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Ep. 234: Meet the Jews at the forefront of the psychedelic movement, in the 1950s and today

July 2, 2020

This week on Unorthodox, we explore the role Jews played in the American psychedelic movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and learn why some rabbis and spiritual leaders today are advocating for using psychedelics to unlock Jewish spiritual experiences.

First, we talk to Jesse Jarnow, author of Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America, who tells us about the emergence of psychedelic use in midcentury America, and the many Jews involved in that countercultural scene.

Then, contributor Alix Wall brings us the story of three Jews—a Holocaust survivor, a Bay Area rabbi, and a Harvard professor-turned-guru—who all advocate for psycheledics playing a larger role in our personal and communal lives.

Featured in this segment is Rabbi Zac Kamenetz, who is undergoing certification by the California Institute for Integral Studies to become the first rabbinic psychedelic guide. He wants to rekindle the mystical core of Jewish tradition, allowing Jews to connect with the divine through safe and supported experiences using a clinical model within a distinctly Jewish context.

Also featured is George Sarlo, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor from Hungary whose guided experience with ayahuasca in Mexico healed his childhood trauma and lifelong depression, and also brought him back into the Jewish community. He established the George Sarlo Foundation to provide funding and research for the use of psychedelics to treat addiction and trauma. Dr. Gabor Maté was the friend who convinced Sarlo to try psychedelics as treatment for trauma, an approach pionered by Dutch psychiatrist Jan Bastiaans, who treated hundreds of Holocaust survivors with psychedelic drugs. This segment was produced by Noah Levinson.

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