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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 21, 2017 Mathew Gerson's Foria Pleasure product is made of oil from the cannabis plant. By Rebecca Spence LOS ANGELES (JTA)-- "We're triggering the next sex- ual revolution," said Mathew Gerson, seated comfortably on the floor of his adobe-style home in Southern California. Gerson, 42, is the creator of Foria Pleasure, a women's "sensual enhancement" oil derived from the cannabis plant. Nicknamed "weed lube ," the spray oil won't get you stoned--but what it can do, according to its proponents, is turn a run-of-the-mill orgasm into a full-body climax. Since launching his com- pany in 2014, Gerson's signa- ture product has been widely covered in the media (think GQ and Cosmopolitan), and has even served as late night talk show fodder ("It gets your clitoris high," joked Conan O'Brien). But the media frenzy sur- rounding Foria Pleasure is not what keeps Gerson, a former teaching assistant to the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter- Shalomi, the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, in the cannabis business. Nor is it the potential to reap mil- lions when the legal cannabis market opens up on a national scale, as currently predicted. According to Arcview Market Research, a leading publisher of pot industry data, legal can- nabis sales in North America reached $6.7 billion in 2016, and are projected to top more than $22 billion by 2021. "People get excited about the market piece, the money piece, which doesn't excite me that much," said Gerson, Foria's founder and co-CEO. "The bigger drivers are hu- manitarian and social justice and empathic, in terms of diminishing suffering with medicine." Gerson is not the only mem- ber of the tribe to cite healing and social justice as reasons for working in the cannabis business. Industry pioneer Dina Browner, the celebrity medical cannabis consultant known as Dr. Dina, opened the first medical marijuana doctor's office in Southern California in 2003 after wit- nessing how hard it was for a friend with cancer to obtain a doctor's recommendation. Then there's Doc Green's, a medical marijuana collec- tive founded in 2009 by three observant Jews in Berkeley whose Therapeutic Healing Cream was the first branded topical cannabis product sold in California. And yet, according to Ger- son, it's not just "tikkun olam," the Jewish tenet of repairing the world, that at- tracts Jews to the cannabis business--it's also the ele- ment of risk. After centuries of adapting to life in the Diaspora, Gerson said, Jews are "well-designed" to thrive in a market as risky and unpredictable as can- nabis. "We have a gene pool of risk takers," he said. "And no other industry in history has operated under such high risk as cannabis, where federal and state laws are in conflict." Gerson grew up in sub- urban Philadelphia, where he attended a Conservative synagogue. He credits his Russian-Jewish grandfather, Phillip Cohen, with teaching him the importance of "care- giving." Cohen made a fortune selling cutting tables to the garment industry, Gerson said, before turning his focus to religion and philanthropy. As a kid, Gerson spentweek- ends with his grandfather's Chabad rabbi, who he said opened him up to a different side of Judaism--a more mys- tical, otherworldly aspect that would later inform his study of Tibetan Buddhism. After college at the Uni- versity of Colorado, Boulder, Gerson retreated to the woods, where he lived off the grid and considered becoming a Bud- dhist monk. Ironically, when he returned to the material world a decade later, he went on to start a condom company in 2009. Sir Richard's Condoms was a one-for-one business in the vein of Toms Shoes--for every condom sold in the U.S., Gerson's social venture donated one to Haiti. Gerson eventually resigned from the company, but in the process of promoting his brand, he toured colleges and universi- ties, speaking to millennials about sexuality. As he listened to stories and delved into sexual health research, Gerson was struck by the glaring discrepancy between the number of prod- ucts designed to improve the sex lives of men and women. "At the time, there were 26 sexual enhancement products for male sexual dysfunction," said Gerson, "and zero for women." Creating Foria--a rift on the word "euphoria'--was his way of addressing that inequality. Gerson had heard about the medicinal benefits of cannabis oil, and the year after leaving Sir Richard's, he began to experiment with it. "Given my background in the condom space, I heard 'cannabis oil' and immediately thought 'that would make a great lube,'" he said. When early results proved promising, Gerson--the son of a pediatric oncologist--de- cided to look for a business partner to raise capital and start another company. (He found one in fellow tribe mem- ber Jon Brandon of Boulder.) About a year after Foria launched to great fanfare, Jen- nifer Berman, a high-profile Beverly Hills urologist and sexual health expert, con- tacted Gerson to learn more about his product. "I was not, and still am not, a cannabis expert or user," Berman told JTA. "But that led me to get voracious about understanding the mechanism for how and why the plant could impact sexual response and desire." A host of the daytime talk show "The Doctors," Ber- man looked at the research on how cannabis affects the human body. She discovered that cannabinoids--includ- ing THC, the psychoactive compound first discovered in 1964 by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam--relax smooth muscle tissue. When applied topically, Berman said, cannabis re- laxes the vagina's smooth muscle, causing dilation and increased blood flow. That in turn leads to clitoral and labial engorgement--precursors to a woman's sexual pleasure. At the same time, she said, THC stimulates the nerve fibers and receptors. Berman began prescribing Foria Pleasure to her patients and saw positive results. "I found it helpful across the board," she said. Berman has used Foria Pleasure to treat an array of sexual health issues, includ- ingvulvodynia, a chronic pain condition, as well as vaginal dryness and irritation. Because of her office's loca- tion on Los Angeles' Westside, Berman noted she sees many Orthodox Jewish patients. She was surprised by theirwilling- ness to use a cannabis-based