LAS VEGAS, N.M. (KRQE) – In 1884, Las Vegas, New Mexico became home to the first Jewish synagogue in the state. At the time, funds for the building were sourced by donations from the community, over half of which came from nonmembers. Now in 2022, funds are again being raised for the building which once housed Congregation Montefiore but this time, it’s to buy it back.
In 1880, Las Vegas had one of the largest Jewish populations in the southwest, a large part made up of merchants traveling west on the Santa Fe Trail, and they established their businesses throughout the northern part of the state. In 1884, New Mexico’s first Jewish congregation, Congregation Montefiore, began to raise funds for a permanent synagogue. The building was eventually dedicated on September 20, 1886.
When the Jewish population dwindled in the 1950s, the building was sold to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The building was turned into a Newman Center for New Mexico Highlands University.
A bankruptcy court now owns the property and is looking to sell. “I got a call from a lawyer, just less than a month ago, and he said, ‘We’re selling this property. Do you guys want it?'” says Vice-President of the Jewish Community of Las Vegas Nancy Terr.
Terr says the plan for the building is to have a place where the community can meet, with an emphasis on education and history. “One of the goals of having it open for study – and for the, just awareness of the Jewish presence in territorial New Mexico – is really to combat antisemitism,” Terr says.
Nancy’s brother, Jim, remembers Las Vegas as an accepting community when he was growing up. “There was not a lot of talk about being different. There certainly [was] no differentiation between us and the Christians and Catholics,” he says. “There was no prejudice, I never heard anything about being Jewish. No one seemed to care, one way or the other.”
When the Terr family moved to Las Vegas in the late 1950s, Congregation Montefiore was gone so the family would go to Santa Fe for services. Nancy says having a synagogue back in Las Vegas means northern New Mexico Jews will have a spiritual home. “It really is a fulfillment of a dream for most everybody involved,” she says. “For me, personally, I feel like it’s a way to really honor the past and show that the Jews made a difference in Las Vegas.”
There is a GoFundMe set up with a goal of $200,000. The funds will go to buying the property, as well as any renovations the building may need. Check donations can also be sent to Las Vegas Jewish Community Inc., PO BOX 1231, Las Vegas, NM 87701.