30 January 2008

Nevada: Jewish history of the Silver State

Northern Nevada's Jewish history covers ranchers, silver miners, Eastern Europeans, Syrians, merchants, politicians, gamblers, lawyers, mobsters and more. Today, the state is home to a Jewish community of more than 100,000 Jews, according to an article about John Marschall's book "Jews in Nevada: A History."

Iranian Jews are highlighted as well, as Marschall relates how David Farahi and his family became successful in the casino industry, remain observant Jews and help to build Northern Nevada's Jewish community.

Some interesting facts:

--Albert Michelson, the son of a Virginia City merchant, was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in physics (1907).

--Copper-riveted jeans were invented by Jacob Davis, a Jewish tailor on Reno's Virginia Street.

--The first native female attorney was Felice Cohn from Carson City.

--The state's first permanent synagogue was Reno's Temple Emanu-El in 1921.

--Reno's Hotel El Cortez was built by Abe Zetooney (from Damascus, Syria) and taken over by the Bulasky brothers (from Russia).

--Before synagogues were organized, Northern California rabbis traveled to Nevada for weddings and High Holiday services.

When John Marschall walked through Reno Hebrew Cemetery almost 30 years ago and looked at the names on the headstones, he saw a rich Jewish history that needed to be told.

Marschall, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Nevada, Reno, told that history in "Jews in Nevada: A History," a book recently released by the University of Nevada Press.

Jews were among the immigrants who swarmed what was then part of Utah territory around 1860 with the discovery of silver on the Comstock. The book traces Jews settling in towns along the paths of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads and ends highlighting the burgeoning population and development, especially in Las Vegas.

Three Jewish men served in the first (1864) state legislature: Reform Rabbi Herman Bien, Storey County; Pony Express rider, rancher and musician, Henry Epstein, Carson Valley; and Austin merchant Meyer Rosenblatt.

A former Roman Catholic priest, Marschall says that writing the book became a mitzvah (good deed). Thirty years ago, when he was doing a bibliographical study, he saw nothing had been written about Nevada's Jews.

There's more here.

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