Las Vegas Sun

December 6, 2021

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Though religious group’s efforts are noble, tackling issues won’t come without making enemies

Community Convention

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J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

As Cantor Mariana Gindlin sang “Eili, Eili,” the packed ballroom at the UNLV student center hushed. Just moments before, they were boisterous and cheerful, singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Now, though, the solemnity of the Hebrew song and its searching plea to God hit the crowd fiercely, and I felt a bit of a chill.

After I got home, I learned that the lyrics to “Eili, Eili” were written by Hannah Senesh, a poet soldier who was executed by the Nazis after parachuting into Europe to try to save Hungarian Jews.

These people were gathered, more than 1,000 of them, for the first public meeting of Nevadans for the Common Good, an organization of religious groups, schools and nonprofits that have assembled to solve some of the Las Vegas Valley’s most pressing social problems. Although they have deep theological differences that go back thousands of years, they have come together.

“We are not alone. We walk side by side,” said Rabbi Malcolm Cohen of Temple Sinai.

You might say they are offering a collective cry of “Enough!” Enough of the suffering — the crime, the poverty, the ignorance — and of the indifference to suffering.

“It’s about time,” the Rev. Camille Pentsil of Zion United Methodist Church said to cheers.

It was an impressive dose of moral seriousness in a community awash in snake oil and its prodigious sales force.

In March 2008, Las Vegas had a particularly bad week that portended of what was to come, with news of a hepatitis C outbreak, the arraignment of a county official, a school shooting, a police shooting and a botched political convention. I wrote a story that tried to make sense of it all, and I remember trying to think of whom to call to get some deep insight into the careening path of our city.

Civic leaders, philanthropists, public intellectuals? Think about it for a second. Who are the real leaders of our community? Who would we turn to in times of crisis or moral confusion? Whom have we turned to in the past few years?

I wound up talking to the Rev. Kevin McAuliffe, who was then the vicar general of the Las Vegas Roman Catholic Diocese. You might recognize the name because he was recently sent to federal prison for stealing money from parishioners to feed his gambling addiction.

And so I welcome Nevadans for the Common Good, if only for injecting a sense of gravitas, steeped in ancient wisdom, into our public discourse. (A UNLV professor recently described our public discourse as “low information,” which was his polite way of saying “stupid.”)

This group, which has been working for three years to finally go public, isn’t satisfied, however, with esoteric moral treatises. It is committed to action in five areas: home foreclosures and neighborhood blight, human trafficking, public education, the problems of immigrants, and suffering of the vulnerable elderly.

I wish I could tell them that these intractable problems could be solved by profound sermons and sublime music, both of which were much on display Tuesday.

In fact, to help solve these problems, they must wrestle the beast in Carson City, taking on the powerful forces that protect the status quo. They will make enemies. Although their religion may implore them to love their enemies, we’ll need them to slay those enemies.

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