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Articles on Rabbi Gafni Cover of Maariv October 15, 2004 Read More More Marc Gafni As Spiritual Hero In Catalyst Magazine My July 3, 2008 Dialogue With R. Gafni My July 18-20, 2008 Weekend With R. Gafni

For 30 years, Marc Winiarz (Gafni) has been on the cutting edge of Modern Orthodoxy.

He's been an incarnation of its twists and turns.

Between 1977-85, Gafni seemed like the Second Coming of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin when Rabbi Riskin represented the cutting edge of Modern Orthodoxy.

Then he was the Second Coming of Rav Yosef Soloveitchik.

Then he was a West Bank settler in Israel and chief rabbi of his own town (Beit Tzufim).

Then he was the Second Coming of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (in English-language radio broadcasts in Israel around 1992-1993).

Then Marc got into Eastern thinking (Buddhism, Hinduism), the sacred feminine, and the integration of pagan energy with prophetic Judaism.

And now he's a spiritual artist.

"I don't know where to start," says my friend Joe* (an acquaintance of Winiarz's for about 30 years) July 4, 2008. "This guy is just so goddamn fascinating. A year doesn't go by when he doesn't do something outrageous. For the last 48 hours [since Gafni returned to public life with MarcGafni.com], I've been intoxicated."

Luke: "It was a great experience [meeting Marc Gafni in Salt Lake City July 3, 2008]. He's a fascinating guy."

In 2008, Marc received his doctorate of Philosophy (with a speciality in Hebrew mysticism) from Oxford University. His Oxford advisor was Dr. Norman Solomon (a retired 73-year old Orthodox Jew) and his external supervisor was Dr. Moshe Idel (the successor to Gershom Scholem as the leading scholar on kabbalah).

Marc Winiarz (sometimes mistakenly spelled "Winyarz") was born in Pittsfield, Massachuestts in 1960 to an Orthodox family of Holocaust survivors. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio.

"At age six or seven, I knew that I wanted to be a rabbi," Marc told the March 4, 2004 issue of Haaretz. "Because I really loved the world of the book, which I'd known since I began learning at age three."

Luke to Marc: "I heard your mother stuck your head in an oven?"

Marc: "I've heard that story also. Completely not true. My poor mother."

From 1973-1977, Marc went to Ohr Torah aka Manhattan Hebrew High School, which was overseen by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and run by Vancouver rabbi Pinchas Bak (who died on Purim 1977 at age 32).

Marc Belzberg was Winiarz's dorm counselor in high school. Belzberg (who came to Judaism through Rabbi Bak) adored Winiarz. Some source say he wanted Winiarz to marry his sister Lisa.

Winiarz has been married three times. When he was 18, he was engaged to a woman he never married.

From Marc Gafni's 2003 book "The Mystery of Love."

Many years ago, when I was nineteen, I broke up a relationship with a woman whom I loved with all of my heart. Though not yet a rabbi, nor even a teacher, I felt powerfully called to the spirit. I believed, as I had been taught, that only a full curbing of sexuality would allow me to be sufficiently pure to answer my spiritual calling. My teachers at the seminary reinforced my desire for piety and "purity" and lauded my decision. I broke off the relationship abruptly -- honestly citing my need for purity as my primary motive.

Although I was completely unaware of it then, it was -- in retrospect -- probably the greatest sin of my life. Paradoxically it was the fear of what I thought to be sin that brought about the greatest sin -- the inability to see one I loved and who loved me. About six months after we broke up I received a letter from her that had apparently been written six months earlier and gotten lost in the mail. It was a beautiful note. I cried for about two hours when I read it. I did not cry again for twelve years, when I was thirty-one.

At that time I was married and needed to make a decision about getting divorced. I went to the person who had been my primary teacher for many years. The first words out of his mouth, before he really had a chance to think, were, "But you will ruin your career." It was the first in a series of moments of clarity that set me off in search of a deeper truth. I decided to reject the counsel of my teacher and follow my heart into the unknown.

I understood then that a teacher who is not a lover, who cannot see their students but only the students "careers" is not a teacher. I knew that I needed to leave such teachers behind. (Pg. 107)

At age 20, Marc married for the first time (to Shifra from Maine). It lasted two years.

(Winiarz has a daughter from his first marriage named Rachel. When she became an adult, she went on a quest to find her father. Though they met once, they've never had a relationship.)

Joe* emails July 4, 2008:

During those years (circa 1980), a group of YU kids, all post a year or two at the prestigious yeshivot in Israel, would spend their summers doing sort of social work/kiruv in troubled areas in Israel. The groups were in cities like Zefat, Migdal Haemek, and the Hatikva quarter of Tel Aviv. The leader of this program, then called "techiya" (renaissance), was R. Muskin, then a dorm counselor at YU.

Gafni never did the program, nor did he spend time in the yeshivot, so in that sense he was always an outsider. However, the social organization that yeshiva and techiya volunteers founded, Chevrat Aliyah Toranit, a sort of elitist dating program, really, was the first Gafni coup. At some point, just about the time he married (his first wife Shifra, who did spend time in Israel and I think was on Techiya as well),  he [gave some popular lectures for the] organisation [led by Shifra circa 1982], leading to quite a bit of resentment among the "in" crowd, and actually, shortly thereafter, the organisation disappeared.

Winiarz attended Yeshiva University for one semester around 1981. He attended Queens College for one semester.

"I transferred all my credits to Edison College," says Marc. "It's one of those places that give you life credit. I got my degree from Edison College (circa 1985) so that my mom would be happy."

Winiarz ran an organization called JPSY (Jewish Public School Youth) circa 1983-1986. It was funded by such major Jewish philanthropists as Jeffrey Glick, Michael Steinhardt and Marc Belzberg.

Winiarz was hired at JPSY by Ellen Lieberman (who is now married to South African rabbi Ian Azizolohof). When Ellen left on maternity leave, Gafni took over. He moved it from an organization with two full-time employees and a budget of $25,000 a year to ten full-time employees and a budget around $500,000 a year. He renamed it "The Jewish Youth Movement."

He'd walk into public schools and recruited Jewish kids for JPSY.

Due to the equal access law promulgated by President Reagen, you could teach religion in public school at an after-school club.

Marc: "I went into the New York City superintendent of schools and asked to develop this JPSY program. He turns his back to me in this swivel arm chair like he's thinking, then swivels back to me and he says in yiddish, 'A shaila's trafe,' which means, 'Don't ask, just go do it.' As long as we weren't proselytizing, we could do what we wanted.

"We didn't go in with a shofar. We would walk in and get a ton of pizza. We'd hire a guy who'd play Billy Joel music. Gerson Veroba. He played Billy Joel better than Billy Joel. We'd announce, 'Billy Joel concert. Pizza. Judaism.' All the Jewish kids would come. They were all embarrassed to be Jewish.

"Our big thing was Jewish pride. It wasn't content. It was just, 'Be proud that you're Jewish. Don't slink around your public school.'"

"I was a young, full of energy, arrogant. I thought I could do anything, solve anything, but I didn't have any protection. I was a complete outsider from Columbus, Ohio. When NCSY was getting 40 public school kids to some its program, we were getting 400 kids to JPSY. We were threatening the outreach establishment.

"I received a phone call from one of the leaders of NCSY at the time telling me as much in rather harsh terms.

"I was the summer rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue. They had over a thousand people a week coming to synagogue. I was an out of control, loving, talented, committed to everyone, arrogant kid who didn't send people thank you notes and didn't play the political game and didn't cozy up to the right people.

"I've raised a million dollars for JPSY. So picture how people looked at me."

In 1984, Marc and his wife brought a 16-year old girl named Judy into their home.

She later said that Marc came on to her.

Marc: "Judy's version of events is false. It is completely distorted in substance, fact and tone."

A polygraph test in 2007 supported Marc's claims, according to MarcGafni.com.

Judy told her story to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. He chose to believe Winiarz.

Judy told one of her counselors in JPSY, Susan.

Susan brought Judy to Rabbi Blau who put out the word that Winiarz was dangerous.

I'm told by anti-Winiarz sources that an informal Beit Din was convenened in New York about Marc and Judy. That Winiarz was told to quit his job and move from New York to some unsuspecting community and make a new life (that was how these things were handled until recently).

Marc: "This New York Beit Din story is a complete fabrication. The Judy encounter should've been dealt with and healed immediately. I kept running JPSY for a couple of years [after the Judy controversy]."

Rabbi Yosef Blau's wife Rivkah worked for R. Shlomo Riskin in the 1970s and early 1980s (she ran his girls' high school). She frequently found it distressing and burned out twice. She and her husband appeared to have a tense relationship with R. Riskin (though they've all since buried the hatchet, and R. Blau has a son who works for R. Riskin).

Marc Winiarz was R. Riskin's poster boy.

R. Riskin was trying to raise money to show that he could produce a new generation of rabbis. The first (and only in the United States?) guy R. Riskin ordained was Winiarz.

Yeshiva University's backbenchers were furious at R. Riskin for starting his own Hebrew high school (Ohr Torah). R. Riskin was talking about starting his own ordination program up the road from YU. R. Riskin was taking funding that used to go to YU. The guy who funded Ohr Torah was Max Stern of Stern College (the women's branch of YU) fame.

Rabbi Blau and Marc Winiarz had a confrontation in 1985 in a hallway on the third or fourth floor of YU.

According to sources, the confrontation went like this:

Marc. "Rabbi Blau, what are you doing? Are you crazy? Why haven't you come to talk to me to heal this thing? You're spreading stories that are not true."

Rabbi Blau says: "I'm going to get you."

Marc responds: "Why don't you first take care of problems in your own home before you start throwing stones at other people?"

I hear that Rabbi Blau then threw a punch at Marc and said, "I'll bring you down."

On Oct. 12, 2004, R. Blau told me: "At one point, Mordechai came into my office and told me he'd get my wife. I was stern with him. He was threatening."

In July 2008, I ask Marc about all this. He replies: "This was a long time ago. I wish the Blaus well. I no longer live in their world. Perhaps one day in the future we will all be able to sit down like human beings and heal this."

In early 1986, Winiarz finished his term at JPSY.

Marc: "I ended JPSY for a simple reason. A lot of people who do youth work does it between 18 and 26 and then you burn out."

Luke: "Weren't you exiled to Boca? Wasn't there a Beit Din convened?"

Marc: "It never happened."

Luke: "So you went to Boca voluntarily?"

Marc: "Of course.

"It's a natural transition. I went to Rabbi Kenny Hain, who was head of communal services at YU. I was ready to take a pulpit. He suggested Boca Raton."

The rabbi in Boca Raton before Winiarz was Mark Dratch, Rabbi Norman Lamm's son-in-law.

The congregation (Boca Raton Community Synagogue) had about 20 families. They'd been brutal to R. Dratch. One guy was particularly vicious -- attorney Steve Marcus who was murdered in a gay bar ten years later.

Rabbi Lamm came down to help his son-in-law. When he got up to speak, four people turned their chairs to face the wall.

Nobody wanted to take the pulpit that R. Lamm had ostracized.

Winiarz moved to Boca Raton around 1986. He did a great job in outreach. He was charismatic. The size of the congregation tripled.

Marc ruffled feathers. Before the high holidays, he took out full page ads in the local Jewish newspaper that said, 'Are you bored with impersonal and monotonous services? Come join Rabbi Marc.'

"The other rabbis in town were furious with me," says Marc, "because they felt I was describing their congregation, which of course I was."

Marc took on other rabbis over the lack of rabbinic certification on the sale of meat. "The meat would be stamped kosher," says Marc, "but the rabbis who were giving the kosher stamp never stopped by to check. It was completely corrupt. I got up in a meeting and said, 'It doesn't matter whether you believe in kosher or not, people are trusting us that this is kosher.'

