Nevada Congresswoman Jacky Rosen. Photo courtesy of Jacky Rosen for Congress.

From synagogue president to member of Congress

WASHINGTON – As President of the Reform Synagogue Ner Tamid, Representative Jacky Rosen (D-NV) was largely unknown outside of the Jewish community in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. However, this changed when veteran Democratic Senator Harry Reid approached Rosen and encouraged her to run in the 2016 election. While Rosen had no previous political experience, she believes that her background running the largest Nevada Synagogue helped her during the transition to Capitol Hill.

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“When you are the head of any philanthropy organization, what you learn is empathy, how to listen and be responsive to people’s needs,” Rosen told Jewish Insider off the floor between votes. “What you realize when you work in the philanthropic world is that people aren’t just numbers: they are families with real needs and you need to make your judgments with kindness and thoughtfulness in order to serve those needs.”

Born in Chicago, Rosen’s parents moved to Las Vegas when she attended the University of Minnesota. The Nevada lawmaker began her career working as a computer programmer and joined her family after finishing college. She draws from her professional experience while in Congress. “I’m a common sense person who tries to analyze and I have to look at all sides of the issue because you don’t want software that only does something but doesn’t fix the other errors.”

Controversy arose in the Democratic primary with alleged religious discrimination playing a defining role. One of Rosen’s competitors, Jesse Sbaih — a Jordanian-American lawyer — charged that Reid informed him that ‘Let me be blunt, you can’t win this race because you’re a Muslim.” (Reid vehemently denied the accusation). Rosen tried distancing herself from this disagreement and handily won the race.

Israel remains a critical issue for the Congresswoman. The former Synagogue President emphasized that she co-sponsored House Resolution 11, a measure criticizing the United Nations Security Council for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements last December. “It was my first floor speech. I was very proud to come out against that abstention because of course an abstention is really a vote because you just let happen whatever happened,” Rosen asserted.

Declining to describe herself as progressive or liberal, Rosen commended the President for assailing the recent wave of anti-Semitism. The Nevada lawmaker also appreciated Trump “shining a spotlight on our crumbling bridges roads, and dams.” Rosen, married with one daughter, feels passionately about importance of protecting Social Security and Medicare since she used to be a caregiver for her aging parents and in-laws. She currently serves on the Armed Forces Committee where she was surprised by the magnitude of the military. “Just the scope and size is so much larger than you can imagine,” she added.

For Rosen, after working many years in computer programming, technology still drives her. “People forget that the Hoover Dam was one of the greatest inventions or creations of the last century, still pumping out hydroelectric power today, and I hope that we can bring that kind of — some people say “innevation,” “Nev” for Nevada.

Jewish Insider: Why did you run for Congress? 

Rep. Jacky Rosen: “I decided to run for Congress because when I was approached as a community leader, I felt that one of the things that spoke to me most was the constituent services. I was the immediate past president of the largest Synagogue in Nevada Congregation Ner Tamid and through my 20 plus years of volunteering not just in Jewish philanthropy but philanthropy all around southern Nevada, serving Nevada and serving people was really important to me. When they said that was the most important thing I could do in my job as a Congresswoman, that’s what spoke to me and that is why I’m here.”

JI: What are your legislative goals?

Rosen: “I’m on the Armed Services Committee and I’m on the Space, Science and Technology Committee. I’m a computer programmer and systems analyst by trade so I’m very concerned about cyber security. I’m also making sure that we want to protect Social Security and Medicare. I was a caregiver to my aging parents and my in-laws. That’s very important. In Nevada, people forget that the Hoover Dam was one of the greatest inventions or creations of the last century, still pumping out hydroelectric power today, and I hope that we can bring that kind of — some people say “innevation,” “Nev” for Nevada, bring that kind of innovation and businesses to Nevada in solar and water, renewable resources and creating new kinds of energies.”

JI: What most surprised you during your brief time on the Armed Services Committee?

Rosen: “The scope of what’s in the Armed Services. I sit on military personnel and on tactical land and air. Just the infrastructure that it takes for the bases, the commissaries, with the benefits, with moving people around. Just the scope and size is so much larger than you can imagine. And it’s so very important because the reason I chose to be on that committee is those are the people who give up maybe their freedom, their life, their home life for sure to protect all of us.”

JI: Did your experience serving as President of Ner Tamid Synagogue assist you while in Congress?

Rosen: “Absolutely. When you are the head of any philanthropy organization. What you learn is empathy, how to listen and be responsive to people’s needs. What you realize when you volunteer or work in the philanthropy world is that people aren’t just numbers they are families with real needs and real issues and you need to make your judgments with kindness and thoughtfulness in order to serve those needs.”

JI: What are some elements of your personality outside of politics that others may not know about you in Washington?

Rosen: “I think that I have a great sense of humor. My staff laughs at my jokes, maybe they have to. I love to laugh. I enjoy life. As a commuter programmer, I was socialized to be a team player. I love being part of the brainstorming, part of the process, I think that makes us better so I’m in on all those brainstorming meetings as we are considering and debating and that’s what really makes me a better Congress person. We try to do it with a little laughter too.”

