Thursday, October 14, 2004

Rabbi Yosef Blau on Rabbi Mordecai Gafni (AKA: Marc Gafni)

October 12 2004
Interviewed by Levi Ford

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

Rabbi Yosef Blau
"Mordecai Winiarz was a student [in the mid '70s] of rabbi Shlomo Riskin in his high school in Riverdale, Queens -- 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.
"Mordecai was close to rabbi Riskin.

Mordecai Winiarz (AKA Mark Gafni)
"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 Mordecai 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.

Dr. Rivkah Blau and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
"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, Mordecai 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 Mordecai 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. He was the only one to get semicha [rabbinic ordination] under that system. He studied under Riskin. Mordecai 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 Mordecai.

"Mordecai 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 Mordecai had nothing to do with YU anymore.

"Mordecai 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.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander
"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 Mordecai is. How dangerous he is. He was nervous that maybe I was an agent for Mordecai. I couldn't get from him what happened except that Mordecai was evil.

"Mordecai 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. Mordecai applied to the Chief Rabbinate. Someone called me and asked me to speak to the Chief Rabbinate. I did.

"One night [circa 1995] Mordecai 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 which was considering giving Mordecai 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 Mordecai 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.

Meir Palevsky
"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 Mordecai and he will get the money anyway. Two, he had an employee interview Mordecai. After Mordecai 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. Mordecai then made some vulgar comment about the girl's anatomy.

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

Rabbi Heshy Billet
"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 Heshy Billet was his teacher in high school. If you say people have a vendetta against him, it's an old one.

"Mordecai 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 Mordecai 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 Rabbi Blau's] and said, you are giving such a troubled person a free ride.

JJ Greenberg
"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 Mordecai?' He said, everybody knew about Mordecai. 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 Mordecai 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 Mordecai from Israel. He said this dangerous man is moving into the Renewal movement. I need to do something about it.

Rabbi Daniel Siegal
"Rabbi Daniel 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 Danny Landes
"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.
Rabbi Richard Joel
"Mordecai came to American and spoke at some Hillel conferences. They weren't interested in him. rabbi Richard Joel [now chancellor of YU, formerly head of Hillel, a Jewish organization on college campuses] says Mordecai 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, Mordecai 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 Mordecai's article and contacted me. I spoke out. The comment that came back from the editor was -- I knew about Mordecai Winiarz. I didn't know it was the same person. Mordecai's article didn't appear.

"Then I heard Mordecai 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
"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 Mordecai. What do we have against him? My wife did most of the speaking because she has known Mordecai longer and better than I. Afterwards, she thought he had understood. I said, no, he didn't. Unfortunately, I was right.

Rabbis Joseph Telushkin, Saul Berman and Tirzah Firestone
"They [rabbis Joseph Telushkin, Saul 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 Mordecai 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 Mordecai 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 Mordecai 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 Mordecai, 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.

"Mordecai 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 Rabbi 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."

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