By the late 1800s the Jewish presence in Las Vegas was robust and thriving, with the largest population of German Jews in all New Mexico. Most had become successful merchants and had been joined by extended family members emigrating from their old home lands in western Europe.
In 1883 these early settlers established in Las Vegas the first Jewish congregation in New Mexico, and the following year they began work to erect New Mexico’s first synagogue, Temple Montefiore, at Ninth Street and Douglas Avenue. (Pictured). Charles Ilfeld apparently purchased the property for the synagogue and also donated the money to acquire an organ for the Temple, named for Sir Moses Haim Montefiore, a British Jew of the 19th century, who was an eminent financier and philanthropist.
(Other congregation members who donated to the construction fund for the Temple were S. L. Leon, Isidor Stern, M. Barash, J. H. Teitlebaum, N. L. Rosenthal, Louis Sulzbacher, Joseph Rosenwald, Simon Lewis and Myer Friedman.)
Congregation Montefiore worshipped in its Temple at Ninth and Douglas until around 1922, when the building itself was moved to the northwest corner of Eighth Street and Columbia Avenue, where it stands today as the Newman Center, with little change to its original appearance. (Lynn Perrigo notes the move was made in 1925, but the year 1922 is also prevalent in historical accounts). The Temple was moved to make room for the United States courthouse and post office, which was built in 1927-28, and now serves as the administration building of the Las Vegas City Schools.
Temple Montefiore continued as a synagogue at Eighth and Columbia until 1955, when the dwindling Jewish congregation sold the building to the Bible Church. The building was later acquired by the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and for many years has served Highlands University students as the Newman Center.
In October 2000, the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society organized a re-dedication of Temple Montefiore. The event was attended by Jews from far and wide, one couple coming from as far away as Paris, France, to commemorate New Mexico’s first Jewish Temple. A plaque was placed at the site, which reads “First Jewish House of Worship in New Mexico Territory — Moved to this Site 1922 — Temple Montefiore, 1884.” (A similar plaque was placed at the Las Vegas City Schools administration building, noting the location as the original site of the Temple).
Congregation Montefiore also established the Montefiore cemetery, which is located at the west end of Colonias Street, in old town Las Vegas, west of the intersection of Mills Avenue and Hot Springs Boulevard. The cemetery is actually three cemeteries, and since its earliest days has been used as the Jewish cemetery, the Masonic cemetery and the cemetery for the International Order of Odd Fellows.
Las Vegas should be proud that in all New Mexico, the first Jewish congregation was established here, and our city is still home to New Mexico’s first synagogue. As they say, in all the Land of Enchantment, Las Vegas history is truly fascinating and eclectic.
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We have related the story of some of the early Jewish settlers of Las Vegas, including the Rosenwald family and Charles Ilfeld and his business empire. Another well-known Jewish family which settled in Las Vegas was the Taichert family. Arriving here a little later, around the turn of the century, they became large-scale wool and fur merchants, and pre-eminent clothiers for Las Vegas and northeastern New Mexico.
Joseph Taichert was the first to arrive in Las Vegas, and set up shop as a tailor. Later he was joined by his younger brother Milton, and they became haberdashers as early as 1908. In 1915 the brothers established a men’s retail clothing store on Douglas Avenue, and in 1938 they opened an adjacent women’s clothing store, The Sorority Shoppe. The two were later combined and known as Taichert’s, which continued as a fashionable clothing store until the 1980s. (The Taichert building is now occupied by SPC Office Products).
The major commercial enterprise of the Taichert brothers, however, was not the retail clothing outlet, but the fur and wool business. Since their early days, the brothers began large-scale shipping of fur and wool to the Midwest and east coast, becoming primary contractors of wool used in U.S. military uniforms during World War II.
Joseph died in 1955, and Milton continued in the family business until a few years before his death in 1989, at the age of 97. Milton’s son, Marvin, one of the last family members to remain in Las Vegas, passed away in 2002.
The Taichert family was beloved by all, and always supported charitable causes. For many years Milton led the annual fund-raising efforts for St. Anthony’s Hospital.
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Next: Early education in Las Vegas – El Distrito de las Escuelas.
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.