The holiday tradition of cannabis?

Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh received a B.A. from Skidmore College and was ordained as a Rabbi from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is fortunate to be involved in so many facets of the community including serving as the chaplain for JF&CS and an instructor for CAJE. This will be her fifth year serving as the visiting Rabbi in Decatur, Ill. She has also served congregations in both Sydney and Perth, Australia. When not writing her weekly BLOGS, she can be found running marathons.

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

During the holidays I like to take something with me into the facilities so we can celebrate as well as reminisce about this particular season. On Hanukkah I take an electric menorah and wooden dreidels. We discuss the best recipes for potato latkes and gifts of chocolate gelt rather than electronics. At Purim I pass out groggers and hamentashen. You should see the smiles!

My favorite festival is Sukkot. Who doesn’t like to offer thanksgiving to God as we recall the mitzvah of waving a lulav and etrog which I handily present. The lulav and etrog are ideal pedagogical opportunities. It is with this in mind that I walked into a room of individuals for a program on Sukkot. I began by holding up a gorgeous etrog and ask what it is. Of course, the answer I receive is a “lemon.” After gently correcting an eager participant, I pass it around the room for smelling and touching. For the residents, the chance to touch and smell is a tactile extravaganza. Next I point out the palm and ask if anyone knows what it is. As I proceed, I explain the Midrashic explanations of each species.


Imagine my surprise when after the myrtle, I pointed to the willow branch and asked if anyone knew what it was. The room was quiet until I heard a voice say, “cannabis?” And then it was my turn to be quiet. After explaining what it really was I realized I had learned a lesson that afternoon. I was shocked that a senior man said “cannibis.” But why was I stunned? Was that not ageism to assume a man old enough to be called grandpa didn’t have a life prior to this facility? Of course he did. We tend to assume once someone reaches a certain age, he or she never really had a life prior.

Tradition teaches that we learn a great deal from our students. I know I did.