Monday, November 06, 2006

CALL TO ACTION: Case of Rabbi Marc Gafni (Mordechai Gafni)

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Rabbi Phyllis BermanThe image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
From: The Awareness Center, Inc.

I was given permission to make the following letter public.

We all must demand accountablity from our religious leaders. Please contact Elat Chayyim and both Rabbis Arthur Waskow and Phyllis Berman and demand answers.

Elat Chayyim
(800) 398-2630

Rabbi Phyllis Berman
Riverside Language Program
(212) 662-3200

Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Shalom Center

(215) 844-8494

If you are a survivor of Rabbi Marc Gafni or have information regarding him, please contact The Awareness Center, Inc. 443-857-5560.


To: Vicki Polin, Executive Director - The Awareness Center, Inc.

November 3, 2007

Dear Ms. Polin;

I am writing as a follow-up to our recent discussion about my experience with Rabbi Marc Gafni at the Elat Chayyim retreat center during an August week-long session in 2003. I hand-wrote a strongly worded warning about him in the retreat evaluation, asking for some response. This was handed in during the closing session. I heard nothing more until I read the recent letter about his situation sent out by Arthur Waskow on his Shalom Center mail-out.

I immediately emailed (twice) Rabbi Waskow asking to discuss my 2003 experience. When there was no response, I emailed Elat Chayyim as well. I have not kept that reply but an individual in their administration spoke to me by phone apologizing for either “losing” or otherwise not responding to my 2003 warning and assuring me that the their Board was doing “everything possible” to insure nothing similar would happen in the future. I asked for a specific response from the Board to me after she presented my email statement, but I have heard nothing back, and decided to just drop it until your invitation to share my experience. There has seemed to be a need to sweep this uncomfortable situation under the carpet.

Gafni’s daily session on
Tears in the Torah was one of my shiurim. We were told that he did not tolerate lateness, so to arrive early. His young assistant, Erica Fox, proceeded to start the group in singing, quiet niggunim to begin, and raising the volume and energy to a high level as Gafni made his dramatic entrance – about 5 minutes late himself – to be sure the audience was all there and pumped up?? This felt very controlling and contrived to me. Each day he strode in from the back, his long hair wet from what seemed to be his just completed shower, waving his arms and joining in to lead the singing and chants at a feverous pitch. His presentations were similarly dramatic, with much sexualized shaking of the wet locks out of his eyes and making direct eye contact and grinning at his mesmerized admirers. He seemed to direct this sexualized energy especially toward various females who hung on his every word. There was a “cult-like” atmosphere to the whole performance. None of the other shiurim felt like this.

I was shocked and disturbed and told my mishpacha group of my concern. I was promptly shot down as someone who didn’t understand the charisma of this rebbe and that I should dare to speak lashon hara against such a saint. I was horrified and went the 2nd day to a different group. After much carrying-on by others in the mishpacha group about Gafni’s brilliance that day, I decided the 3rd day to swallow hard, go back, and try to focus on the content. So I took notes the last 3 days and actually did find his points to be well researched, very relevant and at times, actually quite moving.

Occasionally, I glanced at Arthur Waskow and Phyllis Berman at the back to see if they looked uncomfortable with the highly sexualized presentation, but they appeared impassive or slightly amused.

By the 4th day, one very needy young woman in the mishpacha group was gushing on about Gafni having taken a special interest in her, giving her extra private teaching time and that she was going to continue corresponding with him after the retreat. I spoke out again to her and my group of my serious reservations, to the same dismissive reaction.

Erev Shabbat was the last straw. After services, I was in a contemplative mood and decided to go for a walk down the road in the dark to a wooded area, far away from the lodge. I had no flashlight but felt very safe at this secluded retreat center. Who did I stumble upon but the rebbe himself with a lovely young woman, definitely not his wife, Cary. He stepped back from her quickly and said a brusque “Shabbat Shalom” as I hurried by. My adrenalin was racing and I struggling with ruining Shabbat with an angry disclosure to Phyllis Berman, but as a first time participant, decided to wait until the closing evaluation time.

In retrospect, I should have had the courage to speak to Waskow and Berman directly and demand direct action, but I opted instead for my hand written statement that was apparently “lost” or otherwise ignored.

I have agreed to share my story now in the hopes that others who were inappropriately approached by Gafni or who witnessed or tried to warn of his actions may decide to come forward and help to get this situation properly resolved. Not only do any victims need clear Jewish community acknowledgement and assistance, but also leaders who employed Gafni need to take responsibility for not supervising him and for not responding to the warnings they did receive. I believe Gafni needs to face the consequences of his actions and also to receive treatment.

Carol McMullen


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