– The Marc Gafni Story Told by Marc Gafni –
The plane landed. I took my cell phone out of my handbag to power it up. No battery left. Not wanting to wait, I asked a man standing next to me in the aisle if I could borrow his cell phone. From his phone, I called our program director, Efrat, who was going to pick me up at the airport. I smiled when calling Efrat. It would be great to see her. I dialed the number. The line connected but no voice spoke.
In those milliseconds of silence I could feel all of reality holding its breath. And then…everything…exploded. EXPLODED!!!!
The voice on the other end of the phone was not Efrat’s. It was a female voice and it screamed. Screamed. SCREAMED. My mother was a screamer. Her mother was a screamer. I almost never raised my voice, but I know screaming. This, however, was not like anything I knew.
To say it was blood curdling would not do it justice.
The scream was ugly, otherworldly, as if the very life of the voice had been hijacked or distorted. I tried to make out the words. “We are going to get you. You will not get away this time!”
I did not know what or who was talking. The words had no connection to my reality. The screaming came again.
“You are finished. You will meet us at the lawyer’s office at Midnight in Tel Aviv.”
“Lawyer’s office?” I finally managed to gasp. “Who are you? What lawyer?”
The screaming voice spoke a street address. I numbly wrote it down. “At midnight.” And finally again – perhaps in case I had missed the point: “AT MIDNIGHT!”
To say my heart froze does not convey the thick terror of that moment. I struggled to stop the involuntary shudder that was rattling my hand. The person who had given me the cell phone looked at me. I could see my terror somehow imprinted on his face. And then I relaxed. Of course, silly me. That was a wrong number. This has nothing to do with my life. How could it? That seemed so self evidently true – and so matched all the information available to me in my neuro circuits that my whole being calmed. I smiled and said to the man who had lent me the phone. “Ein Baya. No problem, I think I got a wrong number.” I laughed. He laughed. Uneasily. “Can I use you phone for just another minute?” I asked. “I will try and get the number right this time.” “Sure” he said. “I hope it goes better this time”.
I dialed very slowly and carefully this time. I was shaking again. The phone rang. Connected. Silence again. Everything stopped in the silence. And then it happened. A long shrill shriek that seemed to rise from the bowels of hell.
“GAAAFFFNIIIII – Do not call back again. Be at the lawyer’s house. We are going to destroy you.”
The most horrible thing about it was that she spoke to me as if I were already dead. As if she knew some dark secret about my murder that had not yet been revealed to me.
At that point I knew that it was only a matter of time till the knife would be plunged in my stomach. Who the killer would be or what offense would be claimed to rationalize the killing I had no idea. Somehow I knew the knife would be in my stomach and not my heart. I had felt the lethal self-righteousness in the shrill voice. It was the voice of the inquisitor, the voice of witch burnings. Time stopped. Eternity passed in every moment of waiting. For my blood to be spilled. But far worse, for Eros to be murdered.
Two years later I realized who the voice was on the phone. She was one of the most intellectually sophisticated students. She came to dozens of lectures, taking prodigious notes. Yet there was always something that disturbed me underneath her apparent devotion to the dharma. I give away the teaching freely. It is not mine. But when she would listen, I could feel some form of theft going on. There was a violence to her listening. Shortly before that night, in my last set of talks to our inner circle of ordination students, I had met with her twice and challenged her. I described to her the shadow of alienation that I felt closed her heart. I did it firmly, with all my authority as a teacher. She seemed to respond positively but underneath I sensed that I had not reached her.
At this 2-years-later moment, in which the voice’s owner flashed into awareness, something else struck me sharply like a blow to the stomach. Each of the key people involved in the events that night and in the ensuing days – were people I had either directly called on their shadow or those known to feel competitive, as though my existence took up too much room, and thereby any growth in my capacity became a perceived threat to their survival.
Others felt rejected by me, that I had in some sense not chosen them. When I saw that, I had to ask myself what it was in my heart that was un-clarified. I understood at last that my power in this situation lay in clarifying my heart. Nowhere else.