JI: How would assess the debate about Israel since you arrived on Capitol Hill?

Rosen: “I was proud to be a cosponsor of House Resolution 11. It was my first floor speech. I was very proud to come out against that abstention because of course an abstention is really a vote because you just let happen whatever happened. We need to, as America, support a two state solution. We have to be the best facilitators we can because ultimately they have to live with it so if it is not something they have buy into and they can live with, we can talk all we want, but it’s not our neighborhood. Israel – our strongest ally – needs our support and needs our wisdom, so do the Palestinians, but we need to do everything we can to facilitate and come to the table to find that two state solution that they have buy into and they can live with. So I’m hoping that the current Administration stands by that longstanding policy and we can help bring people to the table.”

JI: Did you connect the recent spike of anti-Semitism with President Trump’s campaign?

Rosen: “I was pleased to see he came out against anti-Semitism. I thought that was a good thing. I think what he is trying to do about infrastructure, that is one of the places where we can really agree, shining a spotlight on our crumbling bridges roads and dams. They haven’t been funded well enough for the last so many years and that’s a real problem with our infrastructure. I’m really pleased that he shined a spotlight on that.”

“Whatever happened during this election cycle, people felt empowered. I will let the pundits decide what the reasons were. People felt empowered to bring up a lot of rhetoric and a lot of hate speech. I signed up for the bipartisan task force against anti-Semitism. I’m very proud of that. We can’t support hate no matter who it is against: Jewish people, Muslims, Blacks, Latinos. It doesn’t make a difference. Hate is always wrong. We are not a country that was built on hate.”

JI: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Rosen: “I’m a common sense person. I’m actually a dinosaur. I went into computers in the 1970s when we had the card deck and they’re in a museum now. When you write software, you have to build those teams and do the kinds of things that move the mission forward. I’m a common sense person who tries to analyze and I have to look at all sides of the issue because you don’t want software that only does something but doesn’t fix the other errors. I’m really a centrist. I want the data and analytics to guide me with my empathy and heart to make good policy.”

Synagogue president wins Democratic nod in suburban Las Vegas district

The president of a Las Vegas-area synagogue handpicked by the Democratic Party leadership to run in a competitive congressional district won the primary.

Jacky Rosen, a software developer who helms Ner Tamid, a Reform synagogue in Henderson, Nevada, and the largest in the region, handily defeated her rivals in Tuesday’s primary in the 3rd Congressional District. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that she won over 60 percent of the vote in a six-way fight.

Rosen had little name recognition or political experience, but Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate’s minority leader and the boss of Democratic politics in the state, picked her to run and lent her the backing of his fundraising machine.

Reid, who is retiring this year, wants to leave a strong party representation in the state as one of his legacies, and the 3rd District, with an influx in recent years of Democratic-leaning Latinos, is seen as a likely Democratic pick-up now that its incumbent, Republican Joe Heck, is running for Reid’s open U.S. Senate seat.

One of Rosen’s rivals in the primary, a Jordan-born Muslim-American lawyer, Jesse Sbaih, stirred controversy when he said Reid refused to back him because the senator did not believe an Arab Muslim could be elected. Reid strongly denied the charge. Sbaih claimed to have better name recognition than Rosen, and had declared an interest in the seat long before anyone else.

Rosen now faces Danny Tarkanian, a businessmen who won the Republican primary, in the general election. Tarkanian is the son of the late Jerry Tarkanian, the popular and highly successful men’s basketball coach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Nevada convention brawl previews growing Democratic battle

Bernie Sanders joined his supporters in criticizing the Nevada Democratic Party after violent outbursts disrupted their state convention on Sunday when his supporters became angry about the process.

One Sanders supporter threw a chair, unhappy about being blocked in a rules vote as part of an effort to help the senator from Vermont win more delegates to the national convention. Others applied chalk graffiti to a party building. And the state's party chairwoman has been receiving death threats since then.

Hillary Clinton won Nevada's caucuses in February. On Tuesday, she and Sanders were facing off in Kentucky and Oregon, two states where he was expected to do well.

The Nevada outburst could be a preview of how contentious the July 25-28 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia could be. Sanders is unlikely to arrive at the conclave with more delegates than Clinton. But if he refuses to drop out, a contested convention could prove to be raucous.

Sanders on Tuesday framed Nevada's incident as a warning.

“If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned,” Sanders said in a statement on the Nevada incident.

Sanders – who said he condemns violence and personal harassment of individuals – leveled some of the same complaints his supporters at the convention did, arguing that state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange did not allow a headcount on a disputed rules change. He also argued that 64 delegates to the state convention were not given a hearing before being ruled ineligible.

The state party said the delegates were disqualified because they had not changed their registration to Democratic in time, making them ineligible.

