On the surface, it’s reasonable to assume that my life in Los Angeles is as close to a vacation as you can get.
I’m surrounded by palm trees, I overpay for everything and even after taking Spanish for three years, I still don’t speak the local language.
But like many L.A. residents, for a true vacation, I make a point of traveling to the one place where I truly let loose of it all: Las Vegas.
Though I’m not really the betting man, there’s nothing more cathartic than ridding your mind and body of the superficial complexities that money elicits. Lay by the pool, enjoy the heat and lose hundreds of dollars in a single sitting.
It’s that easy.
And whether you bet on black, red, 7, 18 or 36, a Vegas vacation can still be a mentally (if not financially) rewarding experience.
Las Vegas resident and expatriate Pittsburgher Adam Brustein bets on 13 almost every weekend, and without even entering a casino. That’s because, he’s one of the city’s biggest b’nai-mitzva tutors.
A Squirrel Hill native, Brustein, 36, divides his time between teaching high school special education and running the b’nai mitzva program for the largest Conservative synagogue in Nevada.
“I just like the fact that I’m able to positively influence kids,” Brustein said, “and I like the relationships that build and the connections that I make with the community.”
In addition to tutoring at the synagogue, Brustein also reads Torah on a regular basis and runs about half of the tutoring for the local Reform synagogue as well. Along with his wife of three years, Robyn, and new baby girl, he leads a happy life in the Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nev., and says he “couldn’t be happier with how his life has turned out.”
Adam got his start working at Tree of Life Congregation from 1988 to 1997. The Allderdice grad earned his undergraduate degree from Pitt in 1995 and his graduate degree from Duquesne in 1997. He taught with the Pittsburgh Public Schools for six months before moving to Vegas in 1998.
“I always wanted to live in the western part of U.S.” said Adam. “I had been to Vegas on vacation and I thought it’d be cool to not have to go home.”
But just because he happens to live in Vegas doesn’t mean he stays in Vegas.
“We really don’t go to the strip unless we have company or a special occasion,” said Brustein. “We don’t do that on a regular basis.”
That’s because he finds his role in the community far more rewarding.
“I am proudest of the fact that I have worked very hard to make sure that our b’nai mitzva students stay involved Jewishly after the big day,” said Brustein, adding that he still works with students even after their b’nai mitzva.
But his connection to his students lies deeper than trope and chanting.
“I really try to lay out reasons behind things and tell them the straight truth and let them make their own decisions,” he said. “We just have to be more in tune with the message of Judaism than the minutia of Judaism.”
Of course, as content as he is with Sin City, Adam admits that he still misses Yinz City.
“It’s the people, which really make Pittsburgh unique,” Brustein said. “That you’d walk down the street and you’re constantly seeing people you know — that’s my favorite thing about Pittsburgh.”
And if anyone ever gets tired of that, there’s always the cathartic experience of a weekend at River’s Casino.
(Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and Web editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)