In Nevada, Jewish leaders weigh up their options in the Democrat primaries

"We [Jews] are very diverse in our opinions," said former Congresswoman Shelley Berkley.

A busker dressed in a showgirl costume walks past the Paris Las Vegas hotel & casino, the site of Wednesday?s Democratic presidential debate, in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., February 18, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID BECKER)
A busker dressed in a showgirl costume walks past the Paris Las Vegas hotel & casino, the site of Wednesday?s Democratic presidential debate, in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., February 18, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID BECKER)
WASHINGTON - Joel Mann, an attorney and former president of Temple Beth Shalom in Las Vegas, waited three hours in line to vote on Tuesday evening. The Nevada caucus is just around the corner and set to take place on Saturday, but many people preferred not to wait for caucus day and to rank their preferences.
"It took a long time to get everyone checked in, and they had people bringing water and pizza to keep people fed because it was during the dinner time," Mann told The Jerusalem Post.
"It did not seem as well organized as I would hope it would be," he added. "They had to look my name up on a PDF, constantly swiping through just to see if I was registered to vote. It was not as smooth as early voting in the past. I got in line about 5:30 and finished about 8:30."
Rabbi Filipe Goodman of Las Vegas told the Post that he tried to vote early but had to leave due to the long line, and he would not vote on Shabbat. "In previous years, we protested severely [about the fact that the caucus is held on Saturday, a sacred day for Jews]," he told the Post.
"This year, we have early voting for the caucus for the first time in years. I tried to go vote today, and there was a three-hour line, so I left. It's the largest turnover we've seen since 2008," he added. "If I can't manage to get in and vote between now and Friday, I'm not going to vote. Of course, I'm not going to vote on Saturday. I'm assuming there's a lot of people in my position."
Asked which issues are important for the Jewish community in Nevada, he said: "Israel is a significant issue. Israel is always at the forefront of our thoughts. And so, every time you have like community forums where we have the candidates for the Senate or Congress, Israel is a significant part of the discussion. Aside from that, I think that the economy, job creation, and education is important because the state was ranked very low on education, and they are trying to bring it back up."
Asked about the views of the community, he said it's hard to say because the community is divided. "Since Trump took office, we would not talk about politics because I think it creates a tremendous amount of heartache," he said. "People just fight. And we're basically 50-50 Republicans and Democrats, and we found a way just to not talk about it because it's very problematic. So, I can't tell you among Democrats who get the largest share of Jewish voters. In my congregation, it would probably be Biden. I heard a lot of people talking about Bloomberg, but he is not competing here in Nevada."
Shelley Berkley, who represented Nevada's First District in Congress for 14 years, told the Post that the Jewish community in Nevada is growing fast and is very supportive of Israel. "When my family moved to Las Vegas in the early sixties, there was a very small Jewish community and one synagogue," she said. "56 years later, Las Vegas has a thriving and successful Jewish community and well over 20 synagogues. That community is diverse, successful, and continues to grow."
"According to the last demographic study that was made six years ago, there are 80,000 Jews," she continued. "I suspect there are far more and many unaffiliated because they come from other parts of the country and retire in Las Vegas. There is a large senior Jewish population that isn't affiliated with any synagogue even though they are very identifiably Jewish."
"We are very diverse in our opinions," she said about the views of the community. "As you know that old joke, if there are two Jews, you've got three opinions. I would say that we're a fairly moderate group, but there are certainly progressive elements to it."
"When I was a kid growing up, I didn't know anybody Jewish who wasn't a Democrat," she continued. "When I was a young person, I thought to be Jewish and being a Democrat were the same thing. That has changed dramatically. And there is a growing strong Republican Jewish community in Las Vegas."
She said that she supports Joe Biden, who is struggling in the polls. "I would say that if you're a pro-Israel Jew, Biden would be a very, very safe bet," she said. "He's got a long record of supporting Israel just as Bernie on the other side has a very poor record, quite the contrary. He is blatantly anti-Israel, in my opinion."
"I wish he was showing a little better than he is at this moment," she added. "We'll see how he does in Nevada. If he comes out strong in Nevada and wins South Carolina, I would say he's very much back in the race."