Sanders supporters began circulating a picture of Lange on the internet that included her cellphone number and encouraged others to contact her to express their unhappiness.

Lange said in an appearance on MSNBC that she has been receiving death threats, including many containing vulgar language. Public messages sent to her Twitter account included a barrage of derogatory statements.

MSNBC played some of the voicemails, including one saying “people like you should be hung in a public execution.”

“What you heard is a few of the thousands of emails and texts and Facebook messages and Twitter messages that I've gotten,” Lange said on MSNBC. “Threats to my family, to my grandson, to my husband.

“They have attacked the place where I have a daytime job.” Lange is a manager at a Las Vegas restaurant, according to her LinkedIn profile.


Sanders' continued presence in the race is prompting concerns among Clinton allies that he will damage her ability to take on Republican Donald Trump and hurt her in the fall.

But Sanders supporters shrug off that worry, arguing that Trump is such a flawed candidate that Clinton will easily dispatch him if she faces him in November's election.

“Either way we're going to get a Democratic president,” said Alisha Liedtke, 28, a Sanders supporter from Ellensburg, Washington.

In interviews, 14 voters who back Sanders said they did not believe Trump, who is all but certain to be the Republican nominee, could win the Nov. 8 election.

They said Sanders should keep fighting until July's Democratic convention, to push Clinton to the left and challenge her ties to Wall Street and support for free-trade agreements.


Clinton allies have held back from making overt calls for Sanders to exit the race. Moves by her campaign to try to push him out could backfire and risk angering Democratic voters.

So Clinton must continue her primary fight in Kentucky and Oregon, where analysts predicted she would have a hard time winning.

The Democratic race is unlikely to wrap up before California, New Jersey and several other states vote on June 7.

Sanders has insisted that he will stay in the presidential race until the convention.

Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who supports Clinton, said Sanders should be careful he does not wind up helping Trump.

“I have no problem with Senator Sanders staying in until the end,” said Manley. “If that's what he chooses to do, I just hope he plays it smart and doesn't give the Trump campaign any more ammunition than it already has to take on Hillary Clinton.”

In Nevada primary, a Muslim facing a Jew says he was passed over for his faith

Come November, Nevadans in this suburban Las Vegas district may well elect to Congress Jacky Rosen, a software developer and president of her synagogue.

A Jordanian-American lawyer says her win would be at his expense, and it’s because of his Muslim faith.

But Jesse Sbaih isn’t blaming Rosen. Rather he is blitzing the Nevada media with his claim that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Democratic boss in the state, counted him out of the race in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District because he is a Muslim.

Sbaih was more than happy to present his argument to JTA, and at no point suggested that Rosen – who was ultimately Reid’s pick in the bid to replace Joe Heck, a Republican whose run for Senate leaves his seat open –was selected because she is Jewish. Instead, he said, Reid was simply seeking someone who was not Jesse Sbaih.

“‘Let me be blunt, you can’t win this race because you’re a Muslim’,” Sbaih quoted Reid as telling him last August when they met at a Las Vegas hotel.

Reid’s office acknowledges the meeting but flatly denies that Sbaih’s religion came up.

“We have said many times that Jesse is not telling the truth,” Kristen Orthman, the senator’s spokeswoman, told JTA.

Sbaih remains in the running for the June 14 congressional primary, but Reid’s full-throttled power is behind Rosen. Reid is retiring this year and wants to leave his mark on the state. Heck’s open seat is an opportunity – President Barack Obama won the district in 2008 and 2012, albeit by relatively small margins.

Reid’s Searchlight Leadership Fund political action committee is backing Rosen. She also has the backing of a political action committee associated with Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the powerful minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice Democratic women.

Sbaih, speaking to JTA in the boardroom of his law firm’s office in a strip mall, said Reid’s machine has cut off access to Democratic consultants who could help him. Much of his campaign is self-funded.

He says he is running to give back to the community — he arrived in the United States with his parents when he was 11. He has endorsed the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running a campaign emphasizing income inequality – and who incidentally is the first Jewish candidate for a major party to win nominating contests. (Sanders lost Nevada, but by a small margin, to Hillary Clinton.)

“I believe in the goodness and the spirit of the American people,” Sbaih said. “There are serious issues facing our community. In this district of 744,000 people, we have 64,000 people living below the poverty line.”

Did Reid bring up Sbaih’s faith? It comes down to he said/she said – quite literally.

Two weeks before meeting with Reid, Sbaih met with Rebecca Lambe, a political consultant to the senator. Sbaih said she was the first to suggest his faith could be an obstacle. Orthman referred JTA to Lambe’s statement last month to the Washington Post, when she said she raised a number of issues in that first meeting, including his religion, “to more fully understand the path and potential attacks from the other side.”

Sbaih showed JTA a series of texts he sent to Lambe after his Aug. 25 meeting with Reid, in which he candidly discusses whether he should suspend his campaign because of his “ethnicity/religion.” Lambe did not immediately cut him off – she refers to a possible federal appointment that Reid’s team discussed with Sbaih – so she does not appear to be put off or surprised by his reference to his religion or its political implications.