But that night as she screamed Gaaafniii, something in the viciousness of the way she spoke my name stopped my voice. My speech went into exile. I could not really formulate precise words or thoughts. It took me another year to find even a sliver of my voice again. It would be another full year from this moment until I would be able to locate the barest vestige of my voice. For the next year, I was not able to physically talk without severe pain in my heart. I could not get any melody out of my throat, even the faintest echo of a chant. Chant had been my lifeblood for years. It was how I opened the gates between heaven and earth. It was my internal portal. That night the gates slammed shut.
As I hung up the phone, my blood froze. Nooooo! With whatever I had, I cried out No!!! Yes is the great yes to life – to Eros. No, in that moment was a form of Yes. Noooo to the murder of Eros. I heard my inner voice say, “Never again will I be ripped into two”. And I literally pulled myself back together. I began to walk, with the rest of the passengers, down the long corridor that led to customs and baggage claim. I noticed that they had upgraded the terminal since the last time I had landed on a return trip about six weeks earlier. I vaguely remembered hearing something about the project and had the random thought that they had done a good job, and I was happy that the Israeli airport was more beautiful than it had been before. Somehow that seemed important in that moment.
In the corridor on the way to Customs, I saw a wall socket. I plugged in my Israeli cell phone and waited for it to charge. Then, it happened for the first time. I do not really have adequate words to describe it. As the battery of my cell charged with electrical juice, the life force in my body did the opposite. I could literally feel my life force draining out of my body. I had felt this only once before in an opposite situation, when the ecstasy of lovemaking was so great that all portals opened and I did not want to come back down to this plane of existence. This time it was not the ecstasy of intensified life, but the icy coldness of unnamed terror. Eros was being murdered. I didn’t know why or by whom. I only knew that a sacrifice was to be offered this day and I was it. By the power of whatever is greater than fear I literally pulled my self back together.
Then, my charging phone rang.
It was my good friend and board member, Metuka Benjamin calling from Los Angeles. Metuka’s voice was sad, in shock, but at the same time firm, clear and loving. “Mordechai, do not leave customs. Get on a plane and come back to America immediately. Something terrible is happening.”
“Metuka – thank you for calling. What is happening? I don’t understand.”
I got a call from Erica. She got a call from Dafna. “I told you when I met her that her eyes were insane and that you could not trust her. They have made complaints against you.”
Complaints? Complaints? I did not understand the words. Complaints against me? Dafna? That’s impossible. About what?
“I don’t know,” she said. “Just leave now so the police do not pick you up when you enter Israel.”
At this point my heart stopped. Police? Police?
I said to Metuka, “I have done absolutely nothing wrong. There is not a reason in the world that I should be afraid to enter Israel. I will call you after I pass customs and pick up my bag.”
Metuka said to me, “Mordechai, I understand that and I believe you. But you do not understand the Israeli police. Much as I love Israel, the police are corrupt. Get out of Israel and we will handle whatever had gone wrong from the United States.”
I refused, thanked Metuka and passed through customs. The walk from customs to baggage claim took another eternity. All along the way I tried to call Neta. She was nowhere to be found, and would really never re-appear in my life again. I have never been able to find her since that night. I have not heard her voice again.
I called my friend Dalit, and kept calling until she picked up the phone. I reached her at what was apparently a Bayit Chadash meeting that had been organized by Dafna. We had parted ways three weeks before. My experience was that, left with no choice, I had fired her. Her experience was that she had quit. The original emails from that period tell the story clearly.
Dafna was my assistant & someone that I loved dearly, yet the relationship had gone bad a long time back. Over the years that we had worked together, I had taught her everything I knew about public culture, creating community, and caring about people. She had become skilled and savvy and was the only person in the world besides me who knew everyone in the community. Dafna??? Was it possible that she had done this? The meeting had not started yet.
I said to Dalit, “Tell me where the meeting is. I will come and gladly answer any question, address any issue; whatever is going on let’s address directly and openly, with hearts wide open.”
She was crying uncontrollably. “Dafna told me you were dangerous. That you are dangerous to my children.” I did not quite believe the words. They made no sense. Some months later, Dalit joined me in the United States, where we lived in a deep space of honor and love for two years. When we would re-visit that night – which was every day – we would think about how it might have been different if Dalit had been able to pick me up and brought me to the meeting that night. But that didn’t happen. Dalit did not pick me up. It was not to be. There was no way to avoid what happened.
There was too much hysteria that night. Events were set into motion that froze everyone into a position. In response, some ran for cover, in the aftermath fabricating ever more elaborate excuses for their actions at the time.
