When Nevada held its first Republican caucuses in 2008, Philip A. Kantor walked to the library next door to his synagogue. He took in the spectacle, watching others ballot for their chosen candidate. But he could not take part — as an Orthodox Jew, he was forbidden from writing on the Sabbath. Frustrated, he promised himself to prevent a similar setup in the next election. But by the time state party officials announced the date of this year’s caucuses, Mr. Kantor realized that he would be barred again, unless they made special provisions. Mr. Kantor placed several calls to friends and colleagues he knew were influential in G.O.P. circles, including to his longtime friend Sheldon Adelson, a Jewish philanthropist and Republican donor. Within weeks, Mr. Kantor had a meeting with the Clark County party chairman. After considerable back and forth, Mr. Kantor was assured that he and other Orthodox Jews would be welcome during a special caucus Saturday night, hours after others would end.
Even by the most generous estimate, Jews make up just 3 percent of the population in Nevada. But they have a long history in Las Vegas — many of the pioneer developers were Jews, as are both the current and former mayor — and the number of Orthodox Jews has grown steadily over the last two decades. Suddenly, those Orthodox Jews have been thrust into the spotlight, and come Saturday night all eyes will be on the special caucus that is expected to draw, at most, a few hundred Sabbath observers. Rabbis in several congregations are urging their Republican congregants to show up, lest the public dismiss the caucus as a needless accommodation.
“It’s an important moment and milestone for us,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Davidowitz, who moved here with his family from Queens three years ago to help set up a full-time adult religious school known as a kollel. In New York, with a considerable Orthodox population, it would strike many politicians as inconceivable to even propose holding a major vote on a Saturday, Rabbi Davidowitz said, but here, it was hardly surprising that Republican leaders had not considered the Sabbath. “We’re small in number, that’s just the fact,” he said, “but we are getting bigger and people notice us.”