However, Sbaih’s references to his faith in the texts could refer to his earlier conversation with Lambe and not to the conversation with Reid. It is also not clear from the texts if she straight out said being Muslim would be a problem, or if he simply inferred that from her saying that he should anticipate attacks because of his religion — which she acknowledges.

What’s also not explained is why Democrats would fear running an Arab American or a Muslim for office. Multiple Arab Americans from both parties have served or are serving in Congress, and there are two Muslim Democrats from the Midwest — Sbaih would be the first member to be both Arab American and Muslim.

Where Sbaih has ammunition, however, is in the claim by Reid’s team that the senator simply wanted Sbaih, 40, to gain seasoning – through the statehouse or federal government work – before running.

“Senator Reid said, ‘You have a future, you should look at running for state Assembly or state Senate,” Orthman said. “That was the crux of the meeting.”

The problem with that argument is that Rosen also was not a known quantity. Reid, according to veteran Nevada politics reporter Jon Ralston, had hoped to find a “big name” before settling earlier this year on Rosen.

Why didn’t he go back to Sbaih, who was still asking to be considered?

“She’s been a community leader for years, she’s known in the district she’s running in,” Orthman said, referring to Rosen.

Sbaih says his work specializing in consumer rights lends him a high profile, which is burnished by his physician wife Sameera’s busy family practice in this suburb of casinos, resorts and strip malls.

The Rosen campaign deflected multiple requests by JTA to meet or interview the candidate. A video of her April 19 appearance at a town hall for the LGBTQ community shows a confident and warm speaker, albeit with name recognition issues. The group, the Stonewall Democratic Club, prepared a label for her as “Jack Rosen,” which she successfully turned into a joke.

She told the crowd she was fighting for “the freedom to be your authentic self, go to the bathroom wherever you choose, thank you very much — you can be Jack or Jacky Rosen,” she said, nodding at the label and earning appreciative laughter.

Regarding her leadership experience, all she cited was her presidency of Ner Tamid, a Reform synagogue here and the largest shul in the region. She noted the synagogue’s use of solar panels to conserve energy and said she balanced a budget of $2.5 million a year.

Otherwise, Rosen appeared to lack preparation, eager to avoid wonky topics and to focus on a feel-good message.

“We can talk about energy and education and economics, but what’s most important is to talk about is empowerment,” she said.

An accountant asked her about taxing carried interest. Rosen seemed at sea.

“I have looked a little bit at the carried interest,” she said, “but you can go ahead and explain it.”

Las Vegas, Hillary Clinton and a $16 Moscow Mule

Actually before we get started let’s clarify a couple things: I’m less twenty-something and more decidedly twenty-four, and the Moscow Mule was $18 with tip.

It was the other week, Valentine’s Day, that I decided to reach out to the Regional Organizing Director I had worked with last summer, when I was a “Hillary for Nevada” volunteer fellow. Now, the Nevada Caucuses were about six days away, and since I’d had experience on the ground out in Clark County last June and July, I felt pretty attached to the Nevada outcome. Yes, I’d abandoned the campaign after a month, but that’s because I’m not good in 105-degree weather, not because I don’t care about Hillary. I do, very much. So much so that when my former R.O.D responded to my email by saying “yes, when can you get here” with more exclamation points and question marks than I care to disclose, I was worried. So I did what any young, liberal, temporarily unemployed woman would do: I called a friend and asked if she and her boyfriend wanted to go with me to Vegas for the weekend, and when they said no, I decided to go anyway! What resulted was a sleepless couple of days that simultaneously deepened my commitment to Hillary and confused my faith in Democracy. Ya know, an average Friday and Saturday.

As a fellow, I was stationed in Henderson, a suburb of Vegas, so it was to Henderson I returned. I drove up to the campaign’s strip-mall office around 1:30 p.m. on Friday, saw some semi-familiar faces as well as new ones, grabbed a clipboard, door-hangers, and a map, and hopped back into my car to do some door canvassing, something I’d never done before. The good news was, my BFA in Acting would come in handy in an “I’m a saleslady connecting to partner” kind of way; the bad news was door-to-door canvasing alone late on a Friday afternoon kind of sucked. I knocked on 29 doors, talked to 11 people, and still don’t know if I made any difference. When I got back to the office around 7:30, I ate a square piece of pizza and was told that I would be a precinct captain on Saturday.

If you’re unfamiliar with how the Nevada caucus works (and for your sake, I kinda hope you are), a precinct captain is someone who volunteers to help with the caucus proceedings of their precinct. I felt my face flush with anxiety because I’d never been a captain of anything in my life (except of course, my own destiny), but after a quick training and the promise of a nifty shirt and super official button, I thought “Hey, maybe it’d be cool to be a part of history-making after all.”r

So, on the morning of Feb. 20, 2016, as instructed by The Hillary For America team I was to arrive at the caucus site at 10:00 a.m. Two hours early, because the actual caucus was to begin at noon.

