Claire and Roy Kaufmann are co-founders of Le’Or, a Jewish activist organization based in Portland, Oregon. Their cannabis seder on April 15 was their second such event. Over 70 individuals from the cannabis industry, along with drug law reformers, clergy, civic leaders, and others were present. In a recent radio interview, Claire described the connection between Judaism and cannabis, the purpose of this annual event, and its relevance to ending the War on Drugs. Here are excerpts from this broadcast. “So, what is Passover? The Jewish holiday of Passover is the most observed holiday, more than Rosh Hashanah, more than Hannakuh, more than Yom Kippur. A larger percentage of Jews go to a Passover Seder than anything else. “The holiday of Passover commemorates the Jewish exodus from Egypt. We weren’t always slaves. We were actually a very vocal and well-respected minority. The Pharaoh came to power and perceived us as a threat, and he enslaved the Hebrews, as they were called at that time. The story of Passover is a ritual. Seder is the Hebrew word for order. To commemorate this experience of being slaves over time and of our liberation, the ritual of the Passover seder evolved. The seder is a ritual order of doing particular things that help us remember. “Passover is not only about celebrating our own redemption, our own freedom, it’s about reminding ourselves of our responsibility to fight for the freedom of all people. In fact, a civil rights seder has been around since the 1960s. There are all kinds of seders –chocolate seders, feminism seders, any kind of seder you can imagine, always overlaid over the traditional stories. “It all works very well because the stories of the exodus from Egypt, and the end of slavery arc eloquently over the story of cannabis legalization and the end of the War on Drugs. We are remembering how lucky we are to be free while not forgetting the roads we have ahead of ourselves to bring an end to federal prohibition. We must make sure that people are not incarcerated for something that is a healing plant. “One of the important things about Passover is that we talk not just physically being slaves but what enslaves us mentally, whether that’s money, or whether that’s ego, or whether that’s perfectionism. And cannabis, in a way, is about freedom of consciousness, freedom of thought. “We find a breadth of reactions to the cannabis seder. One of the reasons we founded Le’Or, and felt that we even had a mission to play, is that we spent our whole first year researching why the Jewish community wasn’t coming out of the gate, being more vocal on legalizing cannabis. “Never mind the fact that Israel is one of the leading medical cannabis research countries in the world; or Ethan Nadelmann, former executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, is the son of a rabbi; or that Seth Rogen made a movie Pineapple Express. People always say Jews and cannabis go together like bagels and lox, and that’s absolutely true. “As we began to create Le’Or we found that rabbis were not interested in talking about this issue- — at all. The rabbis basically said ‘There’s no reason why I should touch this issue with a ten-foot pole. It’s a liability for me, my donors are doctors and lawyers, you know, why bother?’ So we realized this had to come from the ground up if it was to be movement that came from the Jewish community. “Our idea for a cannabis seder began to be pretty well-received in the reformed and conservative and more progressive communities, but not as well-received in the traditional communities. The Passover Seder is such a holy thing that bringing cannabis into it from their perspective feels diminishing, whereas we would see it as elevating the conversation. “In Hebrew, the word for cannabis is “kineboisin”, which appears multiple times in the Torah. Cannabis actually is part of the holy anointing oils at the Temple. So Jews and cannabis have been friends for a long time. Also, the orthodox rabbis, I believe in New York, just said cannabis is kosher. “At BDS Analytics, we found that people are using cannabis for very specific reasons, whether it’s for very specific physical ailments, or, in this case, for example, for very specific spiritual needs. “What we’re discovering is that people aren’t just smoking pot for fun. People do that. But it seems more and more people are finding a role for cannabis to play in their lives. And I believe spirituality is part of that. There’s that nexus between our spirit and the cannabis plant itself.”
Twenty years ago, on the eve of my conversion to Judaism and my marriage, I addressed a letter to my Rabbi explaining why I chose to become Jewish. My Rabbi, Leon Kahane, was a holocaust survivor, a police chaplain, as well as my spiritual leader even before my conversion. In my work as a police officer I had the honor of spending countless hours with him. He tended not just to the Jewish community, but to all those he came in contact with. Despite the many losses he suffered, Rabbi said his experience resolved him to make the world better. He made me a better police officer by reminding me that compassion, justice and redemption are tenets not just of religion, but should always be goals of law enforcement.
I’m an American Jew. I’m descended from Jews who immigrated to the United States from Europe in the early 1900s. Growing up, I attended a Hebrew day school, became a bar mitzvah, celebrated the High Holy Days and Hanukkah, went to a Jewish summer camp, traveled to Israel, kept kosher (at times) and ate a fair share of kugel, gefilte fish, and bagels with lox and shmear. But my Jewish experience has been about more than traditions, holidays, and matzo ball soup. Judaism instilled in me a passionate commitment to social justice which manifested in my role as an advocate for harm reduction.
Our guest blogger, Rabbi Dr. Rachel S. Mikva, is the Herman Schaalman Chair in Jewish Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary and Director of the Center for Jewish, Christian and Islamic Studies. Suddenly there’s bipartisan enthusiasm for criminal justice reform. Forty years after liberal and conservative forces joined to restrict discretionary sentencing, thirty years after launching a futile war on drugs, twenty years after a Democratic president signed the “three strikes” law, the winds are shifting. It is still politically dangerous to be seen as soft on crime, but “smart on crime” is in. We now talk about public safety rather than law and order.
“Clergy for a New Drug Policy” seeks to mobilize clergy across faiths in opposition to the War on Drugs, and in support of treating drug use as a health issue, not a criminal one. Here Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, Rector and Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy at American Jewish University, presents a Jewish perspective on drug policy reform.
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