Category: Blog

The following is a repost of an article by Donna Andersen first published on on January 13, 2016.

Marc Gafni, of Pacific Grove, CA, wants to remake American spirituality, according to a recent profile by the New York Times. He’s founded an organization called the Center for Integral Wisdom, to “evolve the source code for human existence,” according to its website.

Gafni’s executive board of directors includes high profile supporters and New Age luminaries:
John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods.
Barbara Marx Hubbard
John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul
Adam Bellow, Vice President and Editorial Director of HarperCollins Books

But Gafni, who was born Mordechai Winiartz, was a rabbi — until Jewish leaders essentially ran him out of the religion as a sexual predator.

He was accused of molesting a 15-year-old girl and attempted sexual assault on a young woman. Gafni went to Israel, where three women filed complaints with the police about him.

One expert considers him to be a cult leader.

Now, many Jewish leaders are petitioning Whole Foods and others to cut all financial and institutional ties with him.

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The following is a repost of an article by Elana Sztokman first posted on on January 7, 2016.

I had a rather surreal experience last week, the kind where you wonder if the universe is playing with you or just using you as a toy in some bigger agenda that you’re only vaguely in the loop about.

The New York Times ran a profile, almost a tribute, to serial sexual abuser Marc Gafni a day before I gave a talk at Limmud UK titled “Rabbis who abuse”. Gafni, formerly Mordechai Winiarz, who was described by the shameless writer as having gained “stature” despite a “troubled past” and having “sexual encounters” with a 13-year-old (No, Mr. Oppenheimer, there is no such thing as a “sexual encounter” between an adult and a 13-year-old; there is only rape), has never been tried or jailed despite four decades of accusations of sexual abuse. And as we know, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Thanks to The Times, the world now knows that Gafni is having a phenomenal rebirth, again, as some kind of scholar somewhere, supported by powerful business and New Age leaders around the world. Like so many other abusive rabbis, he has managed to shake it all off and pretend that sexual abuse is just some dust on his elegant jacket, to be flicked off with a charming nod and a wink to his friends, while he finds a new adoring audience to maintain his self-established pedestal.

I have been researching this phenomenon of abusive leaders for some time. I had prepared my Limmud talk way before the Gafni story emerged (again), and planned just a passing mention of his story, among the dozen or so other anecdotes that I referred to in order to illustrate how rabbis get away with so much abuse. But Gafni’s reemergence in the Times as a man of “stature” colored my entire talk, and was a source of buzz during the whole week of Limmud. One could argue that Oppenheimer’s articles have had some positive effects of prompting some former Gafni supporters to publicly distance themselves from him (apparently 25 New Age leaders like Deepak Chopra have publicly distanced themselves from Gafni ). Still, one has to wonder why so many “leaders” have been pow-wowing with Gafni despite all the evidence that he is a sexual predator. Meanwhile, all the smiling Gafni headshots and Oppenheimer’s insistence on giving Gafni supporters many inches of column space have been more illustrative of how abusers gain influence rather than how abusers get prosecuted.

This issue, of how and why high-profile leaders support high-profile abusers, is not really understood in the Jewish community, or arguably in the wider world. (How many women had to come forward before anyone took testimony against Bill Cosby seriously?) This dynamic is clearly not understood by many journalists, some of whom are so eager for a NYT byline that they are willing to throw victims of child sexual abuse under the bus by referring to rape as “sexual encounters”. But Oppenheimer is not alone in offering precious column space to the veneration of abusive leaders while giving half-hearted mention to a “troubled past”. The dynamic is not understood by communal leaders stuck in a star-struck culture in which proximity to so-called “celebrities” — Jewish or otherwise — trumps values like compassion for victims, integrity, and commitment to justice. Even today, as some of Gafni’s supporters reflect on their dubious attitudes of support for abusers, the question of how rabbis like Gafni get to where they are — with decades of adulation and high-paying jobs rather than a ticket to a prison cell — remains glaring.