The caucus works like this: To participate, you can pre-register or register upon arrival. Each precinct’s caucus takes place in a room at a school, civic center, or if you’re in Vegas, a casino, where, in this case, Democratic neighbors come together and “align” with their candidate. As precinct captain, my job was to designate a Hillary area, hand out stickers, engage with and try to win over undecided voters, and double check the number-crunching of the temporary caucus chair (the person who reports the delegates).  There are lots of strange little rules involved in the caucus. We couldn’t tape up signs or talk to people about our candidates in certain hallways. It’s like half democratic process, half weird voodoo ritual. There were 67 people in my precinct, and the whole time it was hilarious to me that I was one of those in charge, and that a primary election for president of the United States was being decided by hand-raising.

The Bernie Sanders precinct captain had similarly signed up just the day before to help out. He kept making digs at me about Hillary, and I kept making his side of the room laugh. Ultimately Hillary got 5 delegates and Bernie got 4 from our precinct. We, as a room, called the reporting hotline from our caucus chair’s iPhone. It all felt incredibly unsound. Like, what if we accidentally snapchatted our delegates instead of confirming them with the Nevada Democratic Party?

I soon learned that our room had been relatively smooth in it’s sailing. I was hearing horror stories about miscounts and people walking out and phone calls to caucus lawyers. I overheard a lot of hostility over discrepancies, people frustrated and truly confused about who to blame and complain to (not me, you guys!)

Despite the chaos and the bitterly disorganized system, it did truly in that moment feel like the government was in our hands.  It was also cool to be a young woman repping Hill—and many Bernie people in my precinct came up to me to shake my hand, telling me things I’d said about leaders listening and evolving had resonated with them. The Bernie precinct captain even asked for my number to get drinks! (I laughed later, because, much like my candidate, I said maybe, and much like his, he didn’t follow through).

The rest of the afternoon involved attending a Hillary victory rally at Caesars Palace, running into other Los Angelenos who’d shown up in support, and watching the heads of the Nevada team weep with joy. But the day wasn’t yet done! After changing clothes in the back of my car in a hotel parking structure and talking to my mom on the phone for an hour, I went to get a drink. I found some Baby-Boomer women (a judge, a lawyer, and a reporter—I’m not kidding), wearing Hillary shirts, and we all raised a glass to our win and told the bartender he could not change CNN to “the game.”  I met up with a friend I’d met over the summer for more toasting and food-truck sushi at midnight that still has not killed me. So, it was really successful all around.

I guess what I want to leave you with is this: People are participating. They are young, old, angry, and inspired. In Nevada, they are White, Black, Latino, Asian, Gay, Straight, Jewish, and Other. And for me, as a twenty-something, there was huge meaning in engaging with real people in real life, seeing the character of the country outside of the Internet, and getting great gas mileage on my drive back home.

Nevada Jewish vote in question due to Shabbat date, caucus confusion

Jewish voters in Nevada suffer the same affliction as anyone else ahead of caucuses in the presidential race: No one is quite sure how the damn system works.

“A big part of what we do is to educate people about what a caucus is,” said Joel Wanger, the point man for the Hillary Clinton campaign in this city’s Jewish community.

The Democratic caucus takes place on Saturday — a problem for Sabbath-observing Jews. Orthodox groups, including the Orthodox Union, have registered complaints. Republicans will hold their caucus on the following Tuesday.

Wanger, who is also the Clinton campaign’s regional organizational director, enumerated the questions he encounters: “What is a caucus? How does it work? Will Hillary be there? Does it cost any money?”

This is how it works for Democrats: Party voters meet and talk until a majority in the room is ready to elect delegates to a county convention. The presidential candidate who accrues the most delegates is the winner.

Clinton may turn up at one or two caucuses. One need not pay to vote, one has only to register with the party – allowed even on the day of the caucus.

Wanger said he gets those questions at get-togethers targeting Latinos, blacks or Jews. For the Jews, Wanger, who has been in the state since last summer, has organized Sukkot parties and run an explanatory session at the Adelson Educational Campus, a Jewish school. Students who will be 18 by November are eligible to vote in the caucuses. Wanger says he’s probably reached 300 Jewish voters.

Republican Jews say it’s no different for them.

“The average person I talk to doesn’t know what a caucus is,” said Sandy Mallin, who has headed Jewish campaigns in the state for Republicans in previous elections.

“I don’t know anybody who is going to caucus,” she said, quickly adding that she likely will.

Carolyn Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, poses with a photo of her family in her office, Feb. 10, 2016. (Ron Kampeas)Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, showing a family photo in her office, says the “Clinton names means a whole lot here,” Feb. 10, 2016

Part of the problem is that caucuses are a relatively new phenomenon out here. Until 2008, the state held regular primaries. Statewide caucuses were established that year to help raise Nevada’s consequence as the “first in the West” state — the third nominating state after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Nevadans, unlike Iowans, have yet to internalize the hours-long experience of meeting in a living room, school auditorium, storefront or church hall and grouping themselves according to preferred candidate.

