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It may come as a surprise to many that marijuana use isn't completely foreign or taboo to religious rituals. Cannabis isn't a stranger to Jews, either. And as the burgeoning marijuana industry continues to grow worldwide, Israel remains a key player in the science of cannabis, and will perhaps play a major influence at the intersection of religion and marijuana.

At least that's what the American Israel Cannabis Association (AICA) hopes will happen.

Founded in 2015, AICA identified a gap between two critical players of the same industry. The organization offers cannabis business consulting, educational materials and webinars, and a network of American and Israeli cannaprenures in their members-only directory.

The AICA is putting in work into its network. It had a re-introduction event on Nov. 28, 2018, in Denver with “over 70+ cannabis professionals and people that are interested in cannabis in the Denver community” in attendance, according to AICA chief operating officer Sara Gluck.

Though already international, AICA is set on doing more globetrotting. “We plan on having events throughout the United States. We'll have our first event in New York City in January and essentially from there on in we'll be coast to coast ... and on the Dead Sea,” Gluck said.

Catherine Goldberg, the CEO of BrainBuzz and WeedBarLA who organized Marijuanukah, enjoys a rip of concentrate with a Dipstick Vape. (Photo by Brian Feinzimer.)

Catherine Goldberg, CEO of BrainBuzz and WeedBarLA, invited Los Angelenos, Jewish or not, to Marijuanukah, its first California-based and consumption-based event on Dec. 8, 2018. The flier encouraged invitees to “get lit like the menorah.”

Hanukkah, also spelled Chanukah, is a festival celebrating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the “miracle of light.” This gave way to the eight-day wintertime “festival of lights” observed with a nightly menorah lighting, prayer and songs, fried foods, good company, and now cannabis.

The impetus for Goldberg and the AICA dreaming up a Hanukkah dinner with cannabis was simple: 'We love being Jewish and we love weed,' Goldberg said. Click To Tweet

The impetus for Goldberg and the AICA dreaming up a Hanukkah dinner with cannabis was simple: “We love being Jewish and we love weed,” Goldberg said. She addressed the complexity of being Jewish and a stoner, and hoped Marijuanukah would be a place those barriers didn't exist.

“As Jewish stoners, I think a lot of people felt like they had to hide that they consume weed,” she said. “We just want to show that there are intellectuals of all ages who consume weed and do really cool things in the world. We want that lightheartedness and pride to come through.”

The Hanukkah menorah symbolizes the “miracle of light,” when according to the Talmud, olive oil that was used to light the candleabrum in the Temple of Jerusalem fueled flames for eight days when there was only a day's worth of oil. The ninth candle in the center is used to light the other eight candles during the eight-day commemoration. (Photo by Brian Feinzimer.)

Goldberg and the AICA also wanted the occasion of Marijuanukah to shed light on terror and offer hope. The event flier invited attendees to donate to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a Jewish-American nonprofit organization founded in 1881 that provides aid to refugees worldwide, regardless of ethnicity, faith, or gender. “When the massacre in Pittsburgh [the Oct. 27, 2018, shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue] happened, the shooter had made a reference to the HIAS, blaming them for allowing Jews to come to America, we decided to combat that with some love and good,” Goldberg told Weedmaps News.

Marijuanukah was celebrated Dec. 8, 2018, near the conclusion of the Hanukkah holiday. Organizers opened the elevated ceremony to people of all faiths. (Photo by Brian Feinzimer.)

Gluck was hopeful Marijuanukah would spark curiosity. “I want people to open their minds to what is going on in Israel in the cannabis space ... and how we can leverage [that] to improve the cannabis space for everyone.”

A First-Person View of a 'Festival of Lit'

As a curious, open-minded stoner looking to broader her horizons, I happily accepted the Marijuanukah invitation. A menorah lighting, bomb food, good company, and weed? Uh, yes, please.

The Festival of Lit took place in a private Mediterranean-style home nested in a secluded neighborhood in west Los Angeles, California. The patio's fire pit roared and cast a bright, orange glow on guests as they ate, drank, and smoked while holding conversations. The atmosphere resembled a family gathering where the family members are incredibly cool and smoke weed.

A guest pours a cannabis-infused drink from 420 Foodie Club on Dec. 8, 2018, during Marijuanukah. (Photo by Brian Feinzimer.)

It was exactly what Goldberg wanted out of the party: “Come out and socialize, feel totally comfortable, have a good nosh and leave with a smile on their face.”

There was a plethora of goodies from cannabis brands — Bhang, Jewish Sauce Boss, Mozen and Dipstick Vapes, to name a few — to enjoy and the food was a combination of stoner staples, such as  glazed doughnuts, alongside the traditional Hanukkah dishes: latkes (fried potato pancakes), applesauce, and red wine for Havdalah.

Cannabis and conversation were both in abundance Dec. 8, 2018, during the Marijuanukah celebration in Southern California. (Photo by Brian Feinzimer.)

Havdalah is a Jewish ceremony that marks the end of the Sabbath, and in this case Shevat, the eleventh month in the Hebrew Calendar. Goldberg explained the purpose of Havdalah: “The whole point of that is to start the week off on a good note. We wish each other 'shavua tov,' it means have a 'good week.' We want to create a space where people aren't on their phones, they're making eye contact and laughing, eating, and smoking."

And the guests were certainly relaxed and friendly. Later in the night the attention turned to Goldberg to ring in the ceremony. A braided candle was lit, and we began to sing.

Marijuanukah celebrants mark the Havdalah, the prayer to conclude the Sabbath, on Dec. 8, 2018. (Photo by Brian Feinzimer.)

I had never heard of Havdalah until Gluck and Goldberg explained it to me. I was intimidated, slightly tipsy-faded, and certain I would butcher the words. But I was fortunate when the person leading the prayer made it easy for the other newcomers and I to follow along and really get into it.

Allena Braithwaite of Weedmaps News smokes a joint on Dec. 8, 2018, during Marijuanukah, which combines cannabis with the Jewish traditions of Hanukkah. (Photo by Brian Feinzimer.)

At the end of the night, we wished the people around shavua tov, the candle was extinguished and we drank our cups of wine. The idea of Marijuanukah started with the notion of educating, promised a night of engaging consumption, and delivered a unique experience that shed light on cannabis' power to bond and bless people. Regardless of your spirituality, the event transcended belief systems. For me, Marijuanukah had proved that cannabis could be sacred; that a plant that was demonized for decades could be applied in ritual purity. And in this new era of marijuana, that's exciting.