LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Ninety years ago, the first Jewish person was born in the Las Vegas Valley. Nearly a century later, the pioneer says local Hannukah celebrations and antisemitism incidents look drastically different.
Roberta Kane, better known as “Bobbie” by friends, celebrated her 90th birthday amongst her seven children and multiple friends at the M Hotel in November. But, when she was born in 1932, the hotel and much else in the valley did not exist.
“There were not many Jewish people here at that time,” Kane said in the living room of her Henderson apartment Wednesday morning. “It was something like less than 100 or 200 (people).”
Unknowingly, her birth made Las Vegas history as a small group of Jewish people settled in the nearly barren desert just years prior. She said her parents moved here from California to open two 24-hour liquor stores, one on Fremont and the other on Charleston. Other family members moved here and operated their own businesses as well.
It came at a time when Las Vegas’ population was recorded at 5,265 people, a stark difference from Wednesday’s nearly 2.3-million-person estimate in Clark County. The small community, however, also meant small diversity.
She said Las Vegas was always “accepting” of her family’s religion, but acknowledges how it was practiced varies greatly from how Jewish children do so in the modern day.
“We didn’t have a temple here, Temple Beth Sholom, at 16th and Oakey, until 1946,” Kane said. “I admit, I have grown up not knowing some of the songs or the traditions.”
Hannukah celebrations were isolated to the homes of 20 or so Jewish families in town, she said, rather than the large celebrations seen across several temples and public spaces in the valley today. The valley is now home to an estimated 100,000 Jewish people.
She said she never experienced antisemitic acts growing up, but the same can’t be said statewide. Antisemitism incidents have increased by 64% in Nevada between 2020 and 2021, according to the non-profit Jewbelong.
But this holiday, the menorah candle lights glow bright, as Kane says the community has never been more united. She points directly to the Jewish community she’s grown to consider “family” at Congregation Ner Tamid.
“I would say to the Jewish community how proud I am of how it has grown, and the wonderful people who are doing so much to preserve the education, and the strength of the Jewish traditions,” Kane said with a smile.
When asked her secret to longevity, Kane responded with a healthy diet, daily exercise (which includes a weekend trainer that puts her “through the mill,” and kindness. She still drives across the valley and spends much of her time at her local library when not lecturing and public speaking at local events and gatherings.
She said she plans to live at least another decade or two longer, and when asked why, she said, “why not?”