On Christmas, my non-SorryWatch-non-Sumac colleague Mark Oppenheimer published a piece in the New York Times about a New Age spiritual leader named Marc Gafni. Gafni advises such luminaries as John Mackey (of Whole Foods), John Gray (of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus) and Arianna Huffington (of Fuck You, Pay Me). He uses words like “integral wisdom” and “meditation” and “renaissance,” and mentors business types in their quest for “conscious capitalism,” which is a thing. But Mark’s story shows that Gafni (born Mordechai Winiarz) also has a long history of statutory rape and sexual abuse allegations and all-around sexual manipulation. A former Orthodox rabbi, he had his ordination rescinded by the prominent rabbi who ordained him. What is relevant to our purposes here is that he apologized for his conduct, then RESCINDED the apology, which means we have a lot of SorryWatching to get to! My shakti is ready!
But first, read Mark’s entire piece in the Times and the longer foll0w-up piece in Tablet. (You can also read a heart-rending essay by one of his three ex-wives here.) Basically, the dude worked as a rabbi in both the Orthodox and Jewish Renewal branches of Judaism and kept leaving positions in the wake of scandal. (Mostly sex stuff, but there was some plagiarism thrown in there too.) He has acknowledged repeated sexual encounters with a 13-year-old girl — with whom he says he was “in love” and who he called “14 going on 35,” and who we we call victim of statutory rape, and he has been accused of getting naked, getting into bed with and repeatedly groping a 16-year-old girl — who he called “highly initiatory” and who we call a victim of statutory sexual abuse, you foot-faced predatory dickweasel.
But you know, tomato tomahto.
After these events, Gafni moved to Israel, changed his name, and became the leader of a mystical community. It fell apart when numerous women in it said he’d been sleeping with them and swearing them all to secrecy (Gafni told Mark he’d asked for “privacy,” not “secrecy”). One of the community’s other founders said that Gafni had acknowledged having “a monogamy problem.” Another noted that he just has a lot of shakti.
The fact is, many powerful folks have excused his behavior over the years. Men’s rights activist Warren Farrell said, “Orthodox communities are pretty sexually repressed, and Marc is not sexually repressed.” Conservative book editor Adam Bellow said that folks sometimes change their minds after the fact about what they’ve previously voluntarily engaged in. “We obviously cannot know for certain what occurred between two people—as the Hill/Thomas case amply demonstrates, memory is a very tricky thing and an experience that might seem benign or acceptable at one time in a person’s life may look very different in hindsight,” he emailed Mark. A female associate of Gafni’s, a member of his think tank and writer about Eastern philosophy, noted that Gafni is a wonderful teacher for “mature students” and not someone that “young, susceptible women should take as their teacher.” (Way to blame the victim, sister.)
And now that I’ve wiped the bitter disbelieving spittle off my monitor, ON TO THE APOLOGIES!
After Gafni’s spiritual community in Israel imploded, he moved to Utah and published this online apology, beginning, “To My Holiest Friends.” (Apparently the less holy don’t deserve apologies.)
I want to say I understand I have made grave mistakes. I made choices that clearly hurt people I love. I am infinitely saddened and profoundly sorry for the pain I have caused.
I take full responsibility for all the pain I have inflicted. Clearly all of this and more indicates that in these regards I am sick. I need to acknowledge that sickness and to get help for it. That is what I am doing in this letter.
He goes on to say he’s “entering treatment” (where, what kind, for how long?) and committed to “making healing the number one priority in my life” (healing whom, exactly?). He concludes, “I apologize with all of my heart and soul to everyone,” and signs off, “With love and pain beyond words.”
