Marc Gafni cancels California workshop following protests

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Marc Gafni, a Jewish spiritual teacher accused of sexual misconduct, canceled a workshop at a California resort amid protests over his scheduled appearance.

The president of the Esalen Institute, Gordon Wheeler, told the Forward that Gafni and his co-teacher, Sally Kempton, voluntarily canceled the Feb. 5 event, the newspaper reported Friday.

Last month, an online petition urged Esalen to cut ties with Gafni over numerous allegations of sexual misconduct going back years. The petition garnered more than 3,500 signatures, including many rabbis.

Gafni has long been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct. On Jan. 12, the Forward published an essay by Sara Kabakov, who alleged that Gafni, a former Orthodox rabbi and author, molested her repeatedly, beginning when she was 13.

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Gafni has not been indicted in connection with that allegation, which is the latest in a string of accusations of harassment and affairs.

For a time seen as a charismatic teacher of Torah, Gafni eventually stopped identifying as Orthodox. Many former rabbinic colleagues disowned him after his sexual lapses became public.

After initial allegations surfaced that he had engaged with a 13-year-old as a young rabbinical student, Gafni, then known as Mordechai Winiarz, left for Israel. He later returned to the United States, reemerging in Utah as a practitioner of a Kabbalah-inspired philosophy called evolutionary spirituality. More recently, Gafni moved to California and founded the Center for Integral Wisdom.

Gafni has previously acknowledged improper behavior, attributing it to a “sickness” that he vowed to treat. He has denied accusations that he committed criminal offenses.

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