To be clear: the Jewish community faces an epidemic of sexual abuse — as UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said earlier this year. As many as 1 out of 4 girls
and 1 out of 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. The majority of minors who were sexually abused — an estimated 75% — were victimized by people they know. Over 85% of cases are not reported to local police or children rights protection groups. According to a study by Abel and Harlow, 93% of child sexual molesters define themselves as religious. Based on anecdotal evidence and unofficial collections, such as the Jewish Community Watch Wall of Shame, a disproportionate number of Jewish sexual abusers are rabbis or quasi-rabbis. And a very small proportion of abusers ever get prosecuted. Many remain in high-profile positions for years or even decades.

It is vital to understand how the Jewish community enables rabbi-abusers. Here are some of the insights that I have gleaned from years of research on sexual abuse in the Jewish community, which I shared last week at Limmud.

First of all, social hierarchies in the Jewish community favor high-profile abusers over their victims. Within hierarchies around knowledge, power, status, position, and money, rabbis enjoy many privileges. They are revered as all-knowers, possessers of people’s vulnerabilities and secrets, responsible for institutional reputations and fundraising, and considered representatives of entire communities. Rabbis are trusted and entrusted with layers of power. In the Orthodox community, this has an added gender hierarchy, in which all-powerful rabbis belong to exclusively male organizations that get to decide whether to believe the often female and powerless victims. In short, rabbis have power, prestige, and high-profile friends, as well as a lot of money riding on their reputations. Victims usually have none of that.

Abusers in power know how to use their status to lure, manipulate and silence victims. In a process known as “grooming”, the powerful abuser will make promises such as, “You’re my favorite,”, or “This is sacred time with me,” or “You’re special,” which play on the hierarchies with promises of social mobility. When Todros Grynhaus, a recently convicted UK abuser, tried to force his victim — a haredi teenage girl — into a sex act, he said “You might as well make yourself useful,” reinforcing the idea in the victim’s mind that she was a useless, powerless nobody. Emotional manipulation is the abusers’ specialty, and abusive rabbis know well how to use their power for these ends.

In the Jewish world, where rabbis are often respected for their “charisma”, this dynamic is especially problematic. The more charisma a rabbi has, the more power he has to abuse through emotional manipulation. Moreover, charisma, which is one of the primary signs of an abusive or even sociopath personality, makes people believe the abuser’s story rather than the victim’s testimony. The Jewish community has the unfortunate tendency to equate charisma with righteousness, which benefits rabbi abusers and leaves low-status victims struggling alone.

Power also offers abusers means to manipulate the system and even escape. Rabbi Ezra Scheiberg, one of the most high profile rabbis in the religious Zionist community, who was accused earlier this year of sexual assault and rape of a dozen women in Safed, was caught at Ben Gurion trying to flee. In the cases of rapists Baruch Lebovits and Nechemya Weberman in New York, the assailants were surrounded by a massive network of supporters who threatened and at times harmed victims and prosecution witnesses. In Weberman’s case, the DA brought charges against seven supporters, describing threats against the victim, as “trying to kill her soul”. Ultimately, rabbi abusers have access to power and victims do not.

The deleterious impact of these dynamics on victims cannot be understated. Genendy Radoff, an incest survivor and founder of the organization Mitzva L’Sapper, has said, “The ongoing denial by the rabbonim who I approached for help and by my family, was actually more traumatic and devastating than the sexual abuse. Now I wasn’t just abused, I was also being treated like I was crazy, and I was utterly alone.” Grynhaus’ victims were ostracized from their communities, accused of making “ridiculous accusations” against the great man. The family of Yehudis Goldsobel, raped by Menachem Mendel Levy for three years when she was a teenager, was also ostracized from their community — and even after Levy spent 18 months in prison for his crimes, his community continues to celebrate him. Attorney Michael Lesher, who has defended many victims of sexual abuse in the Jewish community, chronicled these and many other outrageous cases of cover-up in his important book, “Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities”.

