When Cary Neiman named his cannabis company Mazel Tov Farms in 2016, he had no idea just how much luck it would bring him.
“I don’t necessarily believe in God, and I’m not a religious person by nature, but I really love the sense of community I’ve gotten from my connection to Judaism,” he said. “And I thought that was really a kind of interesting and potentially special place to launch a brand from.”
But the name also opened the doors for chance Jewish connections, which ended up turning the company’s fortunes around after suffering huge losses in the 2017 Tubbs Fire.
“That wouldn’t have happened, I believe, if I hadn’t named my brand Mazel Tov Farms,” said Neiman.
While it was founded just a few years ago, Mazel Tov’s genesis can be traced back to 2009 when Neiman, a Chicagoan, met Melissa Whitley, from Santa Cruz, at a punk show in Chicago. They started dating, and eventually made their way to Santa Rosa and found property with land suitable to embark on their plans to raise a family and launch a cannabis company brand.
“I was brainstorming, myself, out in my grow — that’s where I do all my thinking,” Neiman said. “And it dawned on me that I really wanted to include and embrace my Judaism and my Jewish history into whatever I was going to undertake next.”
The brand was growing when disaster struck in October 2017 and the Tubbs Fire ravaged several North Bay communities. “We got completely wiped out,” Neiman said. “Our residence, our grow, our vehicles, our storage, just everything. [It] was a big bummer, and was potentially, I thought, the end of Mazel Tov.”
Neiman and Whitley evacuated safely with their young son, but they lost everything (luckily their cat, Billy Ray Valentine, turned up three days later). Disheartened, they weren’t sure about reviving Mazel Tov Farms. But after regrouping, they decided to start again in Carmel Valley, where Neiman’s parents live.
It was in Carmel Valley that Neiman was introduced to another Jewish Cary in the cannabis industry; Cary Stiebel, now head of brand development for Mazel Tov Farms, owned The Reef, a dispensary in the coastal community of Seaside.
“He was a Jewish fellow who owned a cannabis store and really understood what I wanted to do,” Neiman said.
The Reef began distributing Mazel Tov products. In 2020, Neiman was working there, showing customers his wares, when the door opened and a young man and his parents entered the store. They looked familiar, somehow.
Delighted to meet fellow Jews, Neiman handed them Mazel Tov Farms stickers. And once again, making that Jewish connection meant another step forward for the company. The encounter led to a business partnership with the young man, Kaiya Bercow, who owns a cannabis extraction factory. Now, with the experienced Bercow on board as chief operating officer, the new iteration of Mazel Tov Farms is focused on locally sourced, high-quality cannabis flowers sold in 4-gram jars that are available to customers around the Bay Area. Strains available include Kosher Kush, of course.
“As a Jewish-focused company, we couldn’t afford to not release a Kosher Kush strain,” Bercow said.
The company also sells resin cartridges for vaping with names such as Diesel Tov and L’chaim Lemon, and a range of merchandise featuring “Mazel Tov” in Hebrew and a hamsa bud logo. Its products are available across the Greater Bay Area through Society Jane, the San Francisco-based, women-led “cannabis concierge” delivery service helmed by Andy Greenberg.
Greenberg said Society Jane was looking for new products and Mazel Tov’s fit the bill for their high quality and purity. She also said that the overtly Jewish identity of Mazel Tov Farms had resonance of its own.
“I frequently refer to ‘bal tashchit,’ a basic Jewish value of cherishing the earth and not destroying it,” she said in an email to J. “The healing, compassion and social justice tenets of Judaism have parallels in cannabis culture. Especially given the history of cannabis policy in this country and how racist its roots are, the mandates of Tikkun Olam are timely. I think the overt Jewish identity of MTF will appeal to consumers who are looking for products from companies that celebrate those values.”
The fact that Stiebel, Neiman and Bercow are all Jewish and in the cannabis industry in Carmel Valley is still a matter of surprise to Neiman.
“The three Jews in cannabis, and we found each other!” he said.
Whitley, who is Black, said that although there aren’t many Jews in the area, “there are more [Jews] than Black people, believe it or not.”
She’s in the process of converting, something motivated by the community she’s found at Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel, and by seeing her children, who are 8 and 3, as they enjoy being part of Jewish life.
“I have practiced as many of the cultural rituals that I knew of since we had our first-born,” she said. “Last year after going to our local synagogue and meeting the rabbi, I was moved to start studying, so me and Rabbi [Bruce] Greenbaum are working together.”
“Her Hebrew is better than mine!” interjected Neiman.
“I was really looking for community,” Whitley said. “And I found it at our synagogue.”
Now she sees herself as a bridge between communities, as well. “There are a lot of Jews of color who have reached out to me and been awesome and welcoming to me, and I want the two worlds to blend,” she said.
To that end, Whitley is using her role in managing branding and social media to spread the word not only about Mazel Tov Farms and the benefits of cannabis, but also about Judaism. A recent post about Tu B’Shevat on the company’s Twitter encouraged people to “plant a tree and smoke some trees.”
“There are people that don’t know anything about Judaism,” she said. “And if I can drop little tidbits and information in one of our posts to someone who just likes our weed and doesn’t know much about Jewish culture, I feel like my job is done.”