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Saturday, January 9, 2016

An Open Letter to Whole Foods: 5 Reasons to Drop Marc Gafni

The back-and-forth on the charges and explanations have filled many of my notebooks over the past three years, as I have interviewed more than 50 people on this issue. Some investigations have a clear resolution; this one does not. Defenders of Gafni note the allegations go back many years. They demand more recent proof of wrongdoing and real names to back up the charges. His critics offer, and psychologists affirm, that it is common for abuse victims to speak out only after much time has elapsed, if at all, and to feel embarrassed, if not fearful, about using their names....who is to say when and whether Gafni is free of his acknowledged past "mistakes"? - Gary Rosenblatt, The Jewish Week
Dear Whole Foods,

Recently the media has been full of he-said, she said accounts regarding ex-rabbi Marc Gafni. I took a few minutes to gather together the following. Taken in their totality, they paint a very grim picture of this man. To me, he looks like a sexual predator posing as a spiritual teacher.

Have you read these?

#1 - From Lukeford.net, as told to Luke Ford (2004); story first reported in The Jewish Week:
 "I was thirteen, entering 9th grade at a yeshiva high school in NY. Mordechai Winiarz (now known as Marc Gafni) appeared at my parent's shabbat table, I think in early September [1979]. He was a rabbinical student at YU. He offered to tutor me in Talmud....he asked my parents if he could stay at our house over shabbat, because he wanted to be able to walk to a synagogue in our part of the city. They said OK. (My parents had no idea that they should suspect him of anything. After all, he was a religious guy from YU.) It was then that he started coming into my room after I had fallen asleep, and waking me up. I remember clearly that when he tried to touch me, I pushed him away repeatedly. I remember saying, "no, no, no!" I knew intuitively that it just wasn't OK with me. But he was larger and stronger than me, and after a huge struggle, he overcame me. Week after week, he would come into my bedroom and wake me up in the middle of the night, and I would fight to keep him from touching me. Every time, I was overcome by him physically.... More than once, he told me what he was doing was because of the way I looked, or because he just couldn't control himself.... The abuse went on through the year I was in 9th grade. The school year was almost over, I remember it was warm out. He called me on the phone one day to tell me that he would no longer be coming over....Until then, his abuse included exposing my body against my will, forcibly touching my breast, grabbing my hand and forcing me to touch his penis, and forced digital vaginal penetration. All were the most horrifying, degrading and painful experiences for me. All this only a year or so after my bat mitzvah."
#2 - From Lukeford.net, as told to Luke Ford (2004); story first reported in The Jewish Week:
"I had been asleep no longer than 30 minutes when Mordechai arrived in my room once again. Now he was in robe. He didn’t bother to knock. He stood at the door and said something to wake me. I startled. He arrogantly stated, “You know what you want.” “What?” I asked....Then he was there in my room, standing over me at my bedside in only his underwear. I had not even heard him come in the door. He lay down next to me and began touching me again, like he had previously. I said, “Mordechai, no, this is wrong.” It was as if he didn’t even hear me. I just shut down and let him do what he was going to do. He continued fondling me, took off all of my clothes and his. He positioned himself on top of me ready for intercourse. “When did you get your last period?” he asked. What a weird question. I wasn’t sure of the answer. I just made something up. “That’s no good.” He replied. “You know I could get you pregnant.” He seemed disappointed as he lay beside me. Mordechai took my hand and forced me to help him climax. I had never done anything like that before. I had never even seen a man naked. He ejaculated all over me. I felt horrible. When he was finished he stood abruptly. “Get cleaned up and come upstairs,” he ordered....“We are going for a walk,” he said....he tried to convince me that I would never be believed because he was a Rabbi and I was just a kid. Who was more credible?" 
#3, Multiple accounts, students accuse Gafni of sexual exploitation, 2006:
"Three young women in their twenties who reside in the heart of Israel filed a complaint several days ago with Haifa police against Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, claiming he sexually harassed them during Torah lessons conducted at his Jaffa center....Haifa police officials admitted they have collected the complainants' testimonies, in which they claim the rabbi promised each of them separately he would marry her if she had sex with him. Some of the women were Gafni's students." 
 "In 2006, Gafni abruptly left his position at Bayit Chadash, a New Age Jewish spiritual movement in Israel, and came to the U.S. after three women in Israel accused him of sexual harassment. He later expressed regret, but has maintained that the allegations were false." (The Jewish Week)