"They fluffed me off. I said I would publicly say this is a fraud, which I did. That did not get anyone happy there."

"The pope had come to South Florida. The local rabbis went. They kissed his ring. I felt it was wrong. The pope had been inappropriate vis-a-vis the Jews in Auschwitz, without acknowledging directly what had happened there. I published a long list of the Pope's refusals to recognize the integrity of the Holocaust and papal responsibility for being silent during the Nazi regime.

"With a group of other rabbis, we dressed in concentartion camp suits and blocked the pope's motorcade. The other ecumenical rabbis were furious with me."

"Michael Dukakis was running for president. Jews were important voters. Florida is always a swing state. I announced I would hold a mock funeral for integrity in the Democratic party because of Dukakis's affiliation with Jesse Jackson. I wrote an article called, 'Hymietown is not the issue.' Dennis Prager did something similar at the same time. I detailed Jackson's record of significant anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.

"I received death threats for this."

"To this day, I hear from people who say they were at the funeral. I never held it. But it became a legendary event."

"I was blocked from speaking venues for the next decade because of that. Jewish Democrats were absolutely furious."

Luke: "The other rabbis censured you for something?"

Marc: "It was for one of these four things. I held a press conference where I held up the censure and said that this document is more precious to me than my ordination because it is a testament to my integrity. That didn't make anyone very happy."

"The positions we took were ones of integrity... They were correct. There's a way to take them and still honor the other rabbis in the community (better than I did). I hope that if I were to take those same positions today, it would be with more grace and less youthful impudence."

In Boca in 1986, Winiarz got to know a single wealthy 48-year old woman (not part of his shul) who turned him on to contemporary spirituality. She opened Marc up to music and art.

"I knew philosophy like a yeshiva boy would," says Marc. "I'd read Plato and Socrates and Nietzsche. I had never heard of Ram Dass. I'd never heard of New Thought. I'd never heard of anything that wasn't a classic."

He read "Be Here Now" by Ram Dass. "I never got into New Age thinking, but more the East-West meeting."

Winiarz built up the shul that Rabbi Kenneth Brander (a poor speaker but a straight arrow) inherited in 1987.

Winiarz left the Boca Raton shul after 18 months. He says he clashed with the board on about ten different issues, none of which had to do with sex.

Marc: "There was a sigificant disagreeent between the board and me over the direction of the synagogue. It was a question about who was running the synagogue -- was it me or was it the board? There was a vote in the synagogue about whether I was to go on as the rabbi or not. There was a mediation between me and the synagogue after I left in which we signed a document that neither side felt the other had behaved inappropriately because there were rumors about that then. This [conflict] was about control of the synagogue. I was very controversial in town. The synagogue was much larger. I was not interested in having a fight over who controlled the synagogue. I withdrew without a fight and I started The Center for Jewish Living (CJL)."

It was funded by Jerry Hahn, Lynn Kesselman and other laity (most of them from the synagogue Marc had just left). "It was less of a classical Orthodox synagogue and more of a community outreach center, closer to the vision of what Dennis would've created as a synagogue. I wanted a cutting edge creative experimental outreach synagogue."

"I wanted to stay in Boca and develop this. My wife Lisa was committed to moving to Israel and we had to make a decision. I felt that the Jewish destiny in the 20th Century was bound up in Israel. I wanted to be able to do what I taught. Like every good Modern Orthodox rabbi, I had been talking for years about the miracle of the modern state of Israel. Lisa and I felt hypocritical [living in the United States]. We had a wonderful opportunity there to do something significant."

They moved in the summer of 1989.

Winiarz had been considering a career in public service in the United States, including a possible run for Congress.

Luke: "Were you considering becoming a TV anchorman?"

Marc: "No."

Luke: "Did you keep a scrapbook with all your press clippings?"

Marc: "My secretary did."

Luke: "Were you looking for love?"

Marc: "All of us want to love and all of us want to be loved. The question is -- what do we do to get love. I hope that I and the rest of us do our best to get love by loving. Erich Fromm wrote about this in his book 'The Art of Loving.'"

When Winiarz moved to Israel in 1989, he Hebraized his name to "Mordecai Gafni."

"Winiarz" is short for "vineyard" which in Hebrew is "Gafni."

The Jewish settlement of Beit Tzufim (it is two miles east of the Israeli city of Kefar Sava) sent Winiarz a formal offer to be their rabbi for two years. He accepted. The contractor for the town was close to R. Riskin who connected Winiarz with him.

In Israel, to become a rabbi of a city, it takes a lot of political savvy and support. If you wanted to become the rabbi of Jerusalem, you'd have to hire a PR firm and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and have major support in political places. Major Torah scholarship won't be enough to make it happen.

Rabbi Gafni gave ad hoc shiurim around the settler world.

In 1991, Lisa and Marc decided to divorce.

Marc met a 24-year old woman. "It was a sad tragic love story," says Marc. "She was a singer.

"In the Ma'ariv article, she said we had no physical relationship. I was never her counselor. She was going to Bar Ilan.

"We fell in love. We had some intention to marry. She shared that with her mother. Her mother was very happy. Her mother shared it with her father and her father did indeed go berserk. That's correct. He called me and said, 'If you go out with my daughter, I'll destroy you. I'll work with Rabbi Blau to destroy you.'

"I told him that I was in love with his daughter and she was in love with me and this was our issue. I hung up the phone.

"He moved aggressively to prevent his daughter from seeing me. There was a lot of trauma and drama for about four months.

"We met at Bar Ilan about four months later. She said to me, 'I'll always love you.'

"Two months later, she got engaged to someone else. I believe she's happily married."

"After my second, I wanted to leave the rabbinate. As a professional Jew, I didn't have any sense of my own Judaism. I was so locked into the system, I couldn't think clearly about what I believed. My whole move out of classical Orthodoxy happened during those years. The core of most of my books (such as Mystery of Love, Soul Prints, etc) emerged from those years. I spent three years (largely) without teaching. I took a vow of three years away from teaching so I could think."

"[Circa 1992,] Rabbi Riskin was interested in building affiliates on the Aish HaTorah model.

"He had laity in Australia. We talked about the possibility of my going to Australia. I did a lecture tour there for 15 days (in Sydney). In the end, it didn't come through. The funding to create the branch system didn't come through."

Luke: "I heard that some people in Australia called some of your critics and that put a kabosh on your move to Australia."

Marc: "I don't know anything about that."

R. Gafni has two kids from his second marriage (1984 -1991). He has no kids from his third marriage (to poet Cary Chaya Kaplan 1998-2005).

In 1991, Marc Belzberg hired Mordy (they'd known each other from high school, Belzberg was a surrogate older brother for Winiarz) as a software salesman aka marketing director. Belzberg had a business partner, a wealthy lawyer baal teshuva who moved to Israel.

"The company I was working for for three years was called MicroGuard. I was the marketing director. MicroGuard was owned by Marc's venture capital firm, Belanet. MicroGuard didn't make it."

Marc Belzberg made a connection between Winiarz and Yitzhak Shamir's son and Israeli businessman and CEO of one of Mark's companies and social activist (let's-all-get-along).

Gafni adopted many of Belzberg's customs as he went from the Young Israel rabbi type to a Carlebachian to a bohemian.

On Shabbat, Belzberg began wearing this long white smoking jacket that the Reb Arele Hasidim in Jerusalem wear on Shabbat. Then Gafni started wearing it too (he bought one for his third wedding in 1998) before transitioning to the Indian garb below.

Marc: "You can take a normal sweet picture and make it look like a cult picture. We were lighting the Chanukkah candles. If you look at the picture, you'll see no crazy people. Just straight middle-class secular Israelis who'd been disaffected from Judaism. Instead of having a menorah, we had eight big candles. Everyone held one. We went around and lit them. We always did things halakhicly (according to the law), but creatively. I was trying to create an alternative to the Indian Eastern street. This comes not from the rational side but from the mystical side."

Around 1993, Gafni helped start a political party in Israel called Derech HaShishi (The Third Way). It was Marc Belzberg's money (in part) but Gafni was near the front of it. Yehuda HaRel ran the show.

Marc Gafni got his master's degree from Bar Ilan University circa 1993 in Jewish Philosophy.

Around 1996, Marc began teaching a couple of courses for R. David Aaron's Jerusalem program Isralight.

After R. Gafni finished teaching a course at Isralight, he started dating a 23 year old former student. The relationship lasted 18 months.

Some of R. Gafni's critics tried to make this a story. The woman then wrote R. Gafni a letter saying there was nothing inappropriate about their relationship.

R. David Aaron won't speak about R. Gafni.

They were never close.

R. Gafni got a job with a group called Milah (Jerusalem Institute for Education, founded and funded by David Morrison and his wife Jo). Gafni became high profile in Jerusalem around 1998.

(A source writes: "Milah was an adult education ulpan for Americans and ethiopians who finished the regular ulpan and were still not comfortable in Hebrew. Gafni used this role as head of the organization, not to teach Hebrew, but to teach his theories of Judaism and a parashat hashavua class.")

Marc: "I wanted to expand Milah to be something different. To be a teaching organization and outreach center. To teach spirituality and Torah in a much broader sense than the original mandate.

"I was a poor administrator. At some point, David wanted to run Milah as he wanted to run it. As was his right. He basically took it back. David wrote me a letter saying there were no issues of financial impropriety.

"David was right. We did not do a good job with administration. We had a different vision. We weren't able to work it out. At the time, I didn't have the skill to work with David appropriately. I wish him a complete blessing with running Milah."

Sources say David was under a lot of pressure from Gafni's critics to fire him.

Marc dated around from 1991-1998.

"That's when PAG started," Marc jokes July 4, 2008. "Parents Against Gafni."

Marc Gafni has led more of a bohemian than a rabbinic lifestyle. Some of his supporters, such as Marc Belzberg (from the wealthy Canadian family) have said, "Yeah, Mordechai has a yetzer hora."

Luke: "Are you a Zelig for our time?"

Marc: "No. Zelig means someone who doesn't have depth or a personal center. He's someone who shifts to please a crowd. My story is one of evolution and unfolding. Over the years, I've read and studied hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books. I've studied wide and broad in my own search for an authentic and living teaching. Naturally, I evolved beyond a narrow Orthodoxy to a much broader worldview. That was a hard walk."

Luke: "What does Mordecai Gafni the teacher today have in common with Marc Winiarz the teacher from 25 years ago?"

Marc: "A passionate love of Judaism and its texts and practices. I remain committed to Hebrew practices. To miztvot. I remain in love with mitzvot. At the same time, the way I practice them has changed from when I was living in a narrow insular Orthodox mindset. My horizons have broadened. A number of important systems of thought I've engaged have challenged some of my original Jewish understandings."

Luke: "So what are the most important challenges?"

Marc: "The particularity of the Jewish people. The notion that Judaism is the superior system.

"The highly rigid vision of family and sexuality, which has great beauty and great shadow.

"The shadow of the gorgeous Jewish ethical commitment is an enormous amount of self-righteous judgment, verbal violence and ugly ways of conflict. I'm strongly drawn to more holistic and inclusive ways of dealing with each other."

I first saw Mordecai Gafni at UCLA during Passover week 2002. He lectured for an hour during UCLA Hillel's day of Jewish learning (yom limmud).

I saw Gafni chatting with Dennis Prager after his lecture. They appeared friendly. The next week, Gafni appeared on Prager's radio show for half an hour to talk about his book The Mystery of Love. During the show, Prager shifted his position on the book and concluded that it was important.

Dennis Prager's wife of the time, Fran, loved Gafni's book The Mystery of Love, but Dennis had a harder time with it.

Marc describes Mystery as his best book.

