Rabbi Malcolm Cohen oral history interview, 2015 December 15. OH-02521. [Audio recording]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1cc0xd2k
Standardized Rights Statement
How does one end up in Las Vegas? But for you this is not just a move to a new city in the country, but a new country. What can you tell me about that? The story is essentially that I was in a large Reform synagogue in London, part of a team of rabbis, not the senior. It was really an enjoyable job. I was working at the West London Synagogue for British Jews, specifically for British Jews, in that title because in 1840 when they were founded they specifically wanted to welcome Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. There was a bit of separation back in the day. To learn how to be a rabbi in a fuller sense, you've got to go out on your own a little bit and be the rabbi somewhere else and to learn a different skillset; when you're the assistant or associate rabbi in a big shul, you get shielded from all the politics and responsibility, which some people like. But to me, to get to another level, you have to be exposed to it and jump in up to your neck. The Jewish community in England is very small. The Reform community is smaller than the Orthodox; it's the reverse, obviously, in America. There are only a tiny handful of synagogues where I could see myself enjoying being the rabbi there. I knew the rabbis there well enough, the incumbents, to call them up and say, "Are you going anywhere any time soon?" And they knew me well enough to say, "No, back off." So then we started looking further afield. My wife, Sarah, is very astute. I became a member of the Central Council of American Rabbis (CCAR). It gives you the right to apply for jobs in the American Reform movement. We started looking at those jobs that were being offered and Las Vegas came up. Because I had no reputation in America, it was hard for me to get in what in the American Reform movement we call the Category B congregation, three-hundred to six-hundred-family units. When you're just ordained, you can only go for zero to three-hundred-family units. When you've done three years, you can go for three-hundred to six-hundred, but those are harder to get if you have no reputation in America. She said, "Well, let's look at Category A congregations, the smaller ones, and if you find the right one, maybe you can turn it into a Category B." She looked at Vegas; we've lived in southern Israel before, so we love the desert. We know there's lots of unaffiliated Jews here. So we know there's potential to grow a community instead of being somewhere where everyone's dying and moving away. Temple Sinai itself wasn't in a great shape, but it seemed like it had lots of potential. People had the will for it to succeed in a big Jewish neighborhood in Vegas. All the conditions were there. It was ripe. Then the push factors away from London...It's much harder economically. The cost of living is ridiculous, more of a struggle. The weather is crap. The traffic is bad. It takes an hour to get anywhere. That's how we ended up here. Looking back, it worked out really well. We had a hundred and thirty-five families when we got to the synagogue. Now we've got about three hundred and sixty. So we turned it into that Category B congregation. Looking back, it was a ridiculous risk, uprooting the whole family and traveling thousands of miles, and you didn't know if it would work out.