After speaking to Dalit, I spoke to Erica in Boston for a long time before leaving the airport. Erica said that she understood from my assistant, who had called her in the middle of the night, that three women had filed complaints of sexual harassment. I barely recognized the term. Sexual what? Erica is a Harvard trained lawyer.
“Call a lawyer,” she said. Why? I said. For what? I was too dazed to comprehend calling a lawyer to defend myself from my…Beloveds. A thought went through my mind as I spoke to Erica. You can only be betrayed by someone who could never betray you.
I called a friend who was a lawyer. She said – “You have done nothing wrong. Having an amorous relationship with someone in your employ is not sexual harassment unless you willfully use your authority as an employer to psychologically coerce relations.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
All my relationships were obviously radically mutual and consensual – a fact that in written statements (collected by my team at the time) was readily affirmed -even by the two key women who filed complaints.
Dalit, who had been my lover, stood up at the meeting, and said, “What are you all talking about? What sexual harassment? We were all fully mutually involved in every way. We loved each other!”
“Yes,” the complainants responded, “of course it was mutual but…”
Then, the lawyer asked, “Do you have evidence that the relationships were fully mutual? Evidence?”
The word was so strange. Why would you need evidence against your beloved? I struggled to think my way out of the fog. I have many emails between myself and both of the people that Dalit had told me were reading their complaints at the community meeting.
“Emails – that’s perfect” said the lawyer. And then my heart sunk. I realized in an instant why I had not been able to find the emails that I searched for in the airport in New York. My computer had been in the possession of one of the complainants three weeks before. The idea that this person would file a complaint – a false complaint – was so utterly absurd. Just three weeks ago I had entrusted her with my computer and everything in it. In a moment of utter panic, shock and horror I realized that my emails had been intentionally erased. That these events had been planned – for at least three weeks.
This realization all happened in a millisecond on the phone. I shared the realization with my lawyer friend. “Check your computer to be sure. Even if they were erased, they can probably be recovered,” she said.
I went to check my computer and it was not with me. OMG…I had forgotten to put it back in my bag at Kennedy. I am more then a bit absentminded about things connected with day-to-day living. This was not the first time I had done this.
“You must get your computer,” she said. And then, the world exploded one more time. “I have very, very bad news for you” she said. At this point I was so over the top that I could not help laughing. “Give it to me, sista, I can take it,” I said, with mock bravado. She laughed. I laughed. Strangely in that moment I had the first moment of relief. Laughter meets laughter. Human meets human. Laughter nullifies the oppressive power of the moment. Laughter is Eros.
“This is not at all funny,” she said. “Sit down.”
“I am at an airport pay phone. Where do you want me to sit down?”
My mock bravado had turned to anguish. This time she did not laugh.
“Israel,” she said “is the only country in the world where sexual harassment is not a civil but a criminal offense.”
I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Beloved, what does that mean?” I asked gently.
“That means that if you have no evidence, and three woman make a claim, it is your word against theirs. In today’s climate, you could go to jail for three years. Get out of Israel and find your computer – and then recover your emails. If you don’t recover them, don’t come back to Israel. If you do recover them, you are – at least from a legal perspective – home free.”
I was in utter shock. Images of being raped in jail flooded my consciousness. I forced them aside. And I began to cry. Not for myself. But for Eros. For the murdered and the murderers – for the raped and the rapists. For all of it. Dalit called back. She was in shock. Literally.
She said to me, “Mordechai, I do not know what is happening – there is an insanity here. I told them to stop, but no one is listening. Mia is saying you promised to marry her, and telling a story that I know from my own earlier conversations with her – is not true. Dafna is telling a story in which she sounds like a virgin in white coerced by the powerful rabbi.”
My heart went through the floor. I could not breathe. I did not know at the time that the two complainants had initially gone to the police and been sent home because the police did not consider the tale worth following up. But then they searched out a lawyer who advised them what to say, and instructed them to lie. Every single claim made that night at the meeting – and repeated in various press forums – is specifically disproved by the actual email record of the relationships which I was eventually able to recover from my computer.
