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 promise of certification was dropped by Gafni and a new program (a separate endeavor called the Maggidic Institute) would result in "ordination. According to Cashin, 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 felt that to sign on would be lashon hara (gossip), and two believed 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.
See text of Letter from former students, below.
An Open Letter In Support of the Petition to Stop Marc Gafni
January 10, 2016
We the undersigned, while not representing the whole, are members of the Maggidic Journey Havurah, a community of former students of Marc Gafni (we knew him then as Mordechai Gafni). From 2003-2005, we came together for a two year educational program at Elat Chayyim with Mr. Gafni which was supposed to lead us to a certification as a Maggid, or Holy Teacher.
For many reasons, some of which are mentioned below, as a group we disassociated from Marc Gafni in the spring of 2006.
We herein state that we are in support of the petition called Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again that Rabbi David Ingber posted at change.org on December 30, 2015. We also support the statements by Gafni’s third ex-wife in her blog titled A voice for Gafni’s victims, from one who was there at timesofisrael.com that was posted on January 1, 2016.
Like many of Marc Gafni’s students, at first we were enamored by his charisma and his ability to brilliantly convey Jewish Wisdom. A few of us even financially assisted or served in capacities that supported Bayit Chadash, the community Gafni co-founded in Israel and from which he eventually fled in 2006.
Little did we know that by the time our two year program ended we too would find ourselves deeply and adversely impacted by Gafni’s web of lies, deception and abuse.
Some of us know the women Gafni has harmed, including his third ex-wife. We now know that even as he taught us, unbeknownst to us, he was having inappropriate sexual relationships with other women while he was still married.
We were there and now stand as witnesses to his abuses, lies, plagiarism, and failed promises Some of us felt and feel an incredible sense of betrayal by Gafni.
By the end of our two years together, Gafni had subjected members of our group to financial extortion, visits to our homes leaving huge phone bills, sexual indiscretions, false promises and outright lies, fiscal irresponsibility, manipulation of facts to support grandiose claims, theft of intellectual property, plagiarism, misuse of power, attempting to recruit us to discredit his detractors and using sacred text as an interpersonal weapon.
In the early stages of our program, Gafni urged us not to speak about him with anyone inside or outside our group, stating that such discussions would be disloyal and inappropriate, as well as spiritually harmful both to us and to him.
Our community has remained in loving connection for 12 years since our encounter with Marc Gafni. We have supported each other through our healing processes of grief, disappointment and shame that Gafni left in his wake. We have spent innumerable hours meeting with other spiritual and community leaders to better understand and cope with the psycho-spiritual damage left by our relationship with this man whom we trusted.
Many of us have remained silent until now out of fear of his retribution and retaliation, as has been his practice toward those who try to reveal him for who and what he truly is. Others have hoped he just would go away.
We acknowledge that while Gafni's teachings may be a brilliant synthesis of his and others' ideas, the open heart vulnerability that he elicits while taking advantage of that intellectual and emotional intimacy makes him a potential danger to his students.
We now categorically and publicly disavow Gafni as a Spiritual Leader, a mentor, and certainly as a teacher of any kind. We call upon all those both in the Jewish world and those outside of it who support, promote or offer Gafni a platform to find new victims to immediately retract their support and remove him from any position of authority or influence.
We encourage Gafni to fully acknowledge his responsibility in the long trail of abuse and the emotional carnage he has left behind. We prompt him to seek immediate professional help and to engage in the long, deep and intense inner work necessary for Teshuva.
We stand as a unified voice and in integrity – it must stop now!
Signed in Solidarity,
Russ Cashin, Spiritual Leader
Maggid Charna Rosenholtz, Aleph Rabbinic Student
Dr. Gilah Rosner
Rabbi Shoshana Leis
Shir Yaakov Feit
Ken Rosenstein Senior Student ALEPH Rabbinic Program
Rabbi Elhanan Sunny Schnitzer
Patti Williams Niehoff
Maggid Alan Goldberg
Charlie Roemer, Maggid
Abby Rosen, Ph.D.
Maggid Ellen Triebwasser, ALEPH Rabbinic Student