Jewish community members speaking to the IJCA. Photograph courtesy of Batya Frank-Messenger.
The International Jewish Cannabis Association (IJCA) is on a mission to educate their community about the sacred history of cannabis that is rooted within Judaism.
Batya Frank- Messenger is the National Director of the IJCA. She specifies how the association prioritizes reclaiming the cannabis narrative in the Jewish community. While also providing a platform for Jewish cannabis industry professionals.
The moral foundation of Judaism is largely based on the phrases tzedakah and tikkun olam. Messenger explains, “tzedakah means charity and tikkun olam means to affect the world in a positive way and basically heal it back to its perfect state of being.”
Therefore, the IJCA emphasizes the importance of unity and how cannabis plays a role in the ancestral healing of Jewish people. Founded by Ben Tzion Temer, the IJCA is a 501C3 non-profit organization that pours their earnings into outreach efforts. Currently they have four main programs. These include the Gift of the Garden tours, Rahamim, the GrowTogether Multi-faith and Multicultural Initiative and the Kahne Bosm Sisterhood club.
IJCA’s Outreach Programs
The psychological impact of the Holocaust is still an ever present trauma that Jewish people must work to continuously overcome. In order to fight the generational influence of their traumatic history, the IJCA brings awareness to this obstacle with the Kahne Bosm Sisterhood. Specifically, the club uses cannabis and other indigenous plant medicine as therapy. They hope to redirect their trauma into conversations that help unify Jewish women.
“The Kahne Bosm sisterhood is there to infuse experiences with our Jewish rituals and healing retreats with the use of entheogens. […] So maybe we can start to release some of those blocks and let our souls out in order to see exactly what type of tikkun olam could come from true healing,” Messenger explains.
In short, Messenger argues that tikkun olam could be expressed in a new light with the help of cannabis. She recognizes, “there’s a little bit of ego dissolution that happens when you consume cannabis. […] Let’s have these conversations when you’re in that state of openness rather than just immediately put up a wall.”
Additionally, the IJCA’s Grow Together Multi-faith and Multicultural Initiative stimulates a collective conversation with cultures and religions outside of Judaism. Messenger explains, “I want to be able to address some of the concerns that Jews may not even be aware of when it comes to religious use of substances. Not just cannabis but all plant substances in entheogenic use and how it’s used in their practices and how they regard it as sacred.”
The IJCA also hosts their Gift from the Garden tours which elaborate on the sacred history of cannabis in Judaism. Currently, the association is reinventing these interactive educational seminars into an accessible online forum. However, they will also continue in-person events, which the Florida, New York and California chapters host.
The Roots of Cannabis in Judaism
Ultimately, the IJCA aims to dispel the “reefer madness” stereotype of cannabis within the Jewish community. Justifiably, many Jewish people are prone to mistrust society because, similarly to cannabis, they too are victims of inaccurate narratives that American society perpetuates.
Therefore, the IJCA’s initiatives invite trusted sources within the community to discuss the benefits of medical cannabis. As well as the evidence of cannabis use in the Torah. Through these efforts they aim to influence older generations to consider using cannabis to alleviate their pains.
Messenger explains that in the 1970s, Sula Benet, a Polish Jew “discovered in her translation of Torah that Kaneh Bosm was mistranslated into fragrant cane.”
“It’s a terrible folly because if we know what cannabis does for our bodies, our brains and our spirit, we realize that we can’t just use any fragrant cane in place for the anointing oil,” she says.
The conversation about religious texts emphasizing the use of cannabis and other indigenous herbs is evolving. Natural knowledge is innately present in indigenous cultures. Yet, these cultures’ people and plants are marginalized because they do not align with traditional Western values. However, Messenger believes society is on the verge of a reconciliation of indigenous medicine.
The IJCA hopes that this newfound understanding of the Torah will motivate a change of heart. The initiative, Rahamim, connects people with doctors that provide free medical cannabis evaluations and medical cards.
Messenger’s Cannabis Confidence
Messenger is an advocate for cannabis within the Jewish community. But above all, her experience as a mom led her to medical cannabis.
“I am a canna-mom. Back in 2017 when my daughter was three, she started suffering from seizures and a lot of other odd neurological symptoms. It took a bit to figure out what was going on. […] We tried steroid injections and a lot of different medications. Nothing was helping and if it did help, it sedated her too much,” Messenger recalls.
Consequently, Messenger’s physician suggested that she look into the medicinal benefits of cannabis. After a few discussions with her physician, she was eager to see if CBD could help her daughter’s Pediatric Acute-Onset Neurodegenerative Syndrome (PANS). According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) information center, PANS is an auto-immune disorder that is caused by an abnormal inflammatory response in the brain.
Messenger describes, “she was getting brain inflammation in the Basal Ganglia region of the brain. It was causing her to have seizures, uncontrollable muscle spasms, hallucinations, slurred speech, forgetfulness and a lot of different things.”
Nevertheless, after Messenger’s daughter received her first dose of CBD, some of her symptoms subsided almost immediately. Messenger remembers, “when she woke up a few hours later, she was making eye contact and moving her hands normally. She didn’t have piano fingers. She was able to grasp her crayons and she actually wanted to color. Which she hadn’t done in months, because she was able to grasp the crayons correctly.”
Furthermore, her daughter’s seizures went away instantly. Shortly after, Messenger explains that they began to see their daughter regain normal speech patterns. She also increased mental faculty and intelligence. Now, Messenger’s daughter is almost eight years old and considered gifted with a high IQ.
Messenger’s Future Motives
Throughout the journey of trial and error with CBD, Messenger learned how different cannabinoids were able to control different symptoms of her personal ailments. These realizations led her to become a devout cannabis activist and a Cannabinoid Committee Advisor of the Midwest Hemp Council.
Notably, Messenger advocates for cannabis within the Jewish community because she wants to help navigate anti-semitism in the cannabis industry. Her efforts to dismantle the vilification of cannabis and the Jewish community are based on her desire to affect the world in a positive way, tikkun olam. She also aspires to explore the full potential of Judaism’s sacred rituals by including cannabis.
Messenger expresses, “as a Jewish woman in cannabis, I would like to see this plant respected. Let’s move away from degrading it, disrespecting it and over-consuming it. Let’s try to restore it back to its sacred state.”