product. "They have embraced it with no problem, no taboo," the doctor said. Given her success with Foria Pleasure, which packs 450 mg of THC per bottle, Bermanwondered if cannabis oil might help reduce men- strual cramps. On a whim, she soaked a tampon in the THC-laden spray and within minutes she experienced relief. Meanwhile Gerson, who had heard from Foria Plea- sure users about its pain- relieving effects, had the same idea. Working closely with Berman, he developed a cannabis vaginal supposi- tory to alleviate menstrual cramps; Foria Relief came out in January 2016. Other medical cannabis en- thusiasts, including Whoopi Goldberg, have since moved into the space. Last spring, the veteran comedian and co-host of "The View" teamed up with Maya Elisabeth, a Jewish aficionado of cannabis edibles, to launch Whoopi & Maya, a product line for period discomfort. In addition to a THC tincture and topical rub, the brand also sells cannabis- infused bath salts. For now, most Foria prod- ucts are only sold in California and Colorado. But later this year they will also become available in Oregon, Nevada and Washington--three of eight U:S. states, plus the District of Columbia, that have legalized recreational marijuana use. Foria's newest product, Awaken, does not contain THC. Gerson said that after learning about the many ben- efits of cannabis in the bed- room--from enhanced plea- sure to diminished pain--he sought to re-create a similar experience using other plants. "There are eight aphrodisi- acs in this product instead of one," he said. "So it's a pretty rich experience." 1 women ! Women working at a company in Modiin By Andrew Tobin TEL AVIV (JTA)--High- tech workers know there's no problem that can't be solved with a spreadsheet. So a group of Israeli women seeking to combat the gender wage gap in the industry created one last month with data about their qualifications and salaries. They hope to empower one another in sal- ary negotiations. As of Friday, nearly 200 women had contributed to the survey, and the data showed a wide range of earnings -- even for women with similar quali- fications working in similar positions. "We know from surveys and from personal experience that women tend to name lower salaries than men when we go into negotiations, and obviously employers never tell you to ask for more," said Liora Yukla, 35, one of two women who spearheaded the effort. "This gives us something substantivewe can Elit, Israel. Abir Sultan/Flash90 look at to start feeling more confident about the kind of numbers we can name." Yukla's group, XX+UX Israel, is a 2-year-old com- munity for women who work in the field of user experience, which encompasses a range of high-techjobs. Its some 1,500 members work together to promote women's status in the industry, including sharing advice and support in their active Facebook group. The group is a largely independent branch of the global XX+UX, which was started by women at Google headquarters in Northern California's Silicon Valley. (In the United States, Tues- day is Equal Pay Day--the date when women's salaries, on average 20 percent lower than men's, "catch up" to men's from the previous year.) "It's about helping wom- en and solidarity," said co-founder Anat Katz- Arotchas, who also runs a consultancy that advises tech companies about how to build female-friendly products. "Rather than dic- tating to women, we listen and let them tell us, 'This is what we need and this is how to do it for us.'" Katz-Arotchas said the survey, although unscientific, could serve as a much-needed reference for group members and empower them to be bold- er in their salary demands. Professional industry surveys have not looked at women's salaries separately, she said. Despite narrowing in re- cent years, Israel's gender wage gap is among the widest in the developed world, ac- cording to a report released last year--with women mak- ing less than three-quarters of what men earn. The gap is even wider in high-tech, where women have been found to earn a little more than half as much as men. According to a recent Taub Center study, the biggest rea- son for the disparity is that on average, women work fewer hours than men. Another key factor is that women are more likely to be employed in lower-wage occupations and industries. Many have argued that those factors are influenced by discrimination as well. The challenge of asking for higher pay came up recently in a discussion on the XX+UX Is- rael Facebook group. Shortly thereafter, two members of the group posted a Google spreadsheet for members to share information about their job, professional experience and monthly pay. "We're basically just a group of women who work in high-tech, and this is the kind of thing we talk about," Yukla said. "It was a really long, vibrant discussion, so we realized a lot of us are probably interested in what the standard is." The survey, which the group plans to systematically analyze, showed monthly salaries ranging from 6,000 shekels (about $1,700) for a starting designer to 46,500 shekels (about $13,000) for a veteran product man- ager. It also found that some women with similar jobs and qualifications reported significantly different in- comes. One project manager at a large company said she made 20,600 shekels (about $5,700) per month, along with bonuses and a company car. Another with the same education and six more years of experience said her salary was 16,000 shekels (about $4,400). "One thing that was sort of surprising was you saw differ- ent salary levels for the same job, the same skill set," Yukla said. "I think the question here is: Would it be different for our male colleagues?" Group members responded enthusiastically to the survey. In comments on Facebook, onewomanwrote, "Well done, finally the real data and life." Another said, "Fabulous activism! This is super im- portant and I'm sure it's going to help many girls negotiate better in their next salary negotiations." Another commenter noted that despite what many agreed was wage discrimination in their industry, the wom- en were fortunate to be part of Start-up Nation. The aver- age Israeli high-tech worker's salary was 24,000 shekels last year, according to an industry survey, compared to 10,000 shekels for all Israelis. "Amazing! Fabulous!" she said. "Even though there are gaps, our situation compared to the market is really good!"