From Publishers Weekly: "From the author of Soul Prints comes this book about the profound link between sex and spirituality. Gafni, a Kabbalah scholar, television host and rabbi, argues thoughtfully and thoroughly that the erotic and the holy are one and the same. If readers can get past the initial shock of Gafni's claim that the cherubs on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies were in fact locked in sexual embrace (a provocative suggestion supported by some Kabbalistic texts), then the book is sure to be a mind opener. Gafni writes: the secret of the cherubs is that sex is our spiritual guide. He carefully reclaims the word eros, broadening it from the narrow sexual meaning it has today to encompass a larger life force: eros is the source of all creativity and pleasure. In this context, eros is synonymous with the divine and the sacred. Sexuality (e.g., as portrayed in the Old Testament's Song of Solomon) is a model for the larger concept of eros and holiness. Gafni meticulously builds on this central argument with generous helpings of parables and stories from mystical texts, observing that we often lead nonerotic (although not necessarily nonsexual) lives. He invites readers to learn to fill their emptiness with eros rather than its pale imitations. Those frustrated with the spare documentation of his argument can look forward to his upcoming two-volume scholarly work expanding on the material in this fascinating book."

The most important kabbalah expert in America, Professor Elliot Wolfson of New York University, blurbed the book: "[A] beautiful book that will undoubtedly inspire many people and perhaps even bring some healing to a desperately ill world."

An ex-girlfriend told me in 2002 that Soul Prints was the best book she'd read on Judaism.

From Publishers Weekly: "Just as fingerprints are unique, so, too, says Rabbi Gafni, are soul prints: each human soul has an individual mark that it leaves behind on everyone it touches. Gafni, dean of the Merlitz Public Culture Center in Israel, weaves together autobiographical reflections with tips and exercises designed to help readers discover their soul prints and find fulfillment. Gafni begins with the premise that everyone is lonely and many people look for cures in places where they will never find them, such as sexual encounters. Many of the exercises in this splendid book are designed to help readers confront, and then cure, that loneliness. Gafni suggests that readers share what they learn while reading this book with a lonely person they know. Readers are then asked to make a "Soul Print box" that contains the things that are most important to them, and then to show the contents of that box to one other person. Gafni advocates the practice of random acts of kindness: "Bring happiness to one person each week, for no apparent reason." His tremendous breadth distinguishes this volume from so many spiritualized self-help tomes. He draws on the fantasy novella Flatlands and the teachings of Talmudic rabbis, on psychologists and prophets. He tells his own stories and biblical stories. Though steeped in Jewish wisdom, this book will be accessible and helpful to readers of many faiths. Gafni occasionally states the obvious (as when he notes that if "after a long day of living your life, you feel as if you are on the verge of tears," something might be amiss). But those few banalities can't ruin this insightful book. (Mar.)Forecast: This book is being published in conjunction with a major PBS special by the same title, scheduled to air in early March; this should have a significant impact on book sales. Gafni will be doing a 10-city author tour later that month."

Prager was chummy with Gafni for years (until 2006 when Gafni's Bayit Chadash scandal broke open and all the Jewish leaders such as rabbis Telushkin and Berman who'd been in Gafni's corner left him). They regularly greet each other with a hug. When Dennis sent his step-daughter Anya to Israel circa 1998, he asked Gafni to look after her.

Like Shlomo Carlebach, Gafni feels a mission to hug everybody he can.

Gafni had a three hour meeting with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin circa 1998. Gafni told his life story in a convincing fashion and Telushkin moved into his corner for the next eight years.

Prager and Telushkin vouched for Gafni for many years (until 2006).

(Joseph Telushkin began backing Gafni at the request of his friend, who had a romance with Gafni. Telushkin then turned against Gafni May 10, 2006 when she turned against Gafni.)

Rabbi Telushkin wrote this cover blurb for Soul Prints: "A radical, profound, and important guide to enable each reader to find out why he is on earth -- and what he can do to make sure that he actualizes the person he or she is meant to be."

In the Acknowledgements section of Soul Prints, Gafni calls Telushkin a "friend" and "colleague."

Though they were never close, Telushkin, a secondary sources guy (he writes popular books on Judaism but does little original scholarship), was impressed by Gafni's abilities with primary sources.

Many of Gafni's followers say he's a genius. This July 2008 article in Catalyst magazine promotes him as the hero of a spiritual epic.

I would say Gafni knows more Torah than 99% of non-Orthodox Jews (and probably more than 90% of Orthodox Jews).

Gafni's been to yeshiva. He's well read. He knows how to speak. He's charismatic. Non-Orthodox Jews are dying for a guy like him.

Rabbi Gafni and his other supporters, are convinced that there is a small group of people who are destroying his career. They are right. There is a small group of people (such Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University) wanting to end his career as a religious leader. They pushed Gary Rosenblatt -- Rabbi Blau's longtime friend -- to write that 2004 article in The Jewish Week.

They've known or known of Gafni since around 1980 (though none of his detractors have had an ongoing close relationship with Gafni). They say Gafni is a dangerous man.

On October 21, 2004, I left messages with rabbis Berman and Telushkin on their home phone numbers to talk about their defense of Gafni. They've yet to return my call.

Though Gafni does develop his own ideas, his detractors love to point to his ability to take the ideas of others and restate them in a way that's more compelling.

When he was young (from about 1976 to 1989), Marc seemed like the second coming of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. He was delivering Rabbi Riskin's talks, word-for-word, better than Rabbi Riskin. Rabbi Riskin didn't mind this. On the contrary, he was flattered to have a protege. Rabbi Riskin speaks personally, as if he is giving you some secret (with the way he uses his delivery and moves around the room). For a couple of years, Mordechai matched this style (though not the high-pitched voice).

Winiarz wore a suit. His hair was short. He wore a white shirt. He looked like a respectable Young Israel Orthodox rabbi.

"I never tried to be Rabbi Riskin," Gafni tells me July 4, 2008. "For a time, I was his protege."

For years, Winiarz was fascinated by Rav Yosef Soloveitchik.

Around 1986, Winiarz published in Daat (a scholarly publication out of Bar Ilan) the first annotated bibliography of the Rav's works.

"An annotated bibliography means you read everything," says Gafni. "I read every word the man wrote. I was going to write my doctorate on Solveitchik. I have four huge boxes organizing his thought into different categories. I probably know his thought better than anybody else in the world today."

"I read voraciously. I've picked about ten thinkers in my life and done zibbug. It's a spiritual and intellectual process where you completely merge with the thought of a thinker. I did that with about three or four Hasidic masters. The first person I did it with was Rav. Soloveitchik. You're not so much studying their thought. You're entering into their spiritual dept. You are intuitively in their field.

"I lectured on him extensively for a period of time. I was madly in love with his thought. At a certain point, it didn't quite do it for me. It was missing an emotional tenor, an emotional ecstasy, loving. It became too conceptual for me.

"When I was like 17, I would hang out outside his apartment at YU and wait for him to come out so I could just see him. I was like a 17 year old in love with a baseball player. I was madly in love with him.

"I wasn't about becoming the next Soloveitchik. I was deeply reverentially in love with his thought and with him. I submitted my doctoral thesis proposal to write on him -- 'Kabbalah in the thought of Rabbi Soloveitchik.' I wanted to show that underneath all the rational categories, he was actually a kabbalist. Whenever there was a clash between rational thought and kabbalistic thought, he used kabbalistic thought. That proposal was approved by Bar Ilan. In the end, I went in a different direction."

"My heart opened to Hasidism. It's a normal development."

In 1989, Gafni moved into his Shlomo Carlebach phase. "I never had a relationship with Shlomo Carlebach," says Gafni. "A bunch of his students and my students wanted us to meet. We had made up to meet several weeks after Simchat Torah, and he died just before."

Gafni's third marriage was to Cary Chaya Kaplan (13 years younger than he, an Oxford graduate student who made an early decision to never have kids, they married circa 1998 and divorced circa 2005) lives in San Francisco while Winiarz lived in Israel until 2006.

Cary Kaplan-Gafni attempted a PhD at Oxford's Jewish Studies department (St Catherine's) on the interpretation of Biblical figures in contemporary Jewish movements of renewal. Her supervisor was the same as Gafni's -- Dr. Norman Solomon.

Cary didn't cut it at Oxford and she moved on to a New Age school in San Francisco -- the California Institute of Integral Studies.

"My third marriage was not one of convenience," Marc tells me in reaction to earlier versions of this posting. "I wanted to teach in Orthodox institutions. Blau (or people connected with him) would call up every institution and tell them not to have me. He was like Inspector Javert in Les Miserables (to use the description of Rabb Joseph Telushkin). Blau would call women I was going out with. Three women over a period of eight years -- Rachel, Sharon and Chana. Each one I could've married. Each time, he called their parents. That's how I made up the joke about Parents Against Gafni. It was so painful to me.

"I was 37. Everyone I would try to go out with in Jerusalem would get a call from Blau or one of his minions. I met Chaya. She was fresh, beautiful. Not in the Blau influence. I was exhausted from going out. I got married way too fast."

Starting in 2004, R. Gafni started coming under public attack for his private life.

"For most of my teaching career," says Marc July 14, 2008, "I did not discuss my private life. Most rabbis don't.

"When asked about my private life, my first instinct was not to engage it.

"When many false things were said about my private life, I had no choice but to address it directly, which I've done in full on my website (MarcGafni.com)."

Luke: "You're great at identifying people with money."

Marc: "You're obviously saying that sarcastically, but any leader needs to be great at identifying funding sources."

Luke: "And what they believe, you believe and preach?"

Marc: "That's just made up. I don't know where that came from."

Luke: "You did paid television in Israel?"

Marc: "It was not paid television. I did several seasons. I made about 50 shows ("Under His Vine" in Hebrew). In Israel, you can't buy a television show. This was on Channel 2, Israel's key channel. Because they give you a small budget, Israeli TV on that budget looks like crap. So sometimes people raise extra money to do the show better.

"During the situation, when busses were blowing up in Israel, how do you go on with your day? I called my rabbi friends and said, 'We need to say something about this. Busses are blowing up and we are still talking about whether tuna fish is kosher.'

"No one moved on it.

"At that point, there was a suggestion that I make a series of television spots, not to explain what happened, you can't explain why a bus blows up, but to talk about it in a way that we can have a conversation about it. What are we doing here? Why are we in this country? How is it that we're being responsible to our kids and yet endangering them? To have a spiritual conversation to give people the sense that Judaism is dealing with their lives.

"I raised a bunch of money and we made for Channel 2 these spots and when terrorism would happen, they'd play this spot.

"Those spots were paid for by me and by Israeli TV. We raised extra money to do them right.

"The third set of spots were 25 spots I did that started the morning. They were on dance, creativity, tears, laughter. They were five minute spots. They're going up on my website. You can't buy spots. These were not infomercials. They were regular programming of Israeli TV.

"Nobody paid for me to be on TV."

Since 2000, R. Gafni has publicly defined himself as post-denominational.

The Re-Invented Rabbi

By Gary Rosenblatt - Editor and Publisher

Is there a statute of limitations for rabbis accused of abuse — and should there be?

How does the community determine when someone has done teshuvah, or repentance, as claimed? Can rabbinic ordination be revoked? And when, if ever, do persistent rumors and allegations over a period of years add up to a legitimate story?

Prompting these thoughts in this season of repentance and forgiveness is the continuing saga of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, 43, who in recent years has become an increasingly influential leader of the Jewish Renewal movement.

Born as Marc Winiarz, he came to New York from the Midwest for high school and college, became a youth leader and rabbi, was accused of sexual abuses and misconduct, and started life anew in Israel 13 years ago with an Israeli name. He has left several rabbinic and educational posts, here and in Israel, amid a swirl of rumors and allegations spanning two decades.

