The following is a repost of an article by Gary Rosenblatt first published on The Jewish Week on January 13, 2016.
‘Open letter’ from ‘maggid’ program attendees disavows ex-rabbi; ‘incredible sense of betrayal.’
Adding to the crescendo of criticism being leveled at Marc Gafni, the ex-rabbi and spiritual teacher accused of sexual and psychological abuse, 17 of his former students in a rabbinic-style training program have gone public to “categorically and publicly disavow” him “as a Spiritual Leader, a mentor, and certainly as a teacher of any kind.”
“An Open Letter In Support of the Petition to Stop Marc Gafni,” issued this week, is signed by men and women in the U.S. who were “members of the Maggidic Journey Havurah,” a community of about 32 students who sought certification as “a Maggid, or Holy Teacher,” in a program created and taught by Gafni from 2003 to 2005. Gafni was in Israel at the time, heading up his Bayit Chadash community in Tel Aviv, and led the two-year maggid training program primarily online, with occasional conferences.
The program ended abruptly when Gafni, facing allegations of abuse from several women affiliated with Bayit Chadash, left Israel and went into hiding in the U.S. for a time.
“We were there [in the maggid program] and now stand as witnesses to his abuses, lies, plagiarism, and failed promises,” the statement says. “Some of us felt and feel an incredible sense of betrayal by Gafni.”
The statement comes on the heels, and in support, of a petition, titled “Stop Marc Gafni From Abusing Again,” on change.org, which has been signed by more than 3,000 people.
Russ Cashin, a convert to Judaism and member of the maggid program, is one of those who signed the most recent statement, which describes Gafni as “a potential danger to his students.”
He told The Jewish Week that at about the midpoint of the two-year program, which promised certification as a maggid and a blessing from Gafni, he and the other students learned that there would be no certification, “only the blessing.”
Cashin says the group was told that certification would require additional courses, at a cost of several thousand dollars. He said he and the other students had already paid thousands of dollars and spent two years in training. He said he believes no one received the maggid certification.
“Gafni fell away from us but many of us stayed together over the years,” Cashin said, attending conferences and retreats together and offering each other support to help “through the healing process of grief, disappointment and shame that Gafni left upon us.”
Cashin said that several former maggid students were fearful of signing the statement, two others felt that to sign on would be lashon hara (gossip), and several felt that Gafni should first be given an opportunity to do teshuva (repentance).
Gafni, in recent interviews, continues to insist that the criticism aimed at him is exaggerated and that he is the victim of an effort to bring him down, spurred on by people in the Jewish community from his past who are jealous of his success as a New Age spiritual teacher and mentor.
Gafni did not return emails seeking comment by press time.
He is scheduled to lead a workshop in evolutionary relationships Feb. 5-7 at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif., as he has in past years.
Critics have urged the institute to cancel the program in light of the allegations against Gafni. Last week the president of Esalen, Gordon Wheeler, told The Jewish Week he and the leadership were deciding whether they were contractually bound to have Gafni lead the workshop. As of press time Wheeler had not responded to a Jewish Week request for an update.
Cashin said his experience with Gafni caused him to seriously reconsider his decision to convert to Judaism. “It really hurt, and almost derailed me,” he said. “But I decided I wasn’t going to give him the power over me.”
He later received a private ordination from another rabbi, though he does not practice.
A computer technician, Cashin said that during the time he was in the maggid program he was asked by Gafni to search the Internet for information on two of Gafni’s most outspoken critics. “He wanted to rebuild his reputation and wanted me to dig up material on them to taint their reputation.”
Cashin said he didn’t complete the work and, though promised financial compensation from Gafni, was never paid for the work he did complete. “It was one of many broken promises,” he said.