Another problem is the state’s turnover. Unlike Iowans, who might be part of generations-old families in the state, the Nevada population is much more transient, with population booms when times are good and decreases when the economy sours. For many voters, the caucus will be a first-time experience.

“At one point we were the fastest-growing community in the country,” said Todd Polikoff, the CEO of the Las Vegas Jewish Federation. “In 2004, 6,000 people were coming to Nevada a month, 600 of them Jews.”

Then came the bust in 2007-08. Polikoff thinks the current Jewish population of the state is well below the 89,000 assessed the last time the federation commissioned a study, in 2005.

The departure of voters and their replacement by others make it hard to figure exactly what the political composition of the Jewish community is at any given moment, said Michael Green, an associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who specializes in the state’s history.

More recently, he said, there appears to be an influx of Orthodox Jews and retired Jews, suggesting the community is likelier to tack further to the right than other Jewish communities.

“Democrats in that demographic tend to lean more conservative,” he said of Jews over 55. Regarding the Orthodox, he said: “There are more Republicans here in the Jewish community than there used to be, and they’re not all named Sheldon Adelson.”

Adelson, the Jewish casino magnate who is worth some $18 billion, is a major Republican backer.

Clinton’s campaign has attracted some out-of-state Jews to push for her in Nevada.

At a debate party at a Clinton campaign office in suburban Las Vegas on Feb. 11, there were at least four out-of-state Jews. Three were women who had just graduated from Northeastern colleges, and the fourth was Randy Gingiss, a 70-year-old law professor from the University of South Dakota who was exploring retirement opportunities in Las Vegas and was lured into working the phone bank.

Until Clinton was trounced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the New Hampshire primary, Nevada was seen as a likely easy win for the former secretary of state because of its substantial population of Latinos, blacks and union members. But absent accurate polling over the last couple of months, it’s hard to tell if that is still the case. Sanders signs have popped up throughout the city since the New Hampshire vote, especially on the UNLV campus.

The preferences of Las Vegas’ wealthiest Jews are well known – particularly those of Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who are kingmakers in Republican politics. They reportedly are wavering between Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The newspaper Adelson recently acquired, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has endorsed Rubio.

Brian Greenspun is among the city’s most prominent Jewish friends of the Clintons (and the son of a Hank Greenspun, who helped smuggle arms to the nascent State of Israel). The head of the Greenspun Corp., which is deeply involved in an array of Las Vegas entertainment and media businesses,  the younger Greenspun roomed with Bill Clinton at Georgetown University and has been close to the couple for decades.

“Bill Clinton would come out with regularity and stay with the Greenspuns,” Carolyn Goodman, the city’s mayor and herself the matriarch of a prominent Las Vegas Jewish family, said in an interview in her high-rise office overlooking the strip. “The Clinton name means a whole lot here.”

Shelley Berkley, a former Democratic congresswoman who is now CEO of the Touro University campus in neighboring Henderson, said the failure of the Democrats to find a solution to the Shabbat problem is likely to exacerbate the aggravation arising from tensions between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over last year’s Iran nuclear deal.

“I offered to open up Touro after sundown to enable practicing Jews that want to participate in the process to caucus, but I was told that was not possible,” she said of the state Democratic Party.

“There’s a large segment of the Jewish community that is very unhappy because of the vote on the Iran agreement” — most Democratic lawmakers in Congress backed the deal, though many with trepidation. “Those that are chafing because of the vote, followed by the Democratic Party caucusing on Saturday – it’s left a bad taste in a number of people’s mouths,” said Berkley, who is backing Clinton.

Nevada’s Democratic caucus conflicts with Shabbat

Sabbath-observing Jewish Democrats will be shut out of the party’s caucus in Nevada.

The country’s third primary election is scheduled for Feb. 20, a Saturday, at noon. Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and senator, is considered the favorite in Nevada against her insurgent opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, party leaders said they selected the time because they thought it would be most convenient for the largest number of people.

“Saturday at 11 a.m. is the best time to increase access as much as possible for Democrats across Nevada to participate in our First in the West caucuses,” Stewart Boss, spokesman for the Nevada State Democratic Party, told the Review-Journal. “Keeping this date is critical to preserving our early-state status in the presidential nominating calendar.”

Traditional Shabbat observance prohibits driving, working and numerous other activities from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Other states with Saturday primaries avoid excluding observant Jews (and Seventh-day Adventists, who also observe their Sabbath on Saturdays) by giving voters the option of casting absentee ballots. In Nevada, however, voters who are not members of the military must show up in person to participate in its caucus.

According to the Huffington Post, Jolie Brislin, Nevada regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group is “dismayed to learn that no religious accommodation will be made.”

“As an organization committed to safeguarding religious freedom, we feel it is patently unfair to exclude someone from the caucus process because they are religiously observant,” she said. “We urge the party leadership to reconsider this decision.”