Rabbi abusers also know how to use Jewish values — or rather, twisted versions of Jewish values — to protect themselves and discredit their victims. The language of “sacred community” and “lashon hara” or “mesirah” are often invoked to silence and shame victims rather than shaming the abusers. In 2000, 100 rabbis signed a letter saying that anyone who goes to outside authorities is a traitor. Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudah, one of the worst offending organizations in protecting abusers, decried victim advocates who go to secular authorities as “display[ing] utter disregard for essential Torah ideals like the requirement to shun lashon hora and hotzo’as shem ra; to show honor for Torah and respect for Torah scholars. I would have added basic fairness to the list. And truth.…” Indeed, when victim and activist Manny Waks came forward about the abuse he experienced in the Chabad Yeshiva College in Melbourne, Australia, he was accused of damaging the community and violating Jewish values by going to the non-Jewish authorities. His entire family was shunned and shamed — in fact his father, a longtime pillar of the Chabad community, was not allowed in synagogue, and eventually had to leave Australia entirely. Community cohesiveness, often invoked to silence critics and oust victims, provides a tremendous network of support and power to rabbi abusers.

In reality, these notions of “community cohesiveness” or libel, are just euphemisms for publicity. Leaders of the Jewish world fear bad publicity. They may call it anti-semitism or Jewish tradition, or not “airing dirty laundry”, but it is nothing more than public relations. Avrohom Mondrowitz, for example, who pretended to be a therapist in order to collect victims, was protected by Gerer Hassidic community protected him for years. Only when non-orthodox victims were discovered did he get indicted on 14 charges including 5 counts of sodomy — but he fled to Israel where he is still protected by the community.

For this reason, whistleblowers get punished too. Lesher, for example, has talked about the death threats that he received because of his work. The most notorious case of this is Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg , a satmar mikveh attendant who walked in on a rabbi raping a little boy in the mikveh, and became a staunch advocate for victims — blogging about sex abuse in his community, opening a New York City hotline to field sex abuse complaints, posting appeals around the world and on social media. For this he is reviled, slandered, hated, feared. He receives death threats on a regular basis, is not counted for a minyan in his community, and has had acid thrown on him while walking down the street in Brooklyn. Most significantly, I believe, is that he was “charged” by the internal “Modesty Brigade” in Williamsburg, whose counsel included the rapist he caught in the act.

Ultimately, the Jewish community is one in which high-profile abusers are often protected by high profile leaders. Gafni is hardly alone in this. Motti Elon, for example, who was convicted of sexual assault against his male students, has a strong following in Israel and abroad, and is frequently invited as a lecturer around the country. His defenders say, “He suffered enough” — as if he is the real victim. Jonathan Rosenblatt, the so-called “sauna rabbi”, was invited by the board to keep his pulpit, despite having taken dozens of boys naked to the sauna over the years. Some people are still defending Grynhaus, saying it was just some bad judgment and that “he stopped when the girls told him to stop” and that we should feel sorry for haredi men in prison because it is “very hard for religious Jews in prison”. Judge Guston Reichbach who sentenced Yona Weinberg to a 13-month jail term for molesting his bar mitzvah students, he said he received more than 90 letters attesting to Weinberg’s character and innocence. None of the letters, the judge noted, “displays any concern or any sympathy or even any acknowledgement for these young victims which, frankly, I find shameful.”

It is much easier to side with high profile abusers than with victims. For high profile members of the community, it is much easier to identify with the abusers, who are “like me”, than with vicitms, who are not as “polished”, who offer nothing in the way of support or protection. “A person can be destroyed if allegations which are baseless are raised against him,” says Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath’s executive vice-president. Meaning, the abusers can be destroyed. No mention of what happens to victims.

However, as Nuchem Rosenberg’s story illustrates, we should be suspicious of men who support high-profile abusers, or even men who refuse to acknowledge rape of a minor and whitewash it as “sexual encounters”. We should be asking: what are they hiding? For example, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of Motti Elon’s biggest supporters, has also been accused of sexual abuse, but has managed to slip through the accusations. A really important testimony to this comes from Andy Blumenthal, a member of Rosenblatt’s community in Riverdale. After the synagogue board announced that Rosenblatt was staying in his position — a decision led by chairman Donald Liss who overruled the board demand to dismiss Rosenblatt and bulldozed his own position — Andy Blumenthal wrote the following, not about Rosenblatt but about board chair Donald Liss — that is, the one covering for Rosenblatt:

[T]he Chairman of the Board who overruled the community and is protecting Rabbi Rosenblatt…

I grew up in Riverdale from the age of 10 when my family moved from the upper west side of Manhattan. I attended SAR Academy, the local yeshiva. My family had many lovely friends in this community and we attended the RJC where we were members for over 20 years.