My assistant was not in fact a shy virginal woman. She had previously told me that she ran internet erotica sites and had worked as a hostess on sex call lines. She had over the years sent me many forms of erotica via email. She had been the initiator – virtually always – of our sexual interaction which had begun during a year in which she was not working in the organization—when I had no authority as an employer, because she was not employed – and then continued for several months after she came back to be my assistant. How did the story mutate?
The second complainant told a story that night—later reproduced in a magazine for which I had written a monthly column for eight years prior, unfathomably contrary to the dozens of emails written between us during the short four weeks we were lovers. In retrospect I realized that the lawyer they hired had to have told her what she needed to say explicitly for our relationship to match the criminal statute of Israeli law.
The gap between what she stated and what actually happened – documented in the objective record of our correspondence – was so vast that every person, without exception, who has compared the two has been stunned. The premeditated deletion of the e-mails was clearly a crucial feature in executing this plan.
But in that moment, on the phone with Dalit and the lawyer, my email record was not available to me. The lawyer said – “This will be a press carnival. It’s a great story. No one will listen to you unless you have clear objective evidence. Get your fucking emails.”
That night—it was 5pm in Israel – I was lost in the kingdom of the night. Everything that I have just shared had happened within a mere two-hour period of time, every moment unfolding some new, previously unimaginable horror.
I left the airport at around 5 or 6 pm. I called a cab, left my stuff with him and wandered the streets of TelAviv. I remember speaking again to Erica, Dalit and Metuka. The conversations blurred. All my knowing became instinctual, cellular. I felt that night, and for many months after, like a hunted animal. Stalked by the murderers of Eros who wanted to ensure the job was complete – that Marc Gafni could never emerge again. I replayed what I knew. I loved all these people. I had served them. And with my deepest knowing, knew nothing vaguely similar to what was being described had happened.
Finally: I knew that I had no evidence of that unless I recovered my computer. As I wandered the streets of Tel Aviv, a man who had seen the television show stopped me on the street to say hello. “Gafni, we love you, keep it up brother,” he said. Rabbi Mordechai, an older woman told me, “I love Judaism the way you teach it –we have started lighting Sabbath candles in our home, which was always totally secular.” A woman stopped me, looked into my eyes and said –“Gafni you hugged me at a festival three years ago. I felt so much love. I have taken it with me since then and it holds me in the dark nights. Todah Maksim. Thank you, beautiful one.” One after the other. Beautiful holy people. My people. Who I loved more then life itself. Each embrace drove another blunt dagger deeper into my heart.
My body knew that this was over – that before long, this horror would burst into the press. Though, as it turns out, I actually had no idea of how bad it would be. I collapsed on a bench at around nine pm.
I have no clear memory of what happened from nine pm till midnight. Wave after wave of pain rode in from the ocean on the Tel Aviv shore where I sat waiting for the clock to strike twelve. It was largely a blur, but I do recall being struck by the intentional cruelty of it. It would take many years to reconstruct accurately all that happened that night. Eventually, people who had been involved started to call me, shamed and confused – and the pieces slowly came into focus. But that night there was only excruciating pain and panic, and what felt like an immense struggle not to have a heart attack, to keep my body alive.
I had written down the name of the lawyer and his address. I walked in at midnight. Sitting at the lawyer’s office were my partner in Bayit Chadash, Avraham and Shantam, one of the lead faculty. Shantam had returned from years in India of intense yogic study. I had hired him into our Jewish renaissance context – inviting him to bring his significant gifts home. I liked him, honored him in any way I could and tried to give the largest possible space for his gifts to be given and received. Avraham was like my brother. He was my study partner in Zohar whenever we could steal time. Over the previous five years we had had dozens of intimate conversations. I had always pushed myself beyond the limits of my energy to make sure the resources existed to pay Shantam, Dafna, the other faculty – but above all, I wanted to be able to care for and protect Avraham. There was no joy in my life greater then studying Zohar or a biblical passage with Avraham. We each brought different capacities of Eros to the text. We were both – in different ways –madly in love with the text. For both of us, the text was a place we bowed, even as we sought to evolve and uncover its hidden invitations. We were both, at our core, textual mystics with little patience for superficiality or banality. Each of us had skills the other lacked—in some ways he was more rigorous, creative and skilled, and in other ways I was. Yet, there was never an ounce of competition in studying text. We delighted in the radiance of the text, and each other.