Over time Rabbi Gafni has assumed an increasingly high profile as a charismatic teacher, promoting what he calls a new, post-Orthodox stream of Judaism. He has been featured on Israeli television; written several books, including "Soul Prints: Your Path to Fulfillment," which was made into a PBS special; lectured extensively in the United States and Israel; served on the spiritual advisory council of Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, a national organization based in Philadelphia; led retreats at Elat Chayyim, a Jewish Renewal center in the Catskills; preached frequently at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles; and founded Bayit Chadash ("new home"), a New Age Jewish community in Israel that he said strives "to restore the spark of holy paganism."

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the spiritual leader of the Israeli community of Efrat, called several months ago to tell me he would like to revoke the rabbinic ordination he gave Rabbi Gafni many years ago when they had a close rabbi-student relationship. Rabbi Riskin characterized as beyond the bounds of Orthodoxy his former student's theology, described earlier this year in a lengthy profile in Haaretz, the Israeli daily. In the newspaper, Rabbi Gafni called for restoring a balance between the erotic and the spiritual in Judaism.

For his part, Rabbi Gafni acknowledged he has moved beyond Orthodoxy. He said he has other ordinations and, in a letter to Rabbi Riskin this spring, "returned" his semicha to spare his former teacher any further embarrassment.

Dogged By Critics

But the crux of the controversy surrounding Rabbi Gafni is more about his personal behavior than his theology. For the past two decades he has been dogged by a small, informal network of people, here and in Israel, who charge that he has had a long history of immoral conduct, including sexual contact with and abuse of underage girls.

These critics, including alleged former victims, several rabbis and educators, have urged synagogues and educational institutions not to hire or engage him, and they have stepped up their efforts as Rabbi Gafni's activities have broadened and become more public after his return from a self-imposed exile of sorts, spending several years writing and studying at Oxford University in England.

Rabbi Gafni admitted to having "made mistakes in my life," including giving in to a strong temper when he was a young man. But he insisted that while he had adult relationships with women at times when he was single — he has been married for several years to his third wife — he was "never abusive." He said he has done teshuvah, in part by carefully removing himself from potentially tempting situations.

"I don't work with kids, I don't counsel men or women, and I don't meet alone with women," he said, anxious to be rid of the old allegations. "How do I make it be over?" he asked me.

Even Rabbi Gafni's detractors said he is brilliant, charming and magnetic; even his supporters admitted he has a powerful ego and a spotted past. And he has plenty of detractors and supporters. Indeed, what makes this case so unusual — besides the length of time this issue has been discussed and debated — is the number of prominent rabbis and educators lined up on opposing sides, and the intensity of their convictions.

Avraham Infeld, now the president of Hillel, was heading an educational program in Israel called Melitz when he hired Rabbi Gafni in the late 1990s, despite pressure not to do so. Infeld has said he had no regrets. Rabbis Saul Berman, who heads the Modern Orthodox group Edah, and Joseph Telushkin, the writer and ethicist, also defended Rabbi Gafni, asserting that he is a gifted teacher and that they have heard no credible reports against him of improper behavior in the past 15 years or so.

"There is an element of unfairness," Rabbi Berman said, "in continuing to resuscitate the same old claims, which are not substantiated, and for people not to acknowledge that individuals can change and grow."

Regarding the allegations of sexual misbehavior against Rabbi Gafni, Rabbi Riskin said he has been approached by many people over the years with similar patterns of complaints of seductive and harassing behavior toward young women on the part of his former student — charges he takes seriously.

Other rabbis troubled by Rabbi Gafni's past behavior and skeptical of his depth of teshuvah include Rabbi Heshie Billet, the former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, and Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual adviser at Yeshiva University, both of whom knew Rabbi Gafni in his youth.

Rabbi Blau said he has spoken with a number of women "from the past who said they were victimized, and in no case do I know of his admitting direct responsibility or contacting them to express regret. So what teshuvah has he done?"

In Love Or Abusive?

Two women who claim to be victims of Rabbi Gafni when they were teenagers in New York more than 20 years ago have come forward separately to speak out, though both asked that their full names not be used because they said they still fear the rabbi.

One of the women said Rabbi Gafni "repeatedly sexually assaulted" her over a nine-month period, beginning when she was 13. The woman said she remains emotionally scarred by the experience, which took place in 1979 and 1980. She asserted that Rabbi Gafni, who was then a student rabbi, "repeatedly and forcibly sexually assaulted me" when he would stay at her house over Shabbat and sneak into her room in the middle of the night.

"It was a reign of terror and I felt helpless," she said. "He told me that if I told anyone, I would be shamed in the community and I believed him. I was physically afraid of him."

In the mornings, she continued, Rabbi Gafni would be overcome with guilt and pray fervently, beating his chest, and urge her to do teshuvah as well, since he said his desire for her was her fault.

Only years later was she able to tell her family, and she still feels anger about the experience.

"I had a real spiritual home in Judaism, and he completely destroyed it," the woman said. "My work has been to make peace with my own spirituality because it died after that experience."

When told of the woman's comments, Rabbi Gafni said he would like the situation to be "healed," adding that his attempt to do so several years ago went unheeded. He pointed out that he was only 19 or 20 at the time of the relationship.

"I was a stupid kid and we were in love," the rabbi said. "She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her."

The second woman, Judy, said that when she was 16 and deeply unhappy at home, she joined a popular Orthodox outreach group for teens that Rabbi Gafni was leading called JPSY (Jewish Public School Youth), and was drawn to his charisma and concern for her.

During a two-week period when she ran away from home and was staying with Rabbi Gafni, who was then 25 and married, Judy said he abused her sexually on two occasions. Even more upsetting, she said, was that afterward, the rabbi tried to convince her the encounter did not happen, and then harassed her for many months. He threatened to keep her out of Jewish schools (she was seeking to transfer from public school to a yeshiva), called her home at all hours of the night and then hung up, mailed pictures to her home of naked men, and had her followed.

"He attempted to destroy my life for a year and a half," she said.

Rabbi Gafni said that Judy was a troubled, unstable teenager who fabricated the story after he rebuffed her advances.

A woman named Susan, who at the time was a 22-year-old adviser in JPSY, said she believed Judy's account. She said that when she took Judy's side, Rabbi Gafni made harassing phone calls and threats against her.

"He told me I would regret it," Susan said, adding that the rabbi made inappropriate advances to her as well.

The rabbi said his version of the episode with Judy was corroborated by a psychologist engaged by Yeshiva University, which housed JPSY at the time. Judy said other psychologists support her account.

`Spiritual Signature'

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 Rabbi 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.

Even the criteria of when a public airing of abuse charges constitutes lashon hara (prohibited gossip) and when it is an obligation — to protect people — is ultimately a judgment call. The determining factor is whether the accused person is a danger to society and may abuse again. But who is to say when and whether Rabbi Gafni is free of his acknowledged past "mistakes"?

Two groups in the Renewal movement, Aleph and Elat Chayyim, looked into the allegations against Rabbi Gafni and found "no evidence of wrongdoing," according to Rabbi Arthur Waskow. (The three women with whom I spoke said they were never contacted.) And Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the acknowledged leader of the Renewal movement, said he is aware of the allegations against Rabbi Gafni but supports him.

"If you want to find fly specks in the pepper, you can always find them," Reb Schachter-Shalomi said. "But I've watched him teach. He is learned, exciting and charismatic. A good teacher is one who gets people excited."

Indeed, Rabbi Gafni's followers and admirers said he is a gifted thinker and leader who has helped bring many people closer to Judaism through his writings, lectures and television shows. They said he has done teshuvah, presents no threat to anyone and should be left alone to continue his important teaching.

His critics contend that he is a self-promoter and deceiver who has never been honest with others, or himself, about his behavior.  They find his increasing popularity infuriating and worry that his charisma and influence could result in trouble for unsuspecting followers.

In the middle is Rabbi Gafni, who said that while others portray him as Svengali, he sees himself as a "victim" of a longstanding "witch hunt," motivated primarily by several Orthodox rabbis jealous of his success.

In his writings he described himself as "a flawed human being, forever striving," and urged each of us to establish and craft our "soul print," our personal life story, the "spiritual signature" we leave on the world.

Rabbi Gafni evokes strong emotions wherever he goes, leaving a mark of darkness or light, depending on how his own "soul print" is perceived.

In October of 2004, I communicated with three women who told me about negative experiences (much of it related to sexuality) that they had with Marc Gafni between 1979 and 1983.

In July of 2008, I began interviewing Marc Gafni.

In response to my pushing him to respond to these first person accounts, Marc emails me the following July 31, 2008:

Summation of Polygraph Reports in regard to old claims.

The polygraph reports which supports Marc's refutation of both the tone and substance of the reports on the web was administered by Dr. Gordon Barland. Barland is one of the leading experts in the world on Polygraph. His specialty, working with the state of Utah is cases involving claims of sexual abuse or misconduct. For more on Dr. Barland Credentials and extensive expert testimony offered in numerous cases involving sexual claims please click here.

Dr. Gordon Barland.

By way of Introduction: There is a general professional rule that first person testimonies claiming sexual misconduct are not posted on websites dealing with these issues. This is simply because first person testimonies are often distorted and not reliable. Moreover the nature of sexuality is such that any reporting of another person's sexuality outside of it's original context is inherently distorting. Any person's sexuality - even if it was originally mutual and wonderful, can be made retroactively to sound tawdry and worse.

This is particularly true when report about sexuality is made years later, or is filtered through a prism of abuse which is suggested to the person making the testimony as the appropriate frame within to understand his or her experience. This kind of suggestion is often made by a certain strain of therapists whose default position seems to be that men are predators and women victims. When this suggestion is made by the powerful suggestion of a professional or professionals the results are often the deep distortion of events through the jaundiced or misapplied prism of abuse. This kind of distorted reconstruction of events might also take place when a person seeks to retroractively minimize his or her involvement in a sexual experience. It is also true when a person is characterized, often falsely, as a predator, then his or her sexual partners can easily filter there experiences through that prism.

There is also extensive documentation in the literature on recovered memory and in contemporary brain research on recovered memory which validates the possibility or a reconstructed memory which has little or no relation to the empirical facts; what actually happened.

On a website run by Vicki Polin {who made the claim on the Oprah Winfery show that she was involved in a satanic cult that sacrificed babies and has claimed that was repeatedly raped on Torah scrolls} and on other website run by a former gossip columnist for the pornography industry, Luke Ford, there are two women who were interviewed by Ford.

Ford believes that printing slanderous gossip which is unsubstantiated, and which cannot possibly be disproven by the person being slandered is a legitimate form of journalism. Ford is cited as saying, "As long as someone will put there name on it, I will print it". We have no way of independently confirming that citation but that seems to be his modus operandi.

A distinction however needs to be made between Polin and Ford. Unlike Polin however, it appears like Ford does not make up claims as Polin does but is simply willing to repeat and publish other person's claims. Moreover if given different empirical information Ford will correct false claims. However the nature of old claims about sexuality is that they cannot be empirically disproven.

It should be noted that Polin has a long list of simply fabricated claims against Gafni, which are similar in nature to her claim of participating in a Satanic cult and sacrificing murdering babies. She has made the libelous claim that "according to rumor Gafni is attracted to pre-pubescent boys". That Gafni has changed his name to Marc Israel. That Gafni has joined the Sado community of Salt Lake, that Gafni has remarried etc. etc.

Virtually every sentence on her website which makes claims against Gafni is either blatantly false or severely distorted.