Dr. Donald Liss significantly older than myself and my friends growing up frequently invited us to his house in Riverdale to “learn” Torah and for Shabbat meals, although the learning frequently turned into talk and banter and “wrestling.” Dr. Liss, as a doctor of rehabilitative and sports medicine, claimed great interest in my physical fitness as a youth and my practice of martial arts. He started to run and workout with me and my best friend and this at times lead to more “wrestling” matches.

Later Dr. Liss provided me as summer job in his and his brother’s practice at Englewood Hospital. Dr Liss was quite well off and took advantage of me that my family was less so and I needed a job. He provided me the opportunity to work out there in their “gym” during lunch and then when I would change in the locker room, he would invariably show up to talk with me.

Other times, he invited me to go on vacation with his family to the Poconos to babysit his kids. I remember one particular time, I went running on the trail there, and he came. When we got back to the house we were staying in, he dropped all his clothes in the kitchen area in front of me and his wife and totally nude just started talking.

Other times, when I would work out in my apartment in Riverdale with weights or stretching for karate, even during the day, Dr. Liss would show up. And he would also invite my friend and I to his home to lift weights and more “wrestling”.

As I got older and smarter, I realized Dr. Liss’s behavior was not normal, and his interest in my workout and my Torah learning did not seem innocent any longer. I stopped getting together and taking his phone calls. His calling, hang-ups, and messages increased.

That Dr. Liss would now protect Rabbi Rosenblatt and overrule the wishes of the Riverdale Jewish Center is a Chillul Hashem and travesty of justice.

Every word in this blog is true, and I hope it helps the community and the victims to get over this tragedy and desecration of G-d. The good people who wish to grow up and pray without unwanted advances of some sick individuals hiding behind many veils of religion and family deserve their community back.

When Jewish leaders support rabbis accused of abuse instead of listening to testimony of victims, we should be suspect of their motives.

What you can do

So, what should people do in the face of accusations of sexual abuse by high-profile abusers?

· Believe victims

Judith Herman, author of “Trauma and Recovery”, says that all abusers need is silence from bystanders in order to succeed. Neutrality, non-involvement, all of these help abusers. Don’t feed into that. Listen to victims. Just listening and believing is often the most important tool on the way to recovery. Being believed rather than shame goes a long way towards the victims’ healing process.

· Step out of your own experience

More commonly, support for the accused comes from a more mundane human dynamic. People do not want to believe what they have not seen for themselves. Some former Gafni supporters have come forward describing how they did not believe victims until they saw it for themselves. This is a very troubling and at times infuriating dynamic. As if to say, if I haven’t experienced it, it didn’t happen. Don’t be that person, the one who doesn’t believe until they experience it themselves. There is a brilliant Talmudic response to this that the community would be wise to remember: “Eino ro’eh eino ra’ya”, which means, the fact that I haven’t seen it is not a proof of anything. We should all remember that.

· Challenge social hierarchies

Remember that just because he is ‘an important man’ it doesn’t mean that he isn’t capable of doing terrible things. As a community, we should be less star-struck. We should be less impressed by people with power, status, money, fancy job titles, or those million twitter followers. All of those hierarchies create cushioning for abusers. We need as a community to learn to relate to others based on merit, not based on appearances, status, or power.

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The following is a repost of an article by James McRitchie first published on on January 8, 2016.

In the wake of a New York Times story by Mark Oppenheimer about Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey’s relationship with former rabbi and alleged sex offender Marc Gafni, the company has come under scrutiny. (A Spiritual Leader Gains Stature, Trailed by a Troubled Past)

On December 25th, The Times story reported Gafni saying of one of his alleged victims, “She was 14 going on 35.”

John Mackey/Marc Gafni Connection

Also reported in Oppenheimer’s story, “A co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey…is a chairman of the executive board of Mr. Gafni’s center, and he hosts board meetings at his Texas ranch.”

James McRitchie, a California investor and shareholder activist emailed members of the Whole Foods Board of Directors on New Year’s Day:

Mr. Mackey has a fiduciary duty to WFM shareholders. His affiliation with Gafni and the center certainly put the reputation and value of WFM at risk.

