Collections reveals the layers, the minutiae behind the names and places that weave together a larger narrative.

Without Nathan Adelson, there wouldn’t be his namesake nonprofit hospice. Without Irwin Molasky donating land, UNLV might not have happened where it did. Paradise Palms? That, too, was Molasky. Then there were Joyce and Jerry Mack, who helped found the university.

All of this emerges in the Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project, a UNLV University Libraries effort to collect oral histories, old photographs, memorabilia and other information. The three-year project aims to preserve the past and present, casting light on faith and community even without a temple in town.

What we learn is that Las Vegas would look completely different without the contributions from Jewish people who settled here to build their own lives, whether it’s Molasky, Edythe and Lloyd Katz—who owned the Huntridge and Fremont theaters and integrated them—or Adele Baratz, a nurse who arrived in Las Vegas in the 1920s when she was 2 years old, graduated from Las Vegas High School, moved away twice and then spent 17 years at Sunrise Hospital, seeing nearly a century of change. Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun created Green Valley. Steve Wynn transformed the image of Las Vegas.

The Digital Heritage Project was launched with a $100,000 grant through the Library Services and Technology Act, and UNLV asked the community to participate. Emily Lapworth, hired in January as the project archivist, says the goal is to build a web portal that contextualizes the information, but also to save what risks being lost: “There was a Jewish community center in the ’40s, but none of those records survived.”

Now there are materials from the local Hadassah group, Jewish newspapers, Holocaust education efforts, temples and a growing collection of oral histories that will be available to the public. And it’s still growing. As with other UNLV collections, including Documenting the African American Experience in Las Vegas, it’s these stories from community members—business owners, philanthropists, chefs, homemakers, politicians, casino executives, activists, developers, photographers and shop owners—that bring depth to that larger snapshot.

Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project UNLV University Libraries.

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