According to a 2012 Jewish population estimate, there are 76,300 Jews in Nevada. However, it is not clear how many of them are registered Democrats or Sabbath observant.

Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel, chairman of the community relations council of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas, told the Review-Journal the scheduling is “unfortunate” and disenfranchises “certain members of the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Shea Harlig of Chabad of Southern Nevada said there’s “no reason” a caucus couldn’t be on a weeknight and expressed surprise that party leaders weren’t more sensitive to religious diversity.

Nevada’s Republican caucus, the fourth primary vote for the party, is scheduled for Feb. 23, a Tuesday.

Sheldon Adelson revealed as mystery owner of Nevada’s largest newspaper

Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is the new owner of Nevada’s largest daily newspaper, the Las Vegas Review Journal confirmed.

Adelson’s son-in-law Patrick Dumont reportedly arranged the $140 million deal to purchase the Review Journal at Adelson’s request, the newspaper reported late Wednesday, citing unnamed sources close to the Adelson family. The newspaper was purchased last week by News + Media Capital Group LLC, which is backed by “undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry,” the newspaper reported.

Adelson on Tuesday told CNN that he had “no personal interest” in the newspaper.

A major donor to Republican candidates, Adelson spent at least $100 million in the 2012 presidential election. Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate was held at his Las Vegas casino. Adelson is also the owner of the pro-Netanyahu Hebrew-language daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is distributed widely for free in Israel.

Fortune first reported that Adelson was the newspaper’s primary buyer on Wednesday afternoon, citing “multiple sources familiar with the situation.” Adelson had made an attempt earlier this year to purchase the newspaper.

Adelson has not officially acknowledged the purchase.

Berkley, Lingle, Mandel lose Senate bids

Jewish Senate hopefuls in Hawaii, Ohio and Nevada went down to defeat.

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) lost her bid to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who received nearly 46 percent of the vote to Berkley’s nearly 45 percent. Berkley, an outspoken supporter of Israel who has had a long-running feud with Las Vegas casino tycoon and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, will leave Congress after 14 years in the House.

In Ohio, Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel was defeated by incumbent Sherrod Brown. The Democrat, a strong ally of unions, garnered 50 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Mandel, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran.

In Hawaii, Republican former Gov. Linda Lingle lost her bid for a Senate seat to Rep. Mazie Hirono, a Democat. Hirono won with nearly 63 percent of the vote to Lingle’s 37 percent.

Nevada inmates to receive kosher meals after lawsuit is settled

The Nevada Department of Corrections, responding to an inmate’s lawsuit, agreed to provide Orthodox Jewish inmates with kosher-certified meals.

Corrections department officials said this week that the department would obtain rabbinic kosher certification of food prepared for those who joined the lawsuit filed by Howard Ackerman “and demonstrate an ability to maintain such certification,” the Los Vegas Review-Journal reported. A hearing on the lawsuit had been set for April 18.

Ackerman’s lawsuit filed in January claimied the newly instituted “common fare” menu was not kosher and thus violated his First Amendment right of religious freedom.

An injunction ordered by a federal judge in Nevada prevented the department from serving the new menu to Ackerman and included the nearly 300 other inmates who were receiving a kosher diet in the injunction.

Ackerman, 51, is an Orthodox Jew who is serving a life sentence for kidnapping.

Nevada prisoner sues for access to kosher food

A Jewish prisoner has taken legal action to prevent the shut-down of the kosher food programs in Nevada state prisons.

Attorneys for Howard Ackerman say he’s an Orthodox Jew concerned by reports that the Department of Corrections in Nevada plans to discontinue kosher food service in state prisons within the week.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Ackerman filed a class action suit claiming the prison system would be violating the First Amendment’s protection of his free practice of religion.

The 50-year-old inmate is serving a life sentence in Carson City, Nev. for kidnapping.

Chaplain Gary Friedman, chair of Jewish Prisoner Services International and communications director of the American Correctional Chaplains Association, estimates some 20,000 prison inmates nationwide falsely claim to be Jewish in order to receive kosher food, which many of them perceive as safer than non-kosher food.

Kosher meals in prison cost about $5 a day more than non-kosher, Friedman told JTA, for a total of $40 million U.S. prisons spend to serve kosher food to prisoners without valid religious claims. Those fraudulent claims hurt the legitimate ones, he says.

“We’re in an economic crisis and the correction systems are forced to cut back,” he says. “Kosher food is another expense.”

Pro-Israel Rep. Shelley Berkley in bid for Senate

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), a pro-Israel stalwart, will run for Nevada’s United States Senate seat.

Berkley (D-Nev.), who is seen as the most pro-Israel member of Congress, made her decision Thursday after months of dropping hints, according to a tweet by Jon Ralston, a political reporter for the Las Vegas Sun.

Berkley is considered a strong candidate, with an ability to bring in Republican voters because of her credentials as a hard-liner on foreign policy.

Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) already has declared his bid to replace the scandal-plagued Sen. John Ensign, a Republican, who is retiring in 2012.