One of the claims reported on the web is that Marc is a "confessed child molestor" or "confessed rapist". This is obviously a malicious slander of the most sick kind of which one sadly expects to appear on hate sites the likes of which are run by Ms. Polin and her associates. It is categorically false. Even to say that is false however is to say to much, for it is such an atrocious lie that it deserves no response. Not surprisingly many anti Semitic and neo-nazi hate blogs link to Ms. Polin's hate blog. It is obviously categorically false. {Child Molestation refers to sexual contact with pre-pubescent children.}

It is claimed as well that he committed statutory rape, meaning that he has sexual intercourse with a minor. This is categorically false. Marc asserts is that the stories on the web are false or deeply distorted in both tone and substance. Marc's refutation of the both the core content and tone of the web stories is supported by expert polygraph. The facts are as follows and all of these assertions are supported by Polygraph:

In regard to the first story published on Ford and Polin's sites, that Marc was in his ninteenth year at the time, just out of high school. The woman was 14, in the first year of high school. {The way it is reported in casual web postings citing Polin, one is given the impression that "rabbi gafni" in the middle of adult life had sexual contact with a 14 year old. This is of course categorically false} He never had sexual intercourse with the minor in question. They never has oral or anal sex and that he did not penetrate her vaginally through masturbation. Again all of this is supported via polygraph.

Marc further states that his experience of the relationship as well as that of the woman was that it was loving and beautiful. Nothing of the nature of the sick coercive description depicted almost thirty years later on the web took place. Again this assertion is supported by polygraph. This is entirely different then the way it was described thirty years later on the web where she makes the claim that at the time it was a horrifying and coercive experience for her.

He brings evidence that she shared with him the loving nature of the experience at the time - and thus falsifies her retroactive story on the web which she told decades after the interaction in question - by asserting that she send him a letter after the relationship was over saying that he was her one true love and that they were meant to spend their lives together. This letter as Marc describes it and it's content are supported by Polygraph. If this were to be the case then it would be clear that the relationship was interpreted negatively by this woman significantly after it was over.

Furthermore Marc claims that in the second story posted on the web, which took place when Marc was in his early twenties and her youth advisor, in which both sides, according to the web report, agree factually, that there was neither sexual intercourse, oral or anal sex or penetration, happened entirely differently from the way it was described twenty five years later on the web. This is evidenced according to Marc in a way that is verifiable by the fact that it was she who in fact act Marc to have sexual intercourse with her at the time of their engagement and Marc refused. This polygraph supported assertion of Marc's strongly refute the tone and character of the story as currently reported on the web. The results of all the tests on all of the aforementioned issues was positive, that Marc has told the truth about all of these issues. The polygraph supported the truth of Marc's assertions in all of these matters.

All of these reports are retained by Marc's legal counsel in Israel and the United States.

The anonymous girl in Gary Rosenblatt's article writes me in October 2004:

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, a new subject for girls in 9th grade in my school. He invited me over to Lincoln Square Synagogue, where he offered to help me out with learning Bava Metziah, if I would meet him on Shabbat afternoon in one of their class rooms.

After our first lesson, he walked me home, and proceeded to tell me how "special" I was, and that he really liked me. I got a weird feeling about this, but being completely inexperienced with adult men, I didn't have a clue about how to respond to this. I was a very sheltered religious girl. I wore long skirts and long sleeves, had told boys in 8th grade that I would not touch them as I believed in "negiah." I had no experience with boys, or men, for that matter, except for a few wonderful teachers I had in school.

Also, there was a lot going on for me and my family at the time. My mom was just getting over breast cancer, having gone through a year of chemotherapy. She was very sick and we were all frightened. My rather large family was in crisis due to this, and I would say that due to this trauma, not a lot of attention or attentiveness was being sent my way. Considering the circumstances, my family was doing the best they could. Mordechai asked if I would like to "learn" with him, and I said OK.

Over the next month, he continued to tell me how much he liked me and how "special" I was, but told me that I must not tell any one that he felt this way. He told me that if my parents knew about it, they would blame me for associating with him, and that I would be shamed in my community. He told me that we had to keep it a secret, because most people just wouldn't understand. As far as I understood at that point, we had a friendship, and I was getting some extra attention from an adult at a time when there wasn't a lot adult attention to go around in my family. My dad was overworked, and my mom was recovering from cancer. I didn't quiet understand why I should be silent about the things Mordechai told me. He hadn't touched me yet, but was doing a fine job of "grooming me" into being silent and fearful. He convinced me that I had to be loyal to him, and "not tell" about how he felt about me. I believed everything he told me. In retrospect, he calculatedly brainwashed me into silence, hooked me into an emotional trap, ensuring that I wouldn't tell my parents.

Then 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. He had already done the job of convincing me that if I told one I would be shamed by my family and my community, so I kept silent about what was going on. I hated it, was disgusted by it, and I was terrified, but there was no place I could talk about it or get help. I also had no words for what was happening to me, it was horrible and indescribable. I think of myself back then as a 13 year old girl who had to become disconnected from the world around her, it was full of contradiction and betrayal, and I had been trapped in this horrible situation with, as far as I could see, no way out. I walked around my neighborhood, a place that had always been familiar and safe for me, and I no longer felt connected to anything.

I remember on one of the nights that he came into my room, woke me up and was trying to molest me, he told me that he and his brother were abused by their mother, who was a holocaust survivor. He told me that she stuck their heads in the kitchen oven. There was a very clear message that because of what had happened to him, he couldn't help but doing what he was doing to me, and he pleaded with me to understand that, have compassion with him, and comply. 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. He described the world to me as he saw it, full of boys and men who just could not control their sexual impulses, and like them, he really couldn't help himself- he just had to do what he was doing to me. He just had no choice. He added, as part of his rationalization, that the guys at YU were always masturbating, but no one talked about it.

But he was tormented by the fact that he had no control over himself. Each morning after the molestation experience, I would wake up and walk into the living room, and see him shuckling wildly, beating his chest, doing "teshuva" for what he had done the night before. He told me that I should join him in doing teshuva too! Amazingly, he really believed that I was a partner in sin. Of course, I didn't "daven" or do "teshuva", but just stared at him in disbelief. And even after this fervent bout of repentance, he would wake me up in the middle of the night the next week.

I also remember him practicing sermons in front of me. He would pace around, gesticulating and dramatizing this or that phrase from the Torah. He wanted to be just like Rabbi Riskin, and he did a great job emulating Riskin's body language and speech patterns. He talked a lot about gaining popularity and getting to be a powerful leader. Mordechai made it clear that he wanted to be a "big rabbi," a "tzaddik". It seemed to me that he just loved to hear himself talk.

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. He realized that what he really needed was to get married soon, and he explained that this would give him a proper outlet for his sexuality. Its hard to describe how I felt at that moment, because it is complex. My molester finally decided to stop abusing me, to leave me alone, to move on. You would imagine I would feel great relief, but actually the full weight of the abuse I had endured in silence came crashing down on me. Here I was, left with this horrible experience, still with no one to talk to about it, and no language for it anyway. And he wasn't retreating because I had some how managed to make him stop, but because he decided it just wasn't worth the risk any more. He was terrified that he would do more and make me pregnant- then there would be no way to keep his secret. 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.

After his phone call, I knew that I no longer had to endure his abuse, but now I had to figure out how to survive it, and what I really wanted to do was escape the world that had allowed this to happen to me. I understand that what I was going through is called post-traumatic stress these days. But in those days, and in my community, the words sexual violence, sexual abuse, or molestation, sexual trauma, were just not house-hold concepts. I knew there was no way any one would believe my story, and if anything, what happened would be misunderstood or minimized and dismissed.

After a while, I figured the best thing to do was to "put the experience away" until I could figure out how to deal with it. During the abuse, I had, out of necessity, become pretty good at compartmentalizing myself, and leaving my body when something was happening to it that I hated, but couldn't control. I was also good at "putting away" the things that were just too complex and painful to deal with at the time. This is how I survived the rest of high school.

I tried to escape the trauma I had endured by spending the next school year in Israel, doing my best to push it out of my immediate reality. Upon returning from Israel for the 11th grade, I began to withdraw from the Orthodox world. I made it to college and embraced college life. My twenties were about getting as far away from what had happened to me as possible. I was determined to be free of a world that had betrayed me, and to embrace the world as a secular Jewish college kid. It wasn't until much later that I was really able to deal with the trauma of what had happened.

While in high school, I had told some of my siblings, who were shocked. No one knew what to do with my story. I told a male NCSY counselor, who had no response, except to look very uncomfortable. When I was 18, I told my parents, who were also shocked, and enraged. But no one knew how to deal with he information I was sharing.

It wasn't until about 10 years ago, that I began to speak out more widely about what had happened to me. In 1994, I wrote a letter to Rabbi Riskin, and told him my story. I never received a response from him. I continue to tell the story to any one who wants to know about it. Many people have contacted me over the years. People who had a "creepy" feeling about Mordechai, or who had heard rumors, but wanted to hear a first hand account.

I tell my story for the following reasons:

If there is any way I can protect another girl or woman from going through what I went through, I will do it. If there is any way I can protect a parent from having their child victimized, and having to deal with the pain and guilt of not having known enough to protect their child, I will do it.

Unfortunately, I knew Mordechai very well. He told me a lot about himself, and I knew him as a sexually compulsive, sexually violent man. After talking with counselors, lawyers, and professionals who advise and counsel sexual perpetrators, I learned that in 99% of cases, people who compulsively sexually abuse girls or women, especially those who were abused themselves as children, don't stop. These are dangerous people. The more we are silent about them, the more they have the freedom to act out their sexual compulsions. Further first hand accounts show that Mordechai continued to molest young women after he was married. Unfortunately, marriage did not solve his problems. There is no reason for me to assume he is not still victimizing girls and women. Back when I knew him, he was a refined manipulator, "groomer," "brain-washer," and he used those skills in order to victimize girls and young women. I have no doubt that, years later, he has honed his skills as a predator.

A couple of years ago, Mordechai asked one of his supporters to contact me, to see if we could meet. I was told that he wanted to make peace with me. I read a letter that he wrote, stating that he regretted that our "relationship" didn't work out, and that he wished he had waited for me to come of age and had married me. He really thought that we had a mutually consenting relationship, and that I was hoping that he would take me as his bride! There was no acknowledgment that he did anything against my will, and certainly no recognition of the gravity of his actions. He was trying to contact me because he knew I was telling my story, and he wanted to stop the bad PR, not because he wanted to make amends, do "teshuva," or own up in any way to what he did. His statements to Gary Rosenblatt, "I never forced her...she was 14 going on 35" are the farthest from the truth. Anyway, I expected that he would be smarter than to make these transparently self incriminating statements. Like your classic pedophile, he claimed that the child was consenting, loved him back, and really liked what was going on. There is no reason for me to believe that Gafni has reformed his ways. There is every reason for me to speak out and protect others from him.

Of all people, Mordechai should not be teaching people about Judaism - any "variety of Judaism" - Orthodox or Jewish Renewal, or any other Jewish trend. Yes, he is smart, charismatic, knows how to excite people, bring people in. Are we that desperate for someone to attract wayward Jews to Judaism, that we condone a sexual predator doing it?

Should Judaism be taught to spiritual seekers by someone who has molested minors and attacked young women? If we want a formula for misrepresentation...and turning people off to Judaism for good - we've got one.

Winiarz says that after his relationship with the girl above ended, she sent him a letter saying he'd been the love of her life. He describes a much more mutual relationship between them than she does.

"When I got her letter," says Marc, "I was 19 years old, I was sitting on my bed at Riskin's yeshiva dorm, and I cried for two hours. I hadn't cried for years and I didn't cry for years afterwards. I was completely in love with this girl. Was that edgy? Yeah. And it could've been a beautiful story.

"One of the reasons I started leaving classical Orthodoxy was because of this story. One of the reasons I went to get married, I had bought into the classic Orthodox position on sexuality. I felt like I needed to keept it precisely because if I wasn't, I couldn't be an effective teacher. Had I not had that position, I would've just gone out with her for four years and married her when she was 18. That's the shadow side of the 'negiah' position. Since it doesn't work for most people, it creates this split personality. I've counciled untold numbers of people who've been ripped apart [by the position of no sex before marriage]."