A group of more than 100 rabbis has launched an online petition, demanding that Whole Foods sever ties with Gafni. At the time of this writing, the petition has garnered more than 2800 online signatures. It includes comments from people claiming to have had unfavorable contact with the former rabbi.

The flow of follow-up stories has been steady.

Oppenheimer filed these follow-ups in Tablet:
•Understanding the Marc Gafni Story, Part II
•More voices weigh in on Marc Gafni Controversy

New York community newspaper The Jewish Week, which had originally broken the Gafni allegations story in 2004, reported,

Some critics contend that Mackey, in his capacity as an executive board member of Gafni’s nonprofit center, is violating his fiduciary responsibility to the ethical values of Whole Foods. (Gafni Faces Fallout From New Age Community)

Michael Silverman, Whole Foods Market Global Corporate Communications representative emailed this statement:

John Mackey’s involvement with Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom is his personal business and does not represent an endorsement or support for either Mr. Gafni or the Center for Integral Wisdom by Whole Foods Market.

A similar statement appears on John Mackey’s Whole Foods blog:

My involvement with Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom is conducted strictly in my personal life…

However, the accuracy of Mackey’s and Whole Foods’ statements, characterizing the CEO’s relationship with Gafni as “personal” is in question.

As a director on the board of Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom, a tax-exempt California nonprofit corporation, subject to state and IRS laws and regulations, Mr. Mackey has fiduciary duties to the organization.

According to Gene Takagi, an attorney with the NEO Law Group in San Francisco, “All directors of a nonprofit corporation have fiduciary duties of care and loyalty to the corporation.”

The IRS prohibits tax-exempt organizations from engaging in commercial, for-profit business activities. A website for the CIW’s Success 3.0 Summit says, “Success 3.0 is an independent LLC generated by the Center for Integral Wisdom,“ and “John Mackey, (Board Chair CIW).”

John Mackey Named in Complaints

Complaints were submitted Wednesday to the IRS and California state Attorney General’s office, questioning federal tax and state nonprofit regulatory compliance by the Center for Integral Wisdom. John Mackey was named in both complaints, as Board Chair of the organization.

Investors Are Watching John Mackey and Whole Foods

I spoke with public relations representatives from socially responsible fund managers Calvert, Domini, and Parnassus, all of which hold Whole Foods Market stock in their active equity portfolios. As of this writing, none of the firms have commented.

Shane Yonston, a Principal Advisor with Impact Investors emailed:

Whole Foods positions itself as a socially responsible company, which is an important part of its brand. If these core values come into question by employees, consumers, partners, or investors, it can have long-term damaging effects on the company’s stock value. Reputational risk is real, and the way Mr. Mackey chooses to handle this conflict will certainly be watched by investors in the SRI community.

Certainly, we are watching.

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The following is a repost of an article by Carly Mayberry first published in the Monterey Herald on January 6, 2016.

Pacific Grove >> Despite past sexual misconduct allegations reported recently in the New York Times and online efforts condemning him, Esalen Institute speaker Marc Gafni still plans on teaching his three-day workshop at the Big Sur retreat in February.

Gafni, a so-called spiritualist guru and part-time Pacific Grove resident, has been the subject of allegations dating to the 1980s that he sexually exploited a high school freshman. He was never charged.

He was also accused in 2006 of having affairs with multiple followers of the mystical community Bayit Chadash, which he had founded in Israel.

The accusations have led to an effort by New Age leaders and a petition by more than 100 Jewish rabbis to denounce the 55-year-old’s status as a leader in the New Age community.

Besides his teaching, Gafni is the founder of the think tank The Center of Integral Wisdom, which espouses the business-ethics movement dubbed “conscious capitalism” and aims to formulate “a global ethics for a global civilization.”

Born Mordechai Winiarz to an Orthodox family, Gafni is a former rabbi. He said he resides most of the year in New York and Holland.

In previous interviews, Gafni described the claims against him as “old” and “exaggerated,” the result of “professional resentment” and “pseudo-feminist witch hunts.”

“They’re not true, substantially not true, addressed many times in the past, and are the same old recycled and discredited accusations,” Gafni told The Herald on Wednesday.

To date, about 25 New Age leaders, including best-selling author Deepak Chopra, author Jean Houston, The Shift Network CEO Stephen Dinan and author/religious scholar Andrew Harvey, have signed a public statement disavowing themselves from Gafni. The statement was sent to 180,000 subscribers to The Shift Network.