Avraham’s honor and well being mattered to me as much as my own. More. Often far more. I wanted his beauty to be seen and appreciated and his gifts wildly honored and rejoiced in, for the sake of the evolution of consciousness and the healing of Eros, or what we call in Aramaic – Leshem Yichud Kudsha Berki Hu U Shekintei *** translate**
It was the depth and purity of our connection that made that which was about to unfold more baffling and surrealistic.
If someone, or a group of people, had come to me with an issue about Avraham, the very first thing I would have done would have been to call Avraham. I would have slowed everything down. Created a panel to investigate what had actually happened. Fact checked. Let heads and hearts cool. Avraham was at his heart a scholar and a teacher. Real life crisis was not his forte. In our collaboration, I was the trailblazer, because creating structures and communities is one of my gifts. Whenever I began a new initiative, Avraham would always initially say: too large, not possible, beyond our grasp. And then, we would move forward and do it. We each had our role to play. I had introduced Avraham to the Tel Aviv teaching scene as the person I loved and trusted most in the world. Avraham used to tell me, drawing the terms from Lurianic Kabbalah, that I was a “public soul” and he was a private soul.
In essence, the diversity of our skill sets, generally of such value, in crisis, became a massive obstacle to a sane outcome.
So, here we were, facing each other in a lawyer’s office. I looked around the room and everything came into focus again. It was like watching a slow motion martial arts film. Everything was deliberate. It was perfectly clear to me that I was being murdered and that there was nothing I could do to stop the action. Avraham refused to look at me. I started to talk to him.
“Avraham, what is going on? Tell me!” I begged. My voice was broken. The shirt I had now been wearing for some 36 hours – since rising in the United States on Tuesday morning – was drenched with sweat and tears.
“Do not talk to him,” the lawyer said. Avraham was silent.
“Avraham – who is this person? We do not know him. It’s me, Mordechai, your brother.”
He would not look up. He did not make eye contact or look at my face directly the entire meeting – 20 minutes. I looked at the lawyer. It was apparent that he had no idea what he was doing, the implications of his actions, who the people were.
I looked at Avraham. I remembered with a sinking feeling who Avraham was. He had no idea what would have been required to skillfully and lovingly heal this kind of trauma in a way that honored everyone. Not his area. Not his strength. God help me. The more I tried to talk to him, the more he made it clear that he did not want to hear anything from me. He just kept repeating, “Mordechai this is the only way – give it all up. Let it all go.”
I knew – again in my body I knew – that Avraham was lost. Normal legal procedures—things like due process, checking facts, creating a container to hold the process – none of these things had happened. There were a thousand different scenarios that might have unfolded that night to protect the integrity of the community, of me and my children, of the teaching and most of all: the Eros of justice. How could it be: Eros, aliveness and Zohar –everything that we believed in.
Some weeks later, I spoke to Dalit about the meeting. I said to her Avraham was like a zombie. I could not reach him. She said to me that that night, at the Bayit Chadash meeting, and in all her subsequent exchanges, every time she turned to Avraham desperately seeking some sanity – he would say to her, in an exhausted voice. “Don’t talk to me. Talk to Dafna.”
Avraham was to make a public statement later that evening which went viral on the web – that he staked his reputation on the fact that the women spoke the truth. Two years later we exchanged several emails where he said, “I never even read the women’s complaints. I have no idea what was true or not.” In a second email two years later, he said, “I only know that everyone agreed that all the relationships were mutual and consensual.” He also told me that they had fired the lawyer who was there that evening.
But that evening, it was impossible to reach Avraham. He had inoculated himself against any form of real contact. I have not heard Avraham’s voice since that night.
It took me some six months to reconstruct my computer. I found all the missing emails. Together with a great legal team we compiled a legal dossier that – as my lawyer said – was the most objectively compelling statement of innocence that he has ever seen in his career. I sent it to one of Avraham’s closest friends –another rabbi in Israel. He read the file – and called me afterwards in shock. He really had no words. He understood some of what happened. We talked. I was sure that once Avraham read the file he would understand what had happened and set things right. I did not know then that he had become best friends with Dafna. Dafna had written me a Skype message some six months before these events occurred saying that she was sexually involved with Avraham. At the time it was irrelevant to me. Later she told me she was joking. