Alternative Passover haggadahs seem to multiply every year, but there’s only one that asks “Was the Burning Bush a burning bowl?” and “Were the High Priests high?”
Welcome to the Cannabis Passover Haggadah from Le’Or (“to the light”), a social justice nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon, dedicated to “illuminating Jewish perspectives on drug policy reform.”
The haggadah, which substitutes four bowls of marijuana for the four cups of wine and reminds readers “Don’t forget to pack a bowl for Elijah before the service!” strikes a balance between light and serious.
“May we taste the saltiness that represents the tears of the millions of Americans hurt by the violence of the War on Drugs,” reads one passage.
The haggadah and cannabis seder are the brainchild of Le’Or’s founders, Roy and Claire Kaufmann, who held their first adults-only cannabis seder last year with about 40 people.
“The feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive, with people calling it ‘transformational,’ ” Roy Kaufmann said in a phone interview. Many of the invited guests were connected with drug policy reform, he said, and they were used to looking at the issue through either a scientific or a policy framework.
“But they rarely had thought about it from a spiritual or Jewish perspective,” he said. “This gave them a chance to revisit this work they’re doing with a new light.”
The Kaufmanns are a professional couple; he does public relations for a university and she works in marketing for a marijuana-industry research company. They have three children and belong to a Conservative synagogue.
In founding Le’Or, the couple “came out of the cannabis closet” after tiring of the stigma associated with marijuana use. Furthermore, Kaufmann said, after being involved in the movement to end the marijuana ban — it’s now legal for recreational use in Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Colorado, and signatures are being collected for a November ballot issue in California — he saw that the push was successful primarily because of community engagement around the issue.
“What accelerated my idea to do something in the Jewish community was that a lot of these communities have not spoken up because of the stigma, but dafka, [precisely because] so many Jews I knew growing up smoked weed and still do,” said Kaufmann. “And the most prominent voices in marijuana policy reform and research and in the emerging cannabis industry are Jews.”
But Kaufmann believes the issue speaks to a Jewish obligation to confront racial and social injustices. “Jews never faced the consequences that people of color faced for making the exact same choice, of buying or smoking some weed, because of white privilege,” he noted.
Kaufmann says no matter what one’s views are on cannabis, it is a fact that those who have been locked up for marijuana offenses are mostly people of color, and “the compassionate and moral thing to do is to not lock people up for choosing to smoke a plant.”
Kaufmann said he’s tried to engage numerous Jewish organizations on social media about the issue but has gotten no response.
He argues that organizations concerned with keeping young adults connected to Jewish life should be involved with the issue because support for legalizing marijuana and ending mass incarceration is “off the charts” among millennials.
“We are celebrating this Exodus from slavery and bondage to freedom, and at the same time, we’re commemorating the fact that millions of people all over the world are not living in freedom,” said Kaufmann, “not when it comes to the choice of what they consume or their own consciousness.”
He admitted that finding the right tone in the haggadah was tricky — wanting to make sure it didn’t come off as a stoner’s manual to Passover, while broaching such a serious topic.
The hope, Kaufmann said, is that people engage in a spiritual conversation about cannabis. “The spiritual piece of it is really important,” he said. “You can have friends over, eat food and smoke weed any night of the week. But the Passover seder is meant for us to take a break and reflect on our story, and what it means in our current context.”
The Cannabis Passover Haggadah can be downloaded at leor.life for a donation of $4.20.