Sunday, October 17, 2004

Judy's Story - The Case of Rabbi Marc Gafni (AKA: Mordechai Gafni)

If at first you aren't heard . . . 

Rabbi Mordechai Winiarz (AKA: Marc Gafni)
© (2004) By Judy

ALSO SEE: The Case of rabbi Mordechai Gafni (AKA: Mordechai Winiarz, Marc 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.

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 (a section of Brooklyn, NY) 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.

Rabbis Kenneth Hain, Yitzchok Adler and Shlomo Riskin
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 Shlomo 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.

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