When Rabbi Shea Harlig and his wife Dina arrived as emissaries of Chabad 29 years ago, they had no idea that the notorious gambling center would one day be an oasis for kashrus in the West.
With an estimated 50,000 Jews and thousands of tourists and business visitors, Rabbi Harlig who presides over several educational institutions, heads the Vaad Hakashrus of Las Vegas.
Visitors to Las Vegas recall the days when the city had only the Haifa Restaurant, which has since changed hands several times.
One regular convention visitor recalled the days when he would fly in food from New York for a group of Orthodox businessmen attending the large electronics show.
Rabbi Harlig admits that when he first came to Las Vegas, he had no idea “that I would become so deeply involved in not only building Jewish life here but kashrus as well.”
Today, under Rabbi Tzvi Bronchtein, the Vaad supervises eight restaurants, several plants and major kosher sections in the Smith’s and Albertson’s supermarkets.
In fact, Smith’s has two major kosher stores with 6 kosher supervisors (mashgichim) in the flagship kosher store. The Smith’s store includes kosher meat cut daily, fresh bakery products, rotisserie chicken, deli meats, fresh salads, hot soups and a wonderful assortment of wines. Cholov Yisrael milk and cheese are also available.
Albertson’s Market also carries a full kosher food section, similar to Smith’s.
Rabbi Harlig says that Las Vegas has seen an influx of young families who seek the far less expensive cost of living, including affordable housing, low property taxes and no state income tax. He estimates that nearly 70% of visitors are businessmen and 30% traditional tourists.