About The Schmooze

Israeli Startups Aim To Make Israel The Land Of Milk, Honey, And Cannabis

At a midtown Manhattan hotel at the Israeli Cannabis Investor Symposium, a distinct stench hung in the conference room: air-freshener.

Power points and glossy printouts sat where pipes and bongs might have enjoyed places of honor. Suits and polo shirts hung on bodies that seemed unlikely to have ever enjoyed the pleasant debilitation of a muzzled hippocampus, or the soaring effects of chemically-elevated dopamine. Cold brew, perspiring in plastic cups, was the only drug in the room.

If anyone was high at the iCanConnect Symposium, a pitch-day for Israeli and Israel-adjacent cannabis entrepreneurs, they weren’t showing it. The event, run by CannaTech, a group that throws international conferences for cannabis merchants and purveyors, was all business. A moderate bonanza of startups seeking funding for cannabis-based businesses, it offered not one thing to smoke, vape, munch, or apply as tincture.

And so it was without so much as a puff of smoke that Ambassador Dani Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York, appeared in the room seemingly out of nowhere, leaping on stage. “If you want to understand how strategic and important this industry is in the eyes of Israelis, I will just mention one mere fact that is sometimes overlooked,” he roared into the microphone. “Israel has only two living former Prime Ministers — Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.” He gazed around the room.

“Both,” he said, “Are in the medical cannabis industry.”

A tidy-looking man in a gray suit and a kippah took the stage with a presentation loaded with charts and data, and I began, imperceptibly, to think about burritos. By the time I tuned back in, he was saying, “When we have hundreds of clones from the mother plant we then damage the leaves and put them into different petri dishes, and those grow into clones.”

Was the coffee laced with sativa?? The man — Michael Kagan, the CEO of ReaGenics — explained that cloning cannabis plants and growing them in photobioreactors owned by an Icelandic company that has already done this with algae circumvents issues around weather and land. This unnerving presentation was matched only by that of Inon Elroy, Israel’s Economic Minister to North America, who detailed how the Israeli government is working on branding weed products, partnering internationally with regulators like the FDA to prepare for Israeli cannabis products to be exported. Arriving at a slide labeled “Working Out Technicalities,” he sighed an Israeli-sounding sigh.

Chief among those technicalities, explained Doctor Nirit Bernstein, is the stigma and ignorance around cannabis that keeps gatekeepers — like government agencies and pharmaceutical companies — from embracing its possibilities. As the first scientist in Israel to receive a license to work with cannabis, Bernstein said that when she was tasked with researching the plant she thought, “Oh my god, drugs! What is my mother going to say?”

But her opinion changed as she learned more.

“Everyone will eventually be growing cannabis,” she said, simply, explaining that the plant has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, and cautioning that the next significant hurdle will be standardizing cannabis compounds so that they can be regulated for medical and commercial products. Doctor Robin Ely, who pioneered the treatment for Gaucher disease and now serves as a board member for iCan, derided the “evil canards” about cannabis, saying that they contribute to the fact that American medical schools don’t teach about the existence of “the primary regulating system of the body,” the human endocannabinoid system (which, among other functions, responds to cannabis.)

Mayor Tal Ohana, a sixth-generation Moroccan-Israeli and the first woman to lead her town of Yeruham, told the crowd that she, too, had initially fallen for the stigma around cannabis, before realizing its profound implications for the Israeli economy. “I got some phone call from some Russian guy, and he told me, ‘Hey Mayor! I want to open a pharmaceutical factory in your town,’” she recalled. “And I said, ‘No drugs in my town.’” But nearly half the factories in Yeruham had closed, and hundreds of citizens were out of work, so Ohana studied up and changed her mind.

“I am here to say that we are going to be the capital town of medical cannabis in Israel,” she said. “It’s a fact.” And why should people invest in newfangled factories in a desert town with no industry experience? “Because of Zionism,” she said. She fixed the audience with a stare that would make any Russian guy, drug dealer, or American angel investor stop in his tracks.

“Zionism. It’s important,” she said.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Feminist Role Models Are Two Jewish Women

In the last month, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was treated for cancer for the fourth time, addressed a crowd of 16,000 in Arkansas, and met her “Saturday Night Live” impersonator, Kate McKinnon. And on Wednesday night, she found time to address her very own tribe.

Well-heeled shul-goers, shaking and panting with the near-religious fervor of teens flagging down a boy band, snapped iPhone pictures as the 86-year-old Supreme Court justice took the podium to accept Moment Magazine’s inaugural Human Rights Award.

Ginsburg chose to speak about female Jewish luminaries. Specifically, she highlighted two audacious Jewish women who both strongly identified as Zionists: Emma Lazarus and Henrietta Szold.