Tribefest survey: Many attendees were federation first-timers [VIDEO]

New data shows that Tribefest met its goal of drawing many federation first-timers to the recent Young Leadership conference in Las Vegas, federation officials said.

“We’re not only satisfied, we’re thrilled,” said Joe Berkofsky, spokesman for the Jewish Federations of North America, which organized last week’s gathering.

Nearly 1,300 Jews, mostly in their 20s to early 40s, showed up for three days of lectures, workshops and performances devoted to Jewish politics, religion and culture.

It was a first step in what federation officials say is a new outreach strategy for the national federation organization that is aimed at bringing in new blood along with the committed donors that were targeted by previous Young Leadership conferences.

Story continues after the jump.

Video by VideoJew Jay Firestone.

Results from 150 participants who took a post-conference survey showed that 30 percent of them were not already federation donors. Forty-two percent said they had never participated in or helped organize a program at their local Jewish federation and 45 percent had ever served on a federation committee. Sixty-two percent said Tribefest was their first national federation conference.

Berkofsky said that because these are only the initial survey results, and probably come from the most involved participants, who are typically the first to answer such surveys, “The later numbers should show even more people not previously involved, which is what we hoped to see.”

Follow-up is a major part of the federations’ outreach effort. As participants entered each event, their badges were scanned and their identifying information was electronically stored. Those details will be given to their local Jewish federations for concerted follow-up.

“We want to keep the momentum going, to capitalize on the energy,” Berkofsky said.

Jewish vote not a sure bet in swing state Nevada

Support for presidential candidate Barack Obama remains strong among Nevada’s Jewish population, but Jews can no longer be counted on as a bloc vote for the Democrats.

It is a startling revelation to many Jewish leaders in the state, including Rabbi Felipe Goodman of Conservative Temple Beth Shalom, one of the largest congregations in Las Vegas, whose members include Mayor Oscar Goodman and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley.

When it was announced that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would speak at the temple in September, Goodman saw a divisive split among his members.

“Before we announced a Democrat was coming, people were up in arms,” Goodman said of a subsequent visit by former California Congressman Mel Levine. “And then, of course, there were those who were delighted” at Lieberman’s visit. “You could really see that the group was divided. The same amount of calls came in telling me it was wonderful as came in saying they were upset.

“People usually think the Jewish vote is a Democratic vote,” he said. “In this day and age, it’s very much split.”

“I see a divide, but I see it as a divide that’s been within them,” said Rabbi Hershel Brooks of Temple Bet Knesset Bamidbar, a Reform Las Vegas congregation. “There’s a divide about who will be a little more for the State of Israel. The divide isn’t like they’re all choking each other. It’s still respectful; they’re still friends. I don’t think there will be this divide after the election. Not at all.”

Goodman sees the change as longer term: “I think more and more Jews are shifting toward the right ideals, at least in Las Vegas,” he said.

There are two main causes for the shift, all agree: First, many Nevada Jews supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and have been hesitant to put their full backing behind Obama. But also, the support of Israel by the Bush administration — and by the McCain camp — has many questioning their allegiances.

“There’s no question that Hillary Clinton was more popular than Obama,” said Rabbi Kenneth Segel of Las Vegas’ Temple Sinai. “She had very strong standing here. She had the support of the muscled insiders. She would have been for many Democrats in this state a more logical choice than voting Republican.”

Added Goodman: “There are certain issues that affect people in Nevada, specifically. The taxation issue is near and dear to their hearts. People don’t accept it or admit it, but I think it’s there. Yes, the support of Israel is a big part of it. The same is true on the other side of the coin. I’ve seen a lot of people who have turned. It’s not only about Israel.”

Many view the state as still up for grabs, even now. And because of Nevada’s role as a swing state, many Jews on both sides of the ticket in surrounding states are flocking to Las Vegas to help stump for their cause, including Democrats from the blue state of California and Republicans from the red state of Arizona, McCain’s home state.

“We do have a tremendous number of volunteers from California,” said Paul Kincaid, spokesman for Nevada State Democratic Party. “They see that their state really isn’t going to be a swing state, but Nevada might be one. A lot of folks are coming from all around —California, Arizona, even Utah.”

Leo Bletnitsky, co-chair of the Southern Nevada chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said California Republicans also are devoting their efforts to Nevada. “We’ve had a lot of people come here from California, because they know it’s a lost cause [at home]. They understand how important it is to knock on doors and do some phone-banking. And it’s been nice this year to make calls and not have people hang up the phone on me. People are at least listening now.”

All this attention puts Nevada in an unfamiliar place.

For the first time in recent memory, major candidates are treating the state as a battleground, despite the fact that it offers the winner just five electoral college votes.

“Nevada in the past has largely been neglected by the major candidates, simply because of the five electoral votes,” Segel said. “Nevada was sort of left behind. Because of the closeness and because of the division in the state — the competitive aspect of it — everyone is scrounging around.”