Most peoples’ social lives revolve around alcohol to some degree, whether it be sipping wine over dinner, or drinking beers at a summer BBQ. For those, like myself, who don’t drink, there was always a persistent feeling that we didn’t belong. While there was often a place to smoke during parties, it was usually hidden away in someone’s bedroom, as if it was something to be ashamed of.
When I attended my first cannabis party shortly after moving to LA, my eyes were opened. We were no longer relegated to the back rooms. Finally, there were places we could openly socialize without fear of stigmatization.
Cannabis parties and events quickly became an integral part of my life; however, it soon became clear that these parties lacked a much needed cohesiveness. Dark, too noisy and with minimal to no food, the cannabis community hadn’t yet figured out how to pull off a successful event. Thinking about what was missing from the cannabis party scene led me create WeedBar LA, an events company specializing in cannabis experiences.
For our inaugural event, I wanted to do something personal, something that would combine my love of cannabis with my Jewish faith—and so, Chai Havdalah (pronounced high for you goyim) was born. An event that perfectly merges my two worlds together, where people can enjoy a smoke, nosh and a cathartic kvetch for a perfect night.
Jewish neuroticism is a played out stereotype, but it is rooted in fact as Jews are genetically more prone to anxiety disorders. Several leaders in the Jewish community have recently begun to speak out about the ways that cannabis can benefit the community, both on the individual and global scale.
In Judaism, the concept of Tikkun Olam refers to acts of goodness that can help repair the world, and cannabis is my avenue to do just that. It has helped alleviate my personal anxiety, which has allowed me to lead a healthier, more spiritual lifestyle. I feel that it is my responsibility as a Jew to spread the word about the benefits of cannabis to a community that may initially be apprehensive about it, and Chai Havdalah is the perfect avenue.
Of course, Chai Havdalah is open to everyone, not just Jewish cannabis enthusiasts.
“I’ve never experienced a Shabbat or celebration of one, and it was a spectacular way to take in a different culture, food and religion,” said Kelsey Barney, executive budtender at WeedBar LA, who ran the dab bar at our kickoff event in Los Angeles. “I loved the reggae artist that wove a new Rihanna song so eloquently into the mix around joints and prayers.”
I first envisioned the event as Chai Shabbat, but since orthodox Jews refrain from doing anything, strenuous on the Sabbath, including driving and smoking, getting them to drive to a party to smoke would be nearly impossible, no matter how many free latkes I promised. On the other hand, a Havdalah, a ceremony that signifies the end of Shabbat, event seemed like the perfect fit.
With medicated and unmedicated treats, live chill reggae funk, dab and vape bars, a collaborative paint-by-numbers community art piece, and even a few puppies, our first Chai Havdalah was more than I could’ve ever imagined; however, pulling it off as quickly as we did was a logistical nightmare.
Although it looked like a seamless process, there were plenty of last minute behind-the-scenes crises that kept us on our toes. At 5:30 p.m., a plumber arrived to fix the hot water for our 8 p.m. event. The brilliant Chef Holden, the former pastry chef at the Soho House, arrived at 6 p.m. and unloaded his gear, only to turn on the faucet to a few measly drops of stale water. The look on his face when no water came out is one of the reasons I need to smoke and meditate every day. The lack of running water wasn’t the last or most severe crises of the day.
“I was running around all day! As soon as I fixed one thing, something else would go wrong,” said Leah Younesi, director of events and chief operations officer for WeedBar LA. “Luckily, working in production for years prepared me for these types of situations (the water was shut off, a giant balloon letter went missing before the event started and the massive blackout 15 minutes into the party). The good thing that comes out of crises is that they make everybody band together and work even harder.”
Chef Holden served unmedicated brisket latkes, kugel balls and amazing medicated challah, which was the best challah I’ve ever had. Chef Holden is known for his baking and works with his sister, Rachel, on a co-op where they grow cannabis outdoors. Mitzvah Herbal, the only Kosher-certified edible cannabis product on the market, provided the rest of the food. The owners of Mitza Herbal, Shifra and her husband Sender, an Orthodox rabbi, led the Havdalah service.
I was stunned as our guests began to arrive: lawyers, writers, grandmas and newlyweds. I had brought people from all walks of life together. It was a dream come true.
With the success of the first event, we’re taking Chai Havdalah on the road!
Our next Havdalah event will be held on August 19 in Denver, Colorado, and it will feature a make-your-own infused bagel and lox bar sponsored by Rosenberg’s Bagels.
While some rush to the cannabis industry for the potential profits, like it’s a modern day gold rush, those already in the industry know that it is the community that makes it a great place to work, and anything that can bring that community together is something special.