Many of the Gafni critics Gary Rosenblatt spoke to felt let down by his 2004 article. By focusing on sexual incidents that happened 20 years ago instead of Gafni's ongoing behavior, Rosenblatt delegitimized his own article, not to mention the concern that Gafni remains dangerous.

Most of the time it seems to me that the Orthodox world's perspective on Winiarz/Gafni and others who have left Orthodoxy under the cloud of scandal is, "Let them do what they like with the non-Orthodox."

Gafni's critics, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, say (and I will now quote from one Orthodox rabbi who has known Winiarz since the late 1970s and says the man is dangerous): "When you have somebody who is presenting Judaism to the world, to people to whom Judaism is new, his credibility is an issue. He has voluntarily put himself in a position of religious leadership. He goes on TV and he tells the world he is a rabbi. He invites scrutiny. If you are not interested in that scrutiny, don't go on TV and don't use the title rabbi. You can't put yourself out there as a religious leader and screw around (sexually, financially, ethically) at the same time. For Gafni's strongest critics, the main issue is not that he is a sexual sinner, but that he is a creep."

October 18, 2004

By the "Judy" in Gary Rosenblatt's story on R. Mordechai Gafni:

The overwhelming exhaustion that has washed over me from existing as a victim for the past eighteen years has ultimately been my silencer. Any remaining strength is channeled into the necessary tasks of parenting and daily survival. I will no longer be a victim.

The better part of my childhood was spent lost and invisible. My earliest recollections are of pleading to an unnamed supreme being.

“Please,” I’d say, “I’ll do anything, anything at all if you’ll let her find me. I know she must be looking for me.”

I’d scream and cry into my pillow at night. I remember waiting at the door. Anger was not an issue. If I was angry with anyone, it was the other “she”, the one who had taken me away. That was how my childhood psyche worked. Adoption was not a warm fuzzy word defined by “we really wanted you”. I read it as; the one person who truly mattered didn’t, couldn’t or was convinced not to.

So, I kept searching for my mother, for someone to love me the way I needed to be loved.

Along came Judaism, JPSY and Mordechai Winiarz.

At that time, my family was in constant turmoil. My father had brushed with death far too many times. In 1985 he underwent his second open-heart surgery – a quadruple by-pass. I hit puberty and my emotions, hormones and home-life were in shambles.

Mordechai Winiarz paid attention to me. He told me how intelligent and special I was. I spent many Shabbat lunches with him and his wife feeling like I had finally found a family. I began keeping kosher and abiding by the laws of modesty.

Mordechai had awarded me JPSYer of the Year. My sadness and isolation at home had me frustrated and doing poorly academically. I asked Mordechai if I could live with him and his wife. At the time I was hoping for a more permanent arrangement, but we agreed on taking things one week at a time. I had just turned sixteen when I moved in with them the first time.

The week went by rather uneventfully with one exception. I awoke one evening from a disturbing dream. It was maybe midnight and I heard someone awake upstairs. I decided to get some milk and try and relax and think. I soon realized it was Mordechai who was awake. He heard me in the kitchen and asked me to talk to him. When I approached the study, Mordechai was in his robe, preparing a shiur on something.

“Why are you still awake?” he asked me. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing” I said. “I just needed a drink.”

“I can tell there is something wrong, talk to me.”

“Really, it’s O.K.; I just had a bad dream. I am going back to sleep.”

“You’ll never be able to sleep if you don’t tell me.”

He wouldn’t give up. I felt trapped. Not physically mind you, but emotionally. I enjoyed talking and sharing with him because he listened, but the dream I had was strange, it involved me as a young child and the typical scenario of walking in on your parents’ lovemaking (in the dream he and his wife were my parents). I had had general dreams involving them as my parents previously. I didn’t want to share it. I wanted time to think about it. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. When I finally described my dream to him, he interpreted it as my being sexually attracted to him. I felt he was completely off base. I quickly changed the topic and was able to return to bed.

After the agreed upon weeks’ stay came to a close, my parents insisted I come back. So, much to my chagrin, I returned home. Things there went from bad to worse when my mother fell at work and was hospitalized with a broken hip. Now my mother was hospitalized and my father was trying to recoup from open-heart surgery. I felt helpless and lost. I couldn’t cope. I had no siblings and no family lived nearby. So off I ran – back to Mordechai, his wife, and the warmth and safety I felt there.

This time however, it was very different. It was Tuesday evening after at school when he made his first trip into what was then my bedroom - the basement. It was very late and I had already been asleep when the door opened. From the door, he said, “You look like you need a hug”. I pretended to remain asleep. He approached the bed and repeated himself. I still did not answer and conveniently I was turned away from him. My mind was racing. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to say. I was shomeret negiah (abiding by the stringent Jewish laws prohibiting premarital touch). Why was he in my bedroom? Why was he asking to touch me at all? I knew it was wrong. He knew it was wrong – didn’t he? Certainly I needed a hug, I always needed a hug, but a hug from him was wrong. Wasn’t it? If it were so wrong, why would he have offered it? I could not keep up with the fears and questions flying around inside my brain.

Before I could process them, react or respond he was sitting on my bed. I sat up to tell him “No, it’s O.K. I don’t need a hug. And why are you even offering?” when he put his arms around me. For a brief moment it felt good - like I was a little kid and my daddy was giving me a hug. Then I realized this was not right I tried to pull away but he held onto me and fell on top of me. He began touching me under my nightclothes. I said “No.” and tried to move his hand away. He kept fondling me. I said “No.” again and he stopped, abruptly stopped. It was the most bizarre thing. He rose from the bed, told me not to say anything about what happened because no one would understand. He promised me it wouldn’t happen again. And I believed him. I had to.

Thursday was an early release day from school. I was emotionally exhausted and went straight downstairs for a nap. Mordechai was at the house. I thought that was odd – why was he not working? He tried to stop me, to talk again. I told him to leave me alone – I was tired and I needed rest. 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. I truly had no clue what he was talking about and why the hell was he in his robe in the middle of the day?

“You know what you want. I will go out of this room and come back in. You just give me a sign.” He stepped out and closed the door.

The shaking started again. What the hell should I do? What did he say? I was half asleep. I sat up in bed. I was fully clothed, under a thick blanket, warm and uncomfortable. I had layered my clothes so that my elbows would be covered. I removed one layer, completely covered myself up to my neck with the comforter and turned to stare at the wall hoping that he’d just not come back. I felt like such a child. I wanted him to love me, but not like this. I wanted to be their child, just start over with a new family who paid attention, cared and understood.

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 and left the room.

I was now shaking so fiercely I could barely follow the instructions. When I finally ascended from the basement, he was waiting in the living room, in his typical starched white shirt and dark dress pants. “We are going for a walk,” he said.

We walked around Flatbush for the better part of an hour. First he attempted to make me think that nothing ever happened; that it was all a figment of my imagination. When that didn’t work 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? He asked rhetorically. He was still unsure that I was buying his argument so he moved on to threats. He would destroy my life. I would never learn in yeshiva, never get married, on and on. Now he had my attention. What was he capable of? I couldn’t be certain. But I knew one thing - I was scared. Emotionally destroyed, hating myself, and hating him, just wanted to disappear.

He left me there at the house and headed toward Manhattan. I was alone in every sense of the word. I knew his wife would be home from work soon. I went to the kitchen, found the sharpest knife I could find and sat on the dining room floor screaming, crying and trying desperately to break the skin of my wrist with the blade. I had just made a few superficial cuts when his wife walked in.

My gut instinct was that he had already told her some crazy story about me. She saw me there curled in ball on the floor crying. She didn’t even acknowledge my existence. Maybe she couldn’t. She just walked by and went into their bedroom. I knew I needed to tell someone. I called Susan (a JPSY advisor and friend) three or four times before I reached her. I went to school the next day in shock. I was due at Susan’s house for Shabbat later that evening. The evening before, I had told her briefly what had occurred. When I returned to his home after school to pack for Shabbat he was there. Again, he insisted I not tell anyone. He made me promise not to.

The train ride to Susan’s house was surreal. I was crying and shaking all the way from Brooklyn to Queens. I had never been so confused. I desperately wanted to tell Susan everything that had happened but I was afraid. I felt like I was drowning, like I could barely breathe.

There were other girls there that Shabbat and I could not find the privacy necessary to continue discussing what had happened. I fell asleep crying, hoping that things could just go back to the way they had been only days before. When Motzei Shabbat arrived one of the other girls left and only one other JPSY teenager and I remained. I talked Susan’s ear off about nonsense until the other girl nodded off, and then I told her the details of what happened with Mordechai. I was shaking like a leaf.

It was then that Susan told me that she had already heard from Mordechai. He had called her prior to Shabbat “warning” her about my “delusional” stories, my emotional instability and attempting to compel her into allegiance. Susan diligently listened to the facts, my fears, and unequivocally assured me of her loyalty and confidence in my credibility. She told me that he had made inappropriate advances to her in the past.

Susan was there for me through what would be the remaining eighteen months of hell. We were kids trying to figure out how to handle this trauma with no help or support from our parents or the community. I don’t remember much after that conversation.

I do remember telling my parents with Susan by my side what had occurred.

I remember how they blamed me since it was I who left the house to begin with. I remember the next year and a half of harassment and mental games. I clearly recollect the “camps” of people who believed what really happened and those who refused to. I remember the telephone calls at all hours of the evening – the hang-ups, the heavy breathing. Then the photos of naked men arriving at our home because Mordechai had taken out a personal add in a gay men’s magazine using our P.O. Box address as the return. I remember the Rabbis telling us to “let things go” and “move on”: Kenneth Hain, Yitzchok Adler, and Sholomo Riskin. I remember the ridiculous meeting held at Yeshiva University at which I had to bare my soul to men I had neither previously met nor trusted.

People keep telling me that times are different now. People will listen. Things will change. I don’t know. I want to believe that. I want to believe that he will be stopped. That he will no longer hurt anyone. All the talking, emails and articles seem very empty to me.

I am placing the truth out into the world once more and putting it formally into print. If this gives other young people the courage to speak out when they are betrayed, hurt or violated by an adult maybe something good will come out of this. Maybe others perpetrators will be stopped. Maybe community leaders will learn to take a stand on crucial issues before victims accumulate in silence, erupting unpredictably later in life with unified inner-strength and piercingly powerful voices. I won’t be silenced again. I’m no longer a victim, I have a voice.

I talk by phone October 10, 2004 to the Susan in Gary Rosenblatt's article.

Susan: "I became an advisor for JPSY (Jewish Public School Youth) in 1985. I was 21. I was responsible for a club at a high school in Queens in NY. Mordechai Winiarz was the head of JPSY. There were Shabbatonim -- weekends when all the Jewish public school kids were invited to experience a Shabbat together.... The goal was to help these young adults become connected with Judaism.

"My initial impression of Mordechai Winiarz was that he was charismatic, appealing to kids, and successful as a speaker. He's engaging. These characteristics are typical of people who have been accused of the things he has been accused of. He knows how to capture people's attention. The kids were enthralled by him.

"I developed a relationship with one of the kids quoted in the [Gary Rosenblatt] article named Judy."

"She came from a troubled home, so she was excited about JPSY. Mordechai took a great interest in reaching out to her.

"At that time, Mordechai had married his second wife. They lived in Brooklyn and they took Judy into their home. Judy was happy living in their basement. It gave her a feeling of worth. Wow, she was living with Mordechai.

"I remember once hearing Mordechai speak [Susan was in her teens] and I remember thinking of him then what you wrote in one of your articles. Yes, he was charismatic, but there was something about him that cult-like.

"When I started working at JPSY, I heard from people that he was peculiar. When you wrote that he's a creep, I thought wow, I've also heard that word [applied to Gafni] several times.