Also, a petition last week titled “Stop Marc Gafni From Abusing Again” was posted on the website by Rabbi David Ingber. The petition is aimed primarily at Whole Foods, whose co-founder and CEO John Mackey is a supporter of Gafni’s and chairs the executive board of his Center for Integral Wisdom. It included a signed statement by more than 100 rabbis along with other prominent educators in the Jewish community. As of Wednesday, it had close to 2,800 supporters.

“This publicity has caused me and my family and my friends great pain,” said Gafni. “We all remain committed to transformation and creating a better world together in the best way we know how.”

While Esalen President Gordon Wheeler said he couldn’t comment about Gafni directly, he did address the center’s commitment to providing sound teachings.

“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback and we’re trying to get informed and taking it very seriously,” said Wheeler. “I can’t tell you what is actually going to happen moving forward, but I do know how committed we are about safety and facilitative conditions for transformational learning because that’s why we’re there.”

Wheeler recently told The Jewish Week, an independent weekly newspaper serving the Jewish community, that “we are listening and learning and not brushing away” the accusations made toward Gafni.

Gafni, who has co-taught one weekend a year at Esalen for the last five years, is scheduled to teach a three-day workshop starting Feb. 5 titled “Evolutionary Relationships: Opening into the Great Heart” with a member of his think tank, Sally Kempton. He is described on the retreat center’s website as “a visionary scholar, public intellectual and spiritual artist” whose teaching is marked by “a deep transmission of heart, love and leading-edge provocative wisdom.”

Gafni said that to the best of his knowledge nothing has changed regarding his relationship with Esalen.

“I have taught at Esalen for one weekend once a year for the last five years. During every Esalen weekend I, of course, strictly adhere to all of their ethical guidelines,” said Gafni.

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The following is a repost of a statement posted on the official Integral Church facebook page on January 6, 2016.

Marc Gafni has, through the course of his life, made significant literary contributions to the offerings of spiritual texts that, for many, have helped to broaden and deepen their spiritual experience. There are also many that have learned from Marc and have appreciated his charismatic and inspiring teachings.

Unfortunately, recent validation of mounting evidence has revealed a different face of Marc Gafni. Marc’s hidden face is that of an alleged sexual predator. There have been many women who have come forward to tell their stories of Marc; their stories of violation with their terror and their pain; some underage at the time of the alleged assaults. So much validated evidence of this type of behavior from one associated with Integral leadership demands a response from any establishment associating with the Integral knowledge tradition.

We at Integral Church are deeply saddened by Marc’s behavior and deeply outraged by his continued denial in the face of his victims’ pain. We continue to be firm in our belief that Integral leadership demands a high level of personal integrity to self, to others, and to the world; and that this in turn establishes a range of acceptable right actions as well as high levels of accountability for those actions in the world. Marc Gafni, it seems from the mounting evidence, has fallen far below those standards.

We acknowledge Marc’s apparent high spiritual state and cognitive line attainment and would under no circumstance wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater, however, coupled with the evidence of some sort of developmental pathology and Marc’s continued denial at every level, Integral Church cannot endorse Marc as a spiritual leader, or in fact, an Integral leader. His life is a testament to how badly stage development can go wrong, how insidious it is, and sometimes how it wears a mask of beauty and inspiration. We are saddened to have such a clear example in our midst.

Marc’s continued denial of his actions and the damage he has inflicted must not be ignored due to his status, nor condoned by convenient silence. While we can acknowledge the pathology and shadow that anchors such behavior and have compassion for such wounding, we are also committed to a high level of integrity that demands these aspects of self and shadow be addressed. We would like to be part of the Integral Voice that demands Marc Gafni take responsibility for his actions by accepting the perspectives of his victims as valid; seek restitution to his victims; seek treatment intervention for himself; and voluntarily remove himself from any positions or affiliations of power that allow him to victimize students in the future.

The Board of Directors, Integral Church

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The following is a repost of an article by Cathryn J. Prince first published on on January 6, 2016.

A media storm surrounding a disgraced former Jewish spiritual leader and current New Age thinker is either character assassination or long overdue.

