Las Vegas Jewish Community Copes with News of Mass Shooting

Las Vegas Jewish
A sign at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas offering condolences for the victims of the massacre. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

In the wake of the mass shooting that struck the heart of Las Vegas, the largest in American history, Hamodia spoke with leaders of the city’s Jewish community to hear their reactions.

With the incident only a half-day behind him, Rabbi Nachum Meth, Rosh Kollel of the Kollel of Greater Las Vegas, said that the freshness of the tragedy and lack of information has hindered people from fully processing the events.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he told Hamodia. “There’s a lot that we don’t know, yet people are still wondering if they know anybody who got caught in it.”

Las Vegas’ kollel is some 15 miles from the city center, known as “the Strip” where the shooting occurred, and Rabbi Meth said that while there had been major road closures last night, that the area around the kollel had no discernable police or emergency response presence. He added that at many people’s workplaces, including the military hospital where his wife is employed, security was clearly at maximum.

“It’s clearly on everyone’s mind,” he said. “We’re primarily a kiruv kollel and we deal with a lot of different types of people …When there’s a tragedy like this, a lot of people have the feeling that they want to do something about it, but unless you’re a first responder, there’s not much for you to do to physically help the problem. I’ve been encouraging everybody to take that feeling and go daven, go do a mitzvah. It’s just as real, if not more, than any other way of channeling the drive to want to help.”

Rabbi Mendy Levine, Executive Director of the Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas, said that he and other staff were doing their best to “normalize” the tragedy for students and to help them have as normal of a day as possible, despite the news. A social worker, affiliated with the school, visited and offered guidance and drafted a letter to parents with advice as to how to discuss the matter with children. The school’s Shachris minyan recited Tehillim after davening.

“We explained to them that it’s very rare for something like this to happen…but in general everyone is very alarmed,” he told Hamodia.

Despite the event taking place ten miles from the yeshivah, Rabbi Levine said that everyone was shaken by it.

“It’s a small city, everything revolves around the strip, the tension level today is very high, he said.

Amid the tragedy, Rabbi Levine shared an incident that he had just heard about one of the school’s secular studies teachers.

“She and her husband had tickets [to the event where the shooting took place], he had been at Kol Nidrei two night before and committed to fast this year… the next day he had a headache from fasting and they decided to stay home last night … amazing,” he said.

Rabbi Shea Harling, Director of Chabad of Southern Nevada as well as of the Desert Torah Academy, had just recently finished speaking with a member of his community who had been present at the scene and narrowly escaped.

“Obviously, he was very shaken up,” he said. “When the shooting started, he ducked under the stage and then just ran and ran and ran. Baruch Hashem, he got away. I just called to offer my support.”

Two of Rabbi Harling’s sons, had visited a Jewish victim of the shooting from California in the hospital. She was in surgery when they arrived, so they davened together with her family as well as with Governor Brian Sandoval, who had also come to visit the many victims there. The woman from California is reported to be in stable condition.

While many were still numb to the horrific events, Rabbi Harling said reports that the shooter was a “lone wolf,” unaffiliated with any terror organization, gave people some level of calm.

“It’s at times like this that you can’t help but realize how much we all need the shemira of Hakadosh Baruch Hu,” he said.