“I am sometimes asked ‘Who were your role models?’” Ginsburg said. “The term role model was not yet in vogue in my childhood,” she added, with a Hermione Granger-ish glint. “But thinking back, I recall two Jewish women both raised in the USA whose humanity and bravery inspired me in my growing up years.”

“Emma Lazarus was a Zionist before that word came into vogue,” Ginsburg said, praising the 20th century Sephardic writer. “Her poem ‘The New Colossus,’ etched on the base of the Statue of Liberty, has welcomed legions of immigrants including my father and grandparents — people seeking in the U.S.A. shelter from fear, and longing to find freedom from intolerance.”

Letting this swipe at anti-immigration politics — or, depending how you look at it, accurate representation of US history — hang in the air, the Justice went on. “My next inspirer: Hadassah-founder Henrietta Szold.” Szlold, who was apparently gifted with the same bottomless energy as Ginsburg, was a university lecturer, a prolific writer and editor, and an organizer who helped save thousands of Jewish children during the Holocaust. She also started night schools to educate Jewish immigrants who arrived in America in the late 19th century, the same kind, the Justice added, that educated Ginsburg’s father when he first arrived in America.

Additionally, as Ginsburg proudly added, “She was a Zionist even before Theodore Herzl came on the scene.” It’s worth noting that Ginsburg has given this speech before, in nearly identical language, when she accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Genesis Prize group in the summer of 2018. But Ginsburg’s enthusiastic Zionism is worth noting — given how clearly she states her views, it’s interesting to note how rarely we hear of them from Ginsburg’s extremely loud fanbase.

“Szold particularly impressed me because she knew how to say no better than any other person whose words I have read,” Ginsburg went on. Szold, she explained, had a formative teenage experience identical to one Ginsburg had and has described on many occasions — when Szold’s mother died, she and her sisters were not allowed, to make up the minyan of mourners, a privilege that halakha affords only to men. When a family friend offered to recite Kaddish in Szold’s place, she turned him down in a gracious letter, which Ginsburg quoted from extensively. Ginsburg, too, was unable as a teen to join the group saying kaddish for her mother, an event she often refers to as a turning point in her life and practice of Judaism.

“You understand me, don’t you?” Szold’s letter concludes. Ginsburg looked out at her audience at these words so abruptly that people lowered their iPhones, as if they had been caught looking at them in services.

“Szold’s plea for celebration of our common heritage while tolerating, indeed appreciating, the differences among us concerning religious practice, is disarming,” Ginsburg said, staring down her trembling audience. “Don’t you agree?”

And we do.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

Disney’s First Jewish Princess Debuts In Time For Hanukkah

This Hanukkah season, the Disney universe will finally gain a princess who’s a member of the Tribe.

While Sarah Silverman sparked some hope and a lot of confusion last year by claiming her character in “Wreck-It Ralph” as the first Jewish princess, Disney has never included an officially kosher character. (We love Sarah, but a Jewish voice over actress doesn’t make a Jewish character — otherwise Pocahontas, voiced by Judy Kuhn, would be Jewish.) But on September 17, the entertainment giant announced its inaugural Hanukkah special, which will air on Disney Junior series “Elena of Avalor” and feature a princess from a “Latino Jewish kingdom.”

The special will star Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who’s known for playing a slightly different kind of princess: spoiled-but-sympathetic Mafia daughter Meadow from “The Sopranos.” Sigler, whose Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Cuban heritage make her a real-life analogue to her onscreen avatar, took to Twitter to celebrate her opportunity to play Disney’s first Jewish princess.

Parents have also expressed excitement at the prospect of new visibility for Jewish characters: Twitter user Meira Leah responded to Sigler’s tweet that “nothing excites (and confuses them since it’s so rare) my kids more than when Jews get some air time on kids shows.”

Other fans are skeptical, given the long absence of Jewish characters from Disney’s canon and the fact that Sigler appears as a guest star, rather than a protagonist in her own narrative. Referencing the frequent sidelining of Jewish characters in television, Kiddush Book Club host Jessica Russak-Hoffman tweeted “Can it be a Hanukkah episode and not a ‘Look, it’s Christmas, but that one girl is celebrating Hanukkah’ episode?” Sigler responded in the affirmative, seeming to signal a commitment to Jewish representation in the Magic Kingdom.

Popular on Disney Channel since its 2016 premiere, “Elena of Avalor” tells the story of a Latina princess, Elena Castillo Flores, who saves her kingdom from an evil sorceress and must now learn to govern. If her new Jewish friend is as much of a girl-boss as she is, there won’t be much time to make latkes — The Schmooze hopes Prince Charming will be a mensch and volunteer to help them out.

Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com

Netflix’s Paul Rudd Series Gives Us What We Want: More Paul Rudd

It’s said that if you put two Jews in a room, you get three opinions. What happens when you try it with two Paul Rudds?