NEW YORK – Seeing a new tool in her 30-year battle for recognition and retribution, Judy Mitzner didn’t just sign the petition imploring Whole Foods to sever ties with Marc Gafni, the former Orthodox rabbi and present day spiritual teacher who is again in the news over accusations of longstanding sexual misconduct.

“I was a victim of this horrible man’s sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse,” Mitzner wrote on the petition.

The petition, a public J’accuse, has garnered over 2,700 signatures, many of them from rabbis across the United States. It states: “As a group of religious and communal leaders, we are motivated by the obligation embedded in the belief that whoever saves a single life, it is as if they have saved a whole world. Marc Gafni has left a trail of pain, suffering, and trauma amongst the people and congregations who were unfortunate to have trusted him.”

But the high-profile Gafni pooh-poohed the petition this week, telling The Times of Israel it is merely “a sad expression of herd mentality or group think, the action of the hateful mob who have no actual validated information.”

Now 45, Mitzner is the sole public face of the accusations against Gafni. She said this week she was the elder of two teenaged girls, aged 13 and 16, whom Gafni allegedly molested while he was working in New York City. It was 1986 and she had moved in with Gafni and his then wife to escape a troubled situation.

After the incident, which allegedly involved Gafni climbing naked into bed with her, she told her parents. They blamed her and no charges were filed against Gafni.

“The reason nobody else talks about it is because they are petrified of him. He’s a sociopath, there’s this fear of him. He was stalking me and making prank phone calls to my house for a couple years afterwards,” Mitzner said this week.

The statute of limitations on the alleged crime has passed and Mitzner remains the only one of his professed victims to speak out. However, a renewed public campaign against Gafni was kicked off by a December 25 New York Times piece, “A Spiritual Leader Gains Stature, Trailed by a Troubled Past.” Mitzner said she hopes the recent flurry of media attention and the petition will encourage others to step forward.

“I firmly believe he assaulted other kids. I was terrified from that point [after the alleged abuse] and had to talk about it,” said Mitzner.

The many incarnations of Marc Gafni

Exactly who Marc Gafni is varies depending on who is answering the question. To his supporters he’s a spiritual visionary; to his critics and alleged victims, he’s a sexual predator.

Indisputably, Gafni, 55, has reinvented himself several times throughout the decades. His most recent incarnation is as founder and director of the California-based Center for Integral Wisdom, a New Age spiritual think tank he founded in 2010.

In his past life he was Mordechai Winiarz, an Orthodox rabbi ordained by Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. The esteemed rabbi later completely repudiated his former student. He later changed his name to Marc Gafni and was warmly embraced and ordained in the Renewal movement.

Over the years Gafni has lived in New York City and Boca Raton, Israel and Australia, Utah and California. He’s worked as a youth leader and teacher, author and speaker. His various postings have been rife with controversy.

On New Year’s Day, one of Gafni’s three ex-wives posted a Times of Israel blog post.

In it she pleaded: “Please God, help MG undo himself. Let his inner demon loosen his grip. Let it end already. For the sake of his victims, past and future, for the sake of his own broken inner-innocence… And help the rest of us – his victims, his critics, and even his hoodwinked supporters. We have all failed. We failed by praising his genius while ignoring his demons… We failed by honoring the powerful while silencing the victims.”

While in conversation this week, Gafni, 55, admits to making mistakes in the past, he says he views the petition, the blistering semi-anonymous blog post, and several recent newspaper articles as tantamount to “sexual McCarthyism.”

Additionally, Gafni said he finds Mitzner’s continued re-telling of the story for more than three decades particularly painful. He calls her testimony “categorically false.”

“For 31 years she has been encouraged to be a victim. Judy is not acting alone. She is a part of well-organized and funded social group. She received strong social approval and reward for being a hero breaking the silence, which is ironic because she has not stopped talking about this and attacking me for decades in so many different ways, causing me and my children and friends a massive amount of substantive damage and pain,” said Gafni.

Gafni claimed he has taken a polygraph test that proves his innocence, and that there is “significant other information which supports that conclusion.”

Additionally, he claimed he has repeatedly tried to contact Mitzner “to create resolution.”

“She has always refused,” Gafni said. “I want reach out right now, as I have many times over the years through third parties, and invite Judy into a mediated conversation where we could transform this from hatred to goodness and truth and beauty.”

