Certainly I write a great deal about New York City: I do so for this blog, and four of my non-fiction books have been about aspects of life in NYC. But I do travel on occasion, and summer vacation is one of those times when my family and I hit the road.

This year we visited Las Vegas, Nevada, for a week. Some of my friends could hardly believe that I would be interested in Vegas, because I do not like to gamble and I don't drink that much. But my husband had visited the city previously, and convinced me and our daughters that it would be a lot of fun, and sort of exotic.

We had a great time: we toured Hoover Dam, the largest man-made dam in the United States and a feat of modern engineering; we drove throughout Red Rock Canyon, a National Park with utterly breath-taking scenery; watched an adorable show called "The Beatles LOVE," a gymnastics and dance performance tied to Beatles songs. We visited a few low-key but interesting museums, stopped by the pawn shop featured in the cable TV show "Pawn Stars" (they had a lot of fascinating historical and musical memorabilia) and much more.

I was definitely surprised that I had so much fun, considering the opinion I have long held of Las Vegas as little more than a very hot spot for gambling and bad behavior. This reminded me, oddly enough, of how I have sometimes judged people for the worse, but then got to know them better and realized they were quite nice. Over the years I have had a few friendships that emerged in this way, in which I wrote off someone or even disliked her or him, but then gave the person another chance and learned to appreciate them.

And I think this was particularly appropriate during the month of Elul. This is a month to take stock, to reconsider one's year and behavior. Here I was in Las Vegas, usually dubbed "Sin City." The hackneyed phrase "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" highlights the stereotype of it being a center for bad behavior. And yes, there were people getting drunk and gambling too much. But I was not one of them; my family did not engage in that kind of mindset. Instead we enjoyed the natural beauty, the opulent architecture, and ended up learning quite a bit. (Okay, we did eat a little too much...)

And for those of you who know about my extensive work in researching former shul buildings or "lost synagogues," guess what-- I did locate two former synagogue sites for a congregation that has since built a bigger building in another part of town. So yes, there is a Jewish presence in this part of the US. (And there is the unsavory business of a few key Jewish mobsters, particularly Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, who had key roles in the development of Las Vegas's gambling industry.)

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