Sunday, October 10, 2004

Susan's Story - Case of rabbi Marc Gafni (AKA: Mordechai Gafni)

Rabbi Mordechai Winiarz (AKA: Marc Gafni)
October 10, 2004
Interviewed by Levi Ford
I talk by phone October 10, 2004 to the Susan in Gary Rosenblatt's article (New York Jewish Week):

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, 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.

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, NY.  Mordecai 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.

Rabbi Marc Gafni (AKA: Mordecai Winiarz)
"My initial impression of Mordecai 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."
Gary writes:

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 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.

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

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

"At that time, Mordecai 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 Mordecai.

"I remember once hearing Mordecai 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. Mordecai 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. Mordecai 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.  Mordecai 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, 'Mordecai, 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, Mordecai.  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. Mordecai 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, 'Mordecai, 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, 'Mordecai, 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 Mordecai 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. Mordecai came downstairs to the basement and he started touching me.' She ended up crying to me about the two experience she had had with Mordecai. 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 Mordecai'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, Mordecai called me. 'Susan, it's Mordecai. 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.'

Rabbi Kenneth Hain
"I began to plead with other rabbis in the Jewish community [to do something about Mordecai]. 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 Mordecai's. It was clear that Mordecai 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 [Mordecai] 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.

(Yeshiva University (Washington Heights, NY)
"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 Mordecai. 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 Mordecai]. 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 Mordecai was exonerated! There was never any Bet Din nor were there any attempts to contact me or us to do "teshuvah" as (Mordecai) claims he did. And it is not for Rabbis Saul Berman and Joseph 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.

Rabbi Yitzchak Adler
"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 Mordecai 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] Mordecai's ordination [after earlier being a big supporter of Mordecai]. 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.

Shalom Lamm / Dr.  Norman Lamm
"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, Mordecai 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 Mordecai'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 Mordecai knew how to make harassing 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."

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