In “Living With Yourself,” a Netflix original show set to drop October 18, Rudd stars as a capital-S schmuck with bad hair named Miles. (Though frankly, he still looks like a kindly toothpaste model.) Fed up with his dead-end job and bummer life, Miles visits a spa whose mysterious treatments promise to make him “a better you.” When he wakes up, he’s been literally replaced by a doppelganger with better hair, better clothes, and a better personality — played by a well-cast Paul Rudd. (This Rudd has been returned to his full Dorian Gray glory.) Which one will get to live Miles’ life? Comedy, chaos, and charmingly homoerotic Paul-on-Paul action ensues.

The show’s premise recalls Netflix’s more gimmicky series, but the trailer piques our interest with some quiet cultural jabs. Miles’ disgust as his coworkers stagger around the office in virtual reality glasses is a slap in the face to noxious tech bros everywhere, while the sleek-but-seedy spa evokes the booming wellness industry, which rakes in billions by dangling the prospect of self-improvement before customers.

We’re hoping for more veiled snark and explorations of universal (and universally Jewish) themes like identity, insecurity, and endless aspiration. At the very least, we promise there will be no shortage of Paul Rudd.

Irene Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

Israel Wants To Be The Capital Of Medical Cannabis

Toronto Strip Club Owner Was Also The ‘Best Zaidy You Could Have’

Girls! Girls! Girls! Rabbis! Rabbis! Rabbis!

That’s the backstory of one of Toronto’s most colorful characters, who died this week at 84.

But David Cooper, who owned the legendary Zanzibar strip club on Toronto’s bustling Yonge Street, was also a hugely successful real-estate mogul — and “the best zaidy you could have”, granddaughter Nicole Cooper told the Forward the day after the family wrapped up shiva. “Zanzibar kind of blocks people from seeing all the magnificent things he’s done,” she said. “He was someone to idolize.”

According to the Toronto Star, which ran a lengthy obituary last week, Cooper grew up in Kensington Market, then the center of Jewish Toronto. More a hustler than a scholar, he opened a small shop at age 18. Cooper met his future wife, Annette, at a dance at Toronto’s Jewish Y. “Annette came from an Orthodox family, and there was some concern about whether her family would accept the match,” the Star wrote.

“My grandfather was more the gangster type,” said Nicole Cooper, 25. “My grandmother was the daughter of a very famous rabbi, and was extremely religious. When she married my zaidy, my bubby kept everything kosher. She still does today. They loved each other so much, she allowed him to live how he needed to. And he always respected her.”

Both David Cooper and his wife, Annette, worked to build an “empire” of Toronto real estate, Nicole Cooper said. The Coopers were prescient; Toronto’s real-estate market has been one of the world’s hottest for several years.

David Cooper opened the Zanzibar Tavern in 1959. At the time, he tried to explain his “crazy idea” to an out-of-town cousin, according to the Star obit. As one of his grandchildren told the Star, “There’s no word in Yiddish for burlesque,” so Cooper’s cousin believed Zanzibar was a “ballet bar.”

In fact, Zanzibar showcased live music at its inception, before evolving into today’s stripper-spotlighting Club Zanzibar. And along with the Brass Rail a few blocks north - founded by Cooper’s brother, Irving - it remains a lone holdout of Yonge Street’s more colorful past.

While the religious and secular sides of the family co-existed peacefully for decades, David Cooper ended up in a legal conflict with his own brother over the sale of another family-owned bar. “But they made up,” Nicole Cooper said. “By the end of their lives, they reconciled.”

What was it like growing up in a family best known for a club whose signs include “Nude Women Non-Stop”?

“To be honest, it’s something we all embraced from a young age. It was almost funny to us,” Cooper said. “It desensitized us toward certain things. My little cousins would run around in Zanzibar T-shirts, screaming ‘boobies!’. People also thought it was really cool that my uncle Allen [David Cooper’s son] owned the club. No matter how inappropriate, it always seemed cool to everyone.”

But her family ties also brought baggage, Cooper said. “Feminists don’t like it. People would treat you a certain way once it came up.” she said. “At the private Jewish school we attended, a teacher made comments about Zanzibar in front of the whole class because my sister was there. Every time I had a relationship with a guy, even a friendship, everything was normal until Zanzibar came up.”

Cooper herself worked at Zanzibar as a waitress - “I made great money, and it was fun. But you can’t be waitress in a strip club your whole life.” She’s now a musician and producer.

Some of her panache might come from her grandfather, a canny showman who spent $300,000 on a Zanzibar facelift in 2001, covering the front of his building with tiles glazed in 10-karat gold, and an “expanse of neon that flashes day and night,” the Toronto Star wrote at the time.

When David Cooper died Aug. 22, his son considered closing the bar, the Star reported, but decided to honor his father on the marquee instead. “ENJOY NON STOP SEXY DANCERS,” the sign read.

And underneath: “DAVEY C OUR FOUNDER REST IN PEACE.”

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