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A Real Spiritual High: Welcome to Denver’s Cannabis Havdalah

Weed, now legal, finds its place in Jewish ritual

Rebecca Spence
August 24, 2017
Unbound Photographic
Unbound Photographic
Unbound Photographic
Unbound Photographic

Last Saturday night, as observant Jews marked the end of the Sabbath by smelling fragrant herbs—cinnamon, cloves, or in Sephardic tradition, a myrtle branch—a group of cannabis enthusiasts gathered in Denver to bid farewell to the Sabbath bride with a different kind of herb: one that’s only been legal in the state of Colorado for the last five years.

Dina Muchnick, a cannabis industry branding specialist who led the service for the Mile-High City’s first Chai Havdalah, said it makes perfect sense. “It’s supposed to be a smell you find pleasant and uplifting,” said the 33-year-old Muchnick, who grew up Modern Orthodox on Long Island. “And for me, there’s nothing more pleasant and uplifting than a good strain of cannabis.”

(The strain, in fact, was a citrusy hybrid called Iced Grapefruit.)

Denver’s Chai Havdalah—more party than religious gathering—was the second in a series of Jewish-themed cannabis events organized by Catherine Goldberg, an L.A.-based social media marketer and event producer for the burgeoning cannabis business. Goldberg, 28, attended Sarah Lawrence College before moving to San Francisco, and eventually to L.A., where she found plenty of Jewish events and plenty of cannabis events, but none that addressed the crossover.

“I wanted to combine the two things I love most in the world, which are Judaism and weed,” said Goldberg. “And have a party.”

Last month, Goldberg hosted her first Chai Havdalah in the backyard of a private home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Her second effort, held at a high-ceilinged venue in Denver’s historic Baker district, drew a crowd of about 100 hipsters and Jewish cannabis industry professionals who mingled over bagels and platters of weed-infused gravlax made by Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen, a local favorite.

A weed bar stocked with three different strains of Willie’s Reserve—Willie Nelson’s brand of flower—was tended by an affable budtender wearing black gloves and a black T-shirt printed with two gold chains: one with a Star of David, and above it one with the Hebrew letter ‘chai’ surrounded by the words “Let’s get.”

Jeffrey Zucker, a cannabis investor originally from Charleston, South Carolina, held court in an ante-room, where his company Dipstick Vapes provided the dabs—concentrated extracts of the marijuana plant—delivered through his company’s signature product, a cross between a vaporizer pen and an electronic dab rig called the Dipper.

A clean-cut 29-year-old wearing a button-down shirt and a gold Star of David pendant, Zucker was also there to promote his passion project, the America Israel Cannabis Association, which aims to strengthen ties between U.S. cannabis companies and their counterparts in Israel.

While some complained about the music—a three-piece acoustic band that kept the mood decidedly mellow for a Saturday night in Denver—Zucker said he was pleased with the high turn-out and the sense of community that the event, which cost $36 to attend, fostered.

“It’s no secret that there are a lot of Jews who love cannabis,” said Zucker. “And it gives us a reason to get together and share in traditions”—a good thing, he added, “even if we’re doing it in a non-traditional manner.”

Rebecca Spence is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is currently at work on her first novel.