"[Gafni's second wife] had been a JPSY adviser. Mordechai was single. So many people were warning her to stay away from him because there were so many questions about his character -- That he was a dangerous person. That he had a dark side. That he had a sordid past. It was something that some of the JPSY advisers were talking about. People were taking her aside and warning her not to marry the guy.

"They married November 13, 1985. They invited all the JPSY kids to the wedding. I was asked to take a group of kids to the wedding. It was on Long Island. I remember the aura of disbelief among the advisors. People were worried for his wife-to-be..

"I didn't have that much to do with him. He was always very warm and friendly. He always had a way of looking at people and making them feel important. He would joke around a lot with me. He's witty and I can be witty. We would have our repartee. I was never interested in him. It was never an issue.

"We were having a meeting at my home at 6 p.m. one Sunday in May 1986. Mordechai was supposed to be there as the head of JPSY along with several other advisers and me. About 4:30 p.m., I was the only one at home. I hadn't gotten ready yet. I was wearing a robe. Just a regular robe. And the doorbell rang. I got the door. Mordechai was standing at my front door in a dark suit with a yarmulke on his head, holding a large gemara in his hand. I just looked at him, 'Mordechai, what are you doing here? Our meeting is at six o'clock.' He said, 'Oh, I was the neighborhood. I figured I'd stop by early. Don't mind me. I have my gemara. I'll just learn while you're getting ready.'

"I was shocked. I was uncomfortable. I had no idea what it would be like to have him waiting in the living room while I was getting ready for the meeting. It seemed very odd (and somewhat rude) to me that he had come by so early, but. I didn't know how to say that his presence made me feel uncomfortable and that I would have preferred that he leave. Afterall, he I worked for him, and he was 'the rabbi,' so I said, ok, Mordechai. Please stay in the living room. I didn't know you were coming this early, so I need you to stay put here.

"I ushered him into the living room. I closed the french doors .I went back to my room to get dressed. No sooner did I get to my room than I turned around because he had left the living room and walked all the way to my bedroom , opened the door and said, 'Susan, Male Sexual Health,' as he pointed to a book he had taken from a shelf in in the corridor near my room.

"He had taken a book off the shelf right near my room. My father is a psychologist and had many books in the hallway right near my room. Mordechai had taken a book off the shelf entitled, Male Sexual Health. He held it in front of me and said, 'Male Sexual Health. I bet there's a lot you could teach me about that.'

"I was shocked. There he was standing so inappropriately and looking at me with what seemed to me to be a suggestive stare. I didn't know how to handle it. I felt scared but felt I needed to remain calm. I just looked at him and said, 'Mordechai, what are you doing here? You were supposed to stay in the living room. I'm trying to get ready.' Please leave. I purposely didn't even respond directly to his crass comment.

"So he put the book back on the shelf and walked a few steps closer to me. He said, 'You really shouldn't be wearing that robe because it shows me your shape.'

"I just felt this shudder go through me. I said, 'Mordechai, please leave right now.' He was just trying to get a response from me to see if there was any interest. It was clear that he realized that there was none.

"I was shocked and frightened.

"He ended up returning to the living room. I closed the door. I threw on my clothes.

"I was uncomfortable throughout the meeting. Did I approach Mordechai afterwards about it? No. Because nothing happened. And I was scared of the look he had given me during the incident. He had given me a look that terrified me.

"Soon after that, Judy called me. 'I'm shocked. Mordechai came downstairs to the basement and he started touching me.' She ended up crying to me about the two experience she had had with Mordechai. Soon she started telling me the details about what happened to her, which did involve a lot of sexual contact [but no intercourse]. I think he was smart enough to know that she was 16. She told me that he asked her when she had last gotten her period at a point when he seemed positioned for intercourse.

"It immediately clicked with me that this guy is so capable of that because I knew how he had been with me. I knew that so many people talked about his past. The rumors I had heard began to make sense. I realized what could have happened had I not made it clear to Mordechai that he was to stay away from me.

"It was totally unacceptable and immoral behavior Although she was enthralled by the guy and enamoured by his charm, what made her incredibly angry and hurt and terrified was the way he planned the subsequent mind games.

"He came back downstairs and said to her, Judy, I'm worried about you. I think you're imagining that something happened between us.

"When he began playing mind games with her--making her think that she was crazy--fabricating everything, everything started to fall apart for her. Mordechai and (Wife #2) had been parenting her. She had placed her trust in him. She could not believe what had occurred. He made her think that she was crazy and fabricating the whole thing. That, in addition to destroying her trust in him, frightened her. He started to threaten her. 'I don't know what you think happened here, but you will be sorry and I will destroy you if you tell anyone stories about what you think happened. I will make sure that you will never get into any Jewish school. Your reputation will be destroyed.'

"Of course I wasn't in the room when this happened. People in his position do not invite witnesses to observe their behavior. They don't sell tickets for the event. But as an intelligent person who had experienced Mordechai's inappropriate behavior and had heard a lot allusions to his past, I believed that this guy was capable of what Judy described.

"To validate my thoughts, Mordechai called me. 'Susan, it's Mordechai. I need to talk to you. It's really important.' This was right after I had hung up with Judy. 'Susan, you're one of my top advisers. You're terrific. I'm really worried about Judy. My wife and I took her in.... I'm a friendly guy. I went downstairs to say goodnight to her one night. She thinks that something happened. Something physical. Some sort of a relationship. If she says anything to you, please let me know.'

"I began to plead with other rabbis in the Jewish community [to do something about Mordechai]. His position enabled him to be in constant contact with young women and kids, and what I knew firsthand and, as a confidante of Judy was enough to make me feel that rabbis in the Jewish community needed to do something. Rabbi Kenneth Hain is a friend of Mordechai's. It was clear that Mordechai was dangerous and needed to be stopped based on what I knew at that point. (At this time I did not know about his repeated sexual assaults on the thirteen year old girl- over nine months earlier in his life--sexual contact to which Winiarz/Gafni admitted in Gary's article. He [Mordechai] needed to be stopped in his tracks.

"Rabbi Hain called me to to tell stop what I was doing, which was taking Judy's and my experiences to the appropriate people at Yeshiva University, the main group supporting JPSY. I cried on the phone to Rabbi Hain.. I told him exactly what had happened to me, and I told him how Mordechai had been threatening both Judy and me.

"Rabbi Hain knew me. There was no reason for me to fabricate a story. I had heard of all these other stories of people who had various negative experiences with Mordechai. Rabbi Hain said to me in his deep voice, 'Sometimes the bigger person is the one who can just let things go.' He kept telling me to move on.

"I was shocked and disgusted. He knew I was trying to reach the right people [to do something about Mordechai]. I did not have a lot of support. People were telling me be quiet. How dare rabbinic leaders turn their eyes and ears away from crying victims! How dare anyone say that Mordechai was exonerated! There was never any Bet Din nor were there any attempts to contact me or us to do "teshuvah" as (Mordechai) claims he did. And it is not for Rabbis Berman and Telushkin and the others to claim to know who has done teshuva. They are not G-d. G-d handles exoneration of sins, and we women were never contacted by anyone supposedly exploring this case.

"There was a rabbi in Jamaica Estates, Rabbi Yitzchak Adler, who also told me to move on. Since I wasn't there, [when Judy says Mordechai got sexual with her]. I had no right to spread lashon hara.

"I am learned. I have a strong Judaic background. I went to yeshiva. I know the laws of lashon hara. I know when it is permitted and not permitted to speak ill of someone. There are certain situations when it is required [to bring up harmful details about somebody's past to protect innocent people in the present].

"[In the summer of 1986] I was on an Israel program. I went to Efrat, where rabbi [Shlomo] Riskin was rabbi. He ultimately revoked [in 2004] Mordechai's ordination [after earlier being a big supporter of Mordechai]. I told rabbi Riskin everything. He was extremely unsupportive. I think that these rabbis were afraid of what a scandal might mean for the Orthodox rabbinate. He listened to me and I think he believed what I told him, but for some reason he didn't want to do anything about it.

"I met with JPSY advisers and filled them in on what I knew. There was a meeting at YU [not a Beit Din]. Shalom Lamm, the son of the president of YU, Norman Lamm, was there. Judy and I told of our experiences. Soon after that, Mordechai was ousted from JPSY. Throughout the process, as soon as he knew that I was making known to the appropriate people what he had done, I received harassing and threatening phone calls at my phone at home. One was traced by the Annoyance Call Bureau (which had put a tap on my phone) to Mordechai's home. The others came from pay phones. I would get heavy breathing. I would get the sounds of someone smashing a hammer into something. I couldn't press charges since the Annoyance Call Bureau needed three phonecalls traced to the same number. The calls I received were traced to different numbers. It was almost as if Mordechai knew how to make harrassing phone calls without being caught.

"He would also call me and say that he was going to make sure that I was sorry. That he was going to sue me for libel. I remember thinking, for an intelligent guy, why are you using the word 'libel'? I haven't written anything.

"He said I was trying to destroy his marriage. That I had no basis. That I was making everything up."

Rabbi Kenneth Hain's Part in Protecting Rabbi Mordechai Gafni

A woman (the Susan in Gary Rosenblatt's article?) writes May 23, 2006:

In 1986 soon after I was a victim of Mordechai Gafni's attempted forced sexual advances, a sixteen-year J.P.S.Y. (Jewish Public School Youth) girl, Judy, confided in me that Mordechai Winiarz (his name prior to his name-change to Gafni) had been sexually abusing and threatening her on several occasions. I realized immediately that I needed to bring these serious concerns to people who would stand up for what was right and put an end to his abuse of power and people. I had seen myself what he was capable of, and I was not going to stand idly by and let him abuse others.

Among people from whom I sought help and guidance, I turned to Rabbi Kenneth Hain, the current Rabbi of Beth Sholom in Lawrence, NY, who had connections with Yeshiva University (which funded JPSY) and who knew Mordechai personally. I called him to tell him my fears and concerns regarding the details of the sexual abuse of and threats made by Mordechai to Judy as well as the experience I had had with Mordechai when he attempted to seduce me. Rabbi Hain listened to everything and said to me, "You weren't there, so you don't know if this is true." When I told him the details of Mordechai's sexual advances towards me as well as his subsequent threats to me and to Judy once he knew that she and I had spoken, Rabbi Hain responded, "Sometimes the bigger person is the one who can just let things go."

Although twenty years have passed, I will never forget his exact words and how they shocked me. Here was yet another enabler of Mordechai--someone who had the responsibility to be as courageous as Rabbi Yosef Blau and at least investigate these allegations and follow-through with a proper course of action; yet, all Rabbi Hain did was quash me and insist that I "let things go." Rabbi Blau listened to victims and acted responsibly to ensure that the many accusations against Mordechai be taken seriously and that Mordechai not be allowed to continue in his position as leader of JPSY.

Mordechai was eventually ousted from J.P.S.Y. I later heard from reliable sources that it was Rabbi Kenneth Hain who had furnished Mordechai with a letter of recommendation that he travelled with. With this reference, Mordechai fled to Boca Raton, Florida where he managed to dupe the Boca Raton community into accepting him to serve as rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue in Montoya Circle. Well, it wasn't long before scandal befell the community and allegations of serious sexual improprieties as well as misappropriation of funds shook the community. Changing his name to Gafni, Mordechai fled to Israel, and his string of sexual abuse and lies continued--with support from his enablers--until now, twenty years later—when we finally heard his "confession."