No day in court for Mitzner

Despite her public allegations of sexual abuse, Mitzner cannot have her case heard in a court of law.

“Because of the awful statute of limitations, no criminal charges on behalf of Judy [Mitzner] can be filed now. There are no legal consequences for what he did to Judy,” said Elizabeth Cucinotta Sorvillo, a California-based attorney and victims’ advocate who uncovered a decades-long sex abuse scandal at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, New York.

“But the more we shine a light on him we hope that somebody will come forward who doesn’t fall under the statute of limitations – just like happened to [Bill] Cosby,” said Sorvillo.

For her part, Mitzner is not optimistic. “Every time the story comes up he just moved on to another community. He keeps moving.”

So in the wake of the New York Times article, grassroots activists are using the petition to reach Gafni through a powerful friend.

The petition targets Whole Foods because John Mackey, the grocery chain’s co-founder, is chairman of the executive board of Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom. According to The New York Times, Mackey hosts board meetings at his Texas ranch and has posted videos of conversations between the two men on the Whole Foods website.

Mackey declined to be interviewed for this article, but Whole Foods provided this statement: “John Mackey’s involvement with Marc Gafni and the Center for Integral Wisdom is his personal business, and does not represent an endorsement or support by Whole Foods Market for either Mr. Gafni or the Center for Integral Wisdom.”

But lawyer Sorvillo took exception to this claim of separate spheres. “Whole Foods is incorrect in their statement,” Sorvillo said. “We are not just talking about a personal relationship, but a professional relationship as well. Mackey has a fiduciary responsibility to his shareholders to not associate with an alleged child molester.”

An attempted character assassination?

Gafni said news of the petition, and comments attached to it, made him “sad beyond imagination.”

“However the falsifications and distortions that abounded in the petition make it hard to fully engage whatever authentic pain there might be. The petition was organized by the same core people who organized and supported or refused to investigate the false complaints in Israel ten years ago,” Gafni said. “This was not a spontaneous explosion of outrageous for justice but a well-organized manipulation of public opinion, as part of an attempted assassination.”

Gafni moved to Israel in 1988. In 2000 he founded Bayit Chadash, or “New Home.” Focused on mysticism and creative worship, the center closed in 2006 after several women in the community complained of sexual and emotional abuse.

Although some critics contend that Israeli authorities once charged him, his Haifa-based attorney, Nitza Cohen, wrote in a November 29, 2015, letter: “There are no legal complaints against Marc Gafni in Israel. Not only are there no present complaints but there were never had been any complaints registered by the police against Marc Gafni. There are no closed files or anything of the sort. The complaints do not exist now and never had been existed in the past.”

Nevertheless, as allegations of sexual misconduct persist, Gafni faces continued condemnation. His rabbinical ordination was later retracted and most recently the Jewish Renewal movement publicly disavowed itself from Gafni.

“Marc Gafni is not a rabbi or spiritual leader recognized by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. When Gafni’s ethical breaches were substantiated in 2006, ALEPH promptly condemned his behavior, banned Gafni from teaching or participating in ALEPH and Jewish Renewal contexts, and broadly warned the public about Gafni’s capacity to cause serious harm,” the movement said in a December 29 statement.

For Gafni, the statement from ALEPH was both disturbing and ironic, as he said he has not spoken to anyone in the movement for ten years.

“I have nothing to do with them. For them to distance themselves from me is like me distancing myself from Donald Trump. We have nothing to do with each other at all,” Gafni said. “So it is a sham, like the rest of this, to say they are distancing from me. Perhaps they could do something more honest or constructive instead of distancing from someone they have nothing to do with.”

In the course of conversation this week, Gafni waxed New Aged-philosophical about the current media coverage. He said the petition backfired and has hurt neither him nor his Center for Integral Wisdom. Rather, he said, it has “paradoxically, strengthened” it.

In facing this crisis, he said he and his team were “all inspired to find the best in ourselves, the most authentic integrity, commitment and fierce grace to open up to deeper levels of wisdom and courage through meeting these attacks with love and compassion.”

The question remains, however: What will dry up first — his current circle’s “love and compassion,” or his critics’ attacks?

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