SUCH WRONGNESS, WOW. A letter of apology needs to start with the apology, not end with it. Apologies need to say you’re sorry to everyone, not just to the people you hurt. Predatory teachers and spiritual leaders hurt everyone, so apologize to everyone. Be specific about what you did. This letter is so vague, it could be an expression of regret for using the synagogue’s meat cutting board to slice cheese. Stop repeating that you’re “sick,” which is a way to evade responsibility: it’s not you who did this, it’s your illness! And ending with “love and pain beyond words,” again, makes this about YOU. It’s not about those whose lives and community you destroyed. Your suffering is not relevant to an apology.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Gafni later took back his apology. His explanation, on his web site, must be read to be believed.
But the highlights: “Why, if these complaints were not true, did I sign a letter that took all responsibility for what happened onto myself and attributed what happened to my ‘sickness?'” (Nice use of “scare quotes,” as we call them in the biz!) “My initial response emerged from a place of radical shock, confusion, trauma, and fear. All products of the mind’s illusion, yet painfully real at the time.” (Why do New Age people love the term “radical” so much? Whatevs, his wrongdoing was merely an illuuuuuuusion — please say that in magician Doug Henning’s voice.)
“I felt that as ‘Captain of the Ship’ I needed to take responsibility for any sickness that appeared in a system that I had created.” Ooh, his beloved word “sickness” is back, but this time it is not aimed inward. It’s in the system, and its presence has been invoked in the passive voice (sickness appeared! like a rabbit inside a top hat!). This aligns with the theory of spontaneous generation, in which ancient cultures believed that life could arise out of non-living matter, like maggots materializing in rotten meat and mice appearing in sweaty underwear.
“I also recognized that the clash between my post-conventional values and the values of the systems in which I lived, and the holding of privacy to resolve that tension, made me vulnerable to attack.” Post-conventional values is like “post-racial society.” And Gafni is the victim, of course, vulnerable to evil-doers. (Cosby-esque crazy bitches, gold diggers, politically motivated resentful power-hungry monocle-wearing villains — your choice.) He refers to the “unconventional nature of his relationships” being held against him by narrow-minded unimaginative sexually repressed loserfaces (I paraphrase), and says he found “the notion of engaging in a sensationalist conflict in the public realm so abhorrent and defiling to both my heart” that he chose to fall on his own sword. (His metaphor. And by sword he does not mean penis.)
Also, everything happened so fast he got confused! There was a rush to judgment. He felt despair and shock and paralyzing grief and he could not breathe. He had NO IDEA all those women he was sleeping with and swearing to silence were “unhappy with our relationships.” (Those were not relationships. Relationships, including polyamorous ones, are consensual, dude.) “Not in my wildest nightmare did I ever imagine the absurd possibility that someone would file a false complaint against me for sexual harassment,” he writes. Absurd! He was “abandoned,” a victim of “hysteria” (you know women with their hysterica, it’s a KNOWN FEMALE PLUMBING THING, related to fallopian tubes or the uterine lining or something). Ominously, the “feminine shadow [was] manipulated behind the scenes by masculine shadow, that is to say women encouraged and manipulated by men.” So often these false-accusation-y victim-y lemming-y women are easily led by penis-havers, like tiny Konrad Lorenz ducklings.
Also someone erased his hard drive so he couldn’t prove his innocence. And in Israel “unlike any other country in the world,” sexual harassment is a criminal offense. You can be jailed for it! That is cray! So he left. (He didn’t flee. He totally asked the police first and they didn’t care what he supposedly did, so pay no attention to what he said a few sentences ago about the possibility of being jailed.) His only flaw was that he “believed it legitimate for [him] to have a private life.”
“The image of my children seeing me go to jail for an offense that I never committed, simply because I was unable to disprove the complaints, dominated my consciousness and guided my actions in the following weeks―until I was able to reconnect with my center, my natural love and authentic self, and walk through the fear. I wrote the letter in an attempt to give myself time to do this. I did not fully realize that writing the letter would be taken as a confession that the complaints were true. They are not.”
So there you have it! Un-apology unlocked! Watch out for the feminine shadow! Go to Whole Foods and try the organic cruelty-free $23.99 almond butter!