#4, Publisher Tami Simon on alleged teacher-student sexual impropriety by Gafni, leading her to cancel publication of his book - as told to blogger William Harryman, 2011:
"When I first started working with Marc a couple of years ago, Marc and I spoke openly about his history and what he claimed were false accusations against him related to alleged sexual improprieties. Several influential people spoke up in his defense and equally several people warned me not to trust Marc. I came to believe that whatever had happened in the past, Marc was beginning a new chapter in his life. Marc explicitly stated to me that he was not going to be involved in sexual relationships with students, that even if he deemed such relationships to be consensual, he did not believe that engaging in relationships with students would support his efforts to be an effective teacher....In the past several weeks, new and incontrovertible information came to light that made me aware that Marc was involved in a sexual relationship with a student and that the relationship was shrouded in secrecy. There was an obvious lack of alignment between Marc’s words to me and his actions. I learned about Marc’s sexual relationship with a student from another woman who was having a sexual relationship with Marc. This woman was also asked by Marc to keep her relationship with him a secret. In talking with this woman, I learned how emotionally damaging this secrecy was for her, how it cut her off from emotional support and connection. I also learned quite a bit about how she felt manipulated by Marc, about how often she witnessed Marc telling lies to cover his tracks, and how upset she was to find herself caught in such a web of lies."
#5, Ex-wife's account, January 2016:
"His book is a best seller. I poured my soul into writing it with him and look what an impact it has had. But the more things grow, the more the work grows. The more his temper grows. He berates me daily. Whenever I neglect to tell people about his accomplishments he accuses me of being unsupportive & selfish. I forget an email and he explodes into a rage. Yelling relentlessly, shoving things. He pulled out a chair from under me. He rants until I crawl up into a small ball on the bed and weep. Please God help me learn how to handle his rages. Help me to be a better wife. Please…. 
"Please God, help me. I am sick….often. I am having these migraine headaches. My skull is exploding. I can’t breathe. My chest is sealed shut. I am a shell. When I go outside people come up to me rambling about how my husband is sleeping with this woman who comes to his classes. He promises me it’s all lies. All I know is that I am hurting God. Physically, emotionally, mentally. I am not well. Please God let these headaches end." (excerpts from comments dated 1996-2004 by ex-wife)
Mainstream Media 
  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/26/us/marc-gafni-center-for-integral-wisdom.html?_r=0
  2. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/marc-gafni-denies-sexual-misconduct-allegations-article-1.2483567
  3. http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/troubling-past-taints-rising-stature-of-spirituality-leader/
  4. http://www.montereyherald.com/article/NF/20160106/NEWS/160109880
The Forward
  1. http://forward.com/news/328938/in-recorded-conversation-gafni-considers-strategy-against-critics/
  2. http://forward.com/opinion/328369/marc-gafni-and-the-misused-power-of-religious-leaders/
  3. http://forward.com/news/328311/marc-gafni-defends-return-to-spotlight-as-backlash-gathers-steam/
The Jewish Week
  1. http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/national/gafni-faces-fallout-new-age-community-0
  2. http://www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/gary-rosenblatt/marc-gafni-again
  3. http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/editorial/reinvented-rabbi-again
  4. http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/national/controversy-grows-over-whole-foods-ceos-relationship-disgraced-rabbi
Failed Messiah
  1. http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2016/01/ex-rabbi-marc-gafni-talks-with-advisors-about-suing-the-forward-for-defamation-678.html
  2. http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2008/07/hes-back-serial.html
Other - Jewish Thought
  1. http://www.lukeford.net/profiles/profiles/mordecai_gafni.htm
  2. http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/from-one-gafni-victim/
  3. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3252577,00.html
  4. http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/features/1.694536
  5. http://jewschool.com/2008/07/13779/sex-abuser-mordechai-gafni-is-back/
  6. http://www.ynetnews.com/Ext/App/TalkBack/CdaViewOpenTalkBack/0,11382,L-3255489,00.html
  7. http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/76557/social-media-storm-circles-ex-rabbi-alleged-abuser-gafni/
  8. http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/unforgiven_20041001
  9. http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/196238/understanding-the-marc-gafni-story-part-ii
  10. https://medium.com/@jewfem/on-marc-gafni-the-new-york-times-and-how-sexual-predator-rabbis-get-communal-support-ada9b97d5479#.m1dyrbezb
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Disclaimer: All opinions are the author's own. Accounts are taken directly from the websites listed and are the responsibility of those who posted them.