In 2004, I spoke with another survivor of Mordechai's sexual abuse. She had been quashed at every attempt to plea for someone to stop him, but her pleas went unanswered. In The Jewish Week in September 2004, Gary Rosenblatt quoted Mordechai's acknowledgement of a sexual relationship with this then thirteen year old girl— (though he claimed it was consensual) and he STILL succeeded in obtaining support from the enablers mentioned above while this now young woman cried out that she had been sexually assaulted by him repeatedly over so many months.…

In addition to Rabbi Kenneth Hain every single person who supported Mordechai despite the numerous, substantial, and growing allegations--and quashed victims' experiences --claiming that there had been investigations that never took place--should be forced to realize the effects of their actions and inaction.

...Because of these Jewish community leaders' blatant dishonor to the rabbinate, negligence and inaction-- many women have become victims of Gafni's sexual abuse. This is a true Chillul Hashem--that supposed representatives of Judaism who should have cared about victims' claims and pleas chose not only to shut their ears but to lend support, encouragement , and financial assistance to the abuser--Gafni. These individuals must be held accountable for enabling Mordechai to add more victims to his list . These individuals need to issue public statements of apology to the survivors whom they ignored and to society at large for endangering all the people Mordechai Winiarz/Gafni encountered over the past twenty five years.

I speak by phone October 12, 2004, with Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University.

"Mordechai Winiarz was a student [in the mid '70s] of rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his high school in Riverdale -- Ohr Hatorah AKA Manhattan Hebrew High School (MHS). Rabbi Riskin also operated a girls high school. My wife was principal of the girls high school -- Dr. Rivkah Blau.

"Mordechai was close to rabbi Riskin.

"I first recall him seriously when he was running JPSY (circa 1983). My wife was now principal of a different school -- Shevach. He called her and asked her to take a girl [Judy] from JPSY who had been staying at his home. My wife took the girl into the school. Clearly, the young woman had issues. She arranged for the woman to see an Orthodox psychologist in Queens. The psychologist told my wife the story about what happened between Mordechai and herself. The psychologist reported to my wife that he believed the girls story.

"I recall a conversation from that time with another psychologist who had a child who was an advisor to JPSY. He had Judy stay at his home for Shabbos a couple of times. I discovered that he was aware of the story and that he believed the girl.

"My wife was very upset about the story.

"During this time, I received a call from Susan, who told me about the incident she described to you.

"At some point, I became aware of problems in his first marriage. I knew his first wife. She came from a small town in Maine. She was sweet and naive. He was a sharp operator. It did not seem like a good match.

"I know loads of people tried to convince the woman who became his second wife not to marry him.

"At one point, Mordechai came into my office and told me he'd get my wife. I was stern with him. He was threatening. That obviously solidified my concerns.

"JPSY came apart. The official story was that one of the major funders of the organization had economic reversals in the real estate market. There was resentment that Mordechai managed to protect himself financially but left others unpaid.

"He managed to get himself into an advanced kollel at Yeshiva University. I was perturbed about it. I realized that this was a troubled fellow who seemed to cause trouble for other people.

"Rabbi Riskin had a beis medresh. Mordecai was the only one to get semicha [rabbinic ordination] under that system. He studied under Riskin. Mordechai did not get semicha from YU.

"There is one rabbi who has repeated over the years that he won't give anybody semicha. He gave it once and regretted it eversince. It is thought that he is referring to Mordechai.

"Mordechai ingratiates himself with people. For two weeks, he was a star teacher at JSS (James Streir School, a school for baalei teshuva [returnees to Judaism] at YU. The kids were enamored with him. He made a wonderful first impression. And then it disintegrated. He didn't last the term.

"I know the administrator (with a background in psychology and social work) who made sure that Mordechai had nothing to do with YU anymore.

"Mordechai spent a short time in the rabbinate in a couple of different places. He was in Stamford, Connecticut, in-and-out quickly. He was in Boca Raton for a few months. He came into my office at YU one day to say that he was doing wonderful things at Boca and taking over the world and he is going into politics and he will become a senator from Florida. He is always grandiose. He was going to prove to me the enemy...

"Then something went wrong in Boca and he left suddenly. There were rumors of scandal.

"Recently, I called two people from the community. One said everything was fine. There was a difference of opinion on some issues. The second one was so apprehensive that before he would speak to me, he asked me a question about when I first met rabbi Kenneth Brander, the current rabbi of the Boca Raton Orthodox shul, and his wife. Rabbi Brander's wife was a student of my wife at MHS. So then he was fine.

"I asked him why he did this. He said I had no idea how powerful Mordechai is. How dangerous he is. He was nervous that maybe I was an agent for Mordechai. I couldn't get from him what happened except that Mordechai was evil.

"Mordechai moved to Israel and moved to Israel and changed his name. He was still married to his second wife. People would inform me of things. Mordechai applied to the Chief Rabbinate. Someone called me and asked me to speak to the Chief Rabbinate. I did.

"One night [circa 1995] Mordechai showed up at the Beis Medresh at YU. He walked over to me and said, 'I'm coming back. And when I'm back, I'm going to get you.'

"[Circa 1999] I got a phone call from a private investigator in Israel. He said he was hired by a foundation [funded by billionaire Shari Aranson] which was considering giving Mordechai money for a television program. The head of the foundation is suspicious of him and wants me to do an investigation. He said he was coming to New York in two weeks.

"Sure enough, two weeks later, I got a phone call from the man. I went to meet him at his New York hotel. He takes out a volume of all the stuff he has. I said to him, why do you want to talk to me if you have all this material? He said, 'Because I have to be complete, and Mordechai had mentioned your name as going on a vendetta against him. And that he said your wife has always been jealous that he is rabbi Riskin's favorite and not him.'

"I said, that is absurd. She ran a school for rabbi Riskin for six years.

"I have the investigator's name -- Meir Palevsky of AMN Investigation Services in Tel Aviv. I have his card in my wallet. I have told people over the years to call the investigator in Israel. I've seen the man's name in the Israeli media.

"Meir told me two things. One, he was wasting his time because the daughter of the man who ran the foundation was enamored with Mordechai and he will get the money anyway. Two, he had an employee interview Mordechai. After Mordechai gave his version of the story -- that Judy propositioned him -- and that if he hugged her, it was only because he felt sorry for her. Mordechai then made some vulgar comment about the girl's anatomy.

"Over the years, people in Israel have sent people to talk to me about Mordechai. He keeps changing jobs and organizations.

"During this entire time [until circa 2001], he was still Orthodox. Saying that certain Orthodox people are opposed to him because he is no longer Orthodox is nonsense. Rabbi Billet was his teacher in high school. If you say people have a vendetta against him, it's an old one.

"Mordechai would reinvent himself. He was Carlebachian for a while. Then he became New Age. Periodically, people would show me articles he wrote. He managed to get his name in all kinds of publications. A number of the articles revolved around eros. Doing sins for God's sake. There was always a sexual component.

"My connection with the thing in The Jewish Week started several years ago. For the 50th anniversary of Israel, there was a special supplement and Mordechai came across as this new religious personality who was beyond everything else, was going to impact on the country. I was upset. I contacted Gary Rosenblatt [a longtime friend of R. Blau's] and said, you are giving such a troubled person a free ride.

"I called the late J.J. Greenberg [son of rabbi Yitz Greenberg]. He had worked for JPSY. 'J.J., nobody is going to accuse you of being right-wing Orthodox. Could you explain about Mordechai?' He said, everybody knew about Mordechai. This is not a secret. Unfortunately, J.J. was subsequently riding a bicycle and hit by a car and killed in Israel.

"After the Lanner scandal broke, several people contacted Gary Rosenblatt and said, why don't you write about Mordechai Gafni.

"Over the past year, I've spoken to the unnamed woman in Gary's article [who says that Gafni raped her]. The story was totally new to me.

"Someone from the Jewish Renewal movement contacted me a couple of years. He'd known Mordechai from Israel. He said this dangerous man is moving into the Renewal movement. I need to do something about it.

"Rabbi Siegal [from the Renewal movement] called me. I directed him to the private investigator in Israel. He said the people were taken with him but his son had come back from hearing him and said, there is something wrong with this guy.

"Rabbi Gafni applied for a job at Pardes. Rabbi Danny Landes liked him. He defended him in Gary's article. The three [Israeli] women rabbi Landes spoke to are different women from the three [Gary's article talks about]. There were and are teachers at Pardes who were upset [when Gafni came in to teach] because they knew his story. A friend of one of my son's who was teaching at Pardes quit over this.

"Mordechai came to American and spoke at some Hillel conferences. They weren't interested in him. Richard Joel [now president of YU, formerly head of Hillel, a Jewish organization on college campuses] says Mordechai came in and complained -- they're telling lies about me. Richard said, 'I have no idea what stories are true or not true. But I heard you speak and you said "I" 35 times and "God" no times. We're not interested.'

"At one point, Mordechai was going to have an article in a symposium in Tradition magazine. A YU student who had heard him at Hillel, and knew something about him, saw Mordechai's article and contacted me. I spoke out. The comment that came back from the editor was -- I knew about Mordechai Winiarz. I didn't know it was the same person. Mordechai's article didn't appear.

"Then I heard Mordechai was involved in Jewish-Buddhist things in Israel. Then Bayit-Chadash came.

"Over the past six months, I've had numerous telephone conversations with the three women [in Gary's article]. Most of it was me listening to them. You never know what affects people's lives. In two of the three cases, it has had a dramatically negative affect on their Jewishness and their other things. They're still traumatized and petrified.

"Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh from the Renewal movement contacted me. She spoke to one of the women. I was not taken by her. She complained about The Awareness Center and other things. She never called me back. I got an email from someone else in the Renewal movement who heard there was a controversy. I responded. I never heard back.

"Last year, rabbi Saul Berman came to see me. We're old friends. We had a long conversation. We are clearly not on the same page. I can't explain other people's attitudes. I told him about the women. I gave him the name of the private investigator.

"My wife and I went to a lecture given by rabbi Joseph Telushkin. We are close to the head of the organization that hosted the lecture. After the lecture, rabbi Telushkin came over and wanted to talk to me and my wife about Mordechai. What do we have against him? My wife did most of the speaking because she has known Mordechai longer and better than I. Afterwards, she thought he had understood. I said, no, he didn't. Unfortunately, I was right.

"They [rabbis Telushkin, Berman and Tirzah Firestone] said they did some kind of investigation. Rabbi Berman did speak to Judy. She thought that he understood her, but again, probably not. One of the other women called him a number of times and he didn't respond. To the best of my knowledge, rabbi Telushkin has spoken to none of these three. They are not the only ones. I don't have an investigative agency.

"My sense of Mordechai is that he is a profoundly troubled person who can be very dangerous. I have no reason to believe he's done teshuva. Every time he has to deal with a real case, he basically says, I didn't do it. He says he's changed. He's done teshuva. But for what? He says he's never done anything wrong.

"There are the same common patterns between Mordechai Gafni's situation and that of Baruch Lanner. Admitting a little bit one time and that you've stopped. The next time saying you've never admitted it. In the first article [The Jewish Week], he says: 'I don’t work with kids, I don’t counsel men or women and I don’t meet alone with women.' In the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles article, it is as though he did nothing wrong. His story changes. Arthur Green's letter says that he did terrible things 20 years but he's done teshuva. How would Arthur Green know aside from what Mordechai tells him? In the letter from rabbi Berman and Telushkin, it seems that he never did anything bad. This is classic pattern. Admit it when you have to. Deny it later.

"I've never fully understood the fear of Mordechai, but clearly many people see him as very powerful. When he threatened me, I didn't take it seriously. To take something seriously, you have to find it credible.

"Mordechai is good at bouncing back. He is not going to go away."

What did you think of Gary's article?

"Gary is a friend of mine. I've known him forever. We worked together on the Baruch Lanner thing. I would've preferred a stronger article.

"Most of these people bury themselves. Same thing with the article on Mattis Weinberg. It was the quote from R. Weinberg that was devastating. The arrogance of these people gets them. And they're all arrogant. It's part of what makes them what they are."

Part Two