Friday, December 16, 2011

Tikkun - Zvi Bellin Recounts His Experience as Marc Gafni's Student in Israel

In my efforts to bring awareness to the integral community of the dangers Marc Gafni poses, I have often tried to include men in the discussion as well - the issue as I see it is not about sex, it is about power and control. The women who have related their stories to me have made this point, as well.

For the most part, however, the only visible victims (Gafni seriously dislikes the use of "victim" for the people he has used/abused because it automatically makes him a perpetrator, by definition, and he is seriously invested in not taking responsibility for what he does) have been the women he has slept with. Many others have also pointed out that men are abused as his students, as well, but this is the first time I have seen a personal statement by one of his former male students.

The fact that the article appears on the Tikkun website adds considerable weight to the account - Tikkun is one of the finest progressive Jewish magazines available.

In his article, Zvi Bellin does not mention Gafni by name - he is referred to as "the Rabbi" and in one section Bellin discusses the emphasis Gafni placed on Lashon Harah (Speaking about Others) as something that must never happen in his community. Essentially, Gafni demanded a vow of silence as a way to prevent the members of the community from discovering his actions. It's significant that all these years later, Bellin still does not name Gafni directly.

I have no issue with naming Gafni as the subject of the article, nor does one of the commentors.

It's a pretty long article and I really want readers to go there and read all of it, so I am only posting a snippet from the beginning and some pieces of the more important passages.

[UPDATE - The old link does not work - I have no doubt Gafni pressured Tikkun to remove it. Bellin put the article online at this link.]

“Asseh Lecha Rav”: A Journey Through Clergy Abuse

by: Zvi Bellin on December 13th, 2011 

Several years ago I thought I met the Rabbi of my dreams. He identified as Orthodox and also purported a deep spiritual life. He appeared warm and accepting and he seemed to understand my struggle to figure out how I can blend Judaism with the needs of my personal spirituality. 
And here are a few of the key passages:
I was loved and supported by this community. I grew in my ability to have presence in a group and to be a community facilitator. While my relationship with the community members was nurturing, I began to have serious doubts about my Rabbi’s behavior. 

First there was the emphasis on secrecy in the community. The Rabbi taught that as a spiritual community we should restrain from Lashon Harah (Speaking about Others). While this is a valuable ethic to have within any community, I later realized that the Rabbi used this teaching to ultimately discourage members of the community to talk about their relationship with him. The degree of secrecy felt like a dark shroud, where I was cautious to share valid concerns fearing that he would find out. 
* * * * * * *
Second, the Rabbi always put his vision first, regardless of how this might impact the well-being of those around him. I was able to see now how the Rabbi used tactics of manipulation to coax people to work for him. Even if these relationships turned sour, the Rabbi seemed to be unrelenting. This involved bartering a community member’s technical services for a conversion to Judaism that would never come, and sustaining a toxic working relationship with a community member that involved frequent shouting matches. Additionally, the Rabbi showed no concern for his own well-being. He seemed to work constantly through the night, obsessively checking e-mail and working on publications. 
* * * * * * *
Related to this last point, the Rabbi seemed to try to usurp power from other community leaders by openly disrespecting them in front of their community members. For example, when an elderly Eastern meditation teacher came to our community center for a debate, the Rabbi made him wait more than a hour before greeting him. He was not necessarily doing anything of dire importance, simply working on emails and publications. When confronted by the teacher’s students about his behavior the Rabbi casually dismissed their concerns. On another similar occasion the Rabbi was angry that another community leader was given the same kind of chair that he sat on because it made them look like equals.
* * * * * * *
The last point of major concern for me was that the Rabbi’s past was littered with accusations of sexual misconduct. The Rabbi mostly denied that the stories were true and tried to discredit them by defaming the people that told these stories. On a few occasions, the Rabbi was unable to counter the claims and admitted to his wrong doings, though shifted the blame to the victim. He often talked about the danger of getting stuck in the role of victim. I now speculate that his rants against victimization was his way of minimizing the hurt he had caused other people.
* * * * * * *
Finally, the silence was broken and his sexual escapades were revealed. The Rabbi, facing legal charges, decided to flee to the United States.

There was much concern for the women that the Rabbi had hurt by the larger Jewish communities that supported him over the years. Their stories were documented and the Rabbi was banned from teaching in most of the Jewish world. Though I was not manipulated into having sex with the Rabbi, I experienced psychological manipulation and after-effects from my contact with the Rabbi. As I spent time away from the community, I slowly became aware that I was being controlled by my teacher. The Rabbi would read my e-mails and respond to them as if he were me. I learned to talk like him and think like him and took on his work ethic, working many days from 8am to midnight. I think it was my need for attention and love that was the tool he used to keep me engaged in his vision. And, of course the fact that I admired his deep teachings and stated relationship to Judaism. Towards the end of my term working with him, I increasingly second-guessed my own thoughts and concerns about him. I was not able to trust my own power of reason when it concluded that my hero was a dangerous person. I began to discredit my mind in order to stay in his favor and not to rock the boat of my own fantasy. Luckily, I had a conversation with a friend who broke through and gave me permission to listen to my gut and heart.
Gafni's seriously messed up behavior is documented here in ways I have not seen before, although many of us know that this is how he operates (as described by the female students whose stories have been given more importance). Manipulation and control are seriously detrimental to everyone, as Bellin describes here.

I hope all current and potential students of Gafni read this article and question their motivations for working with him and whether or not doing so is the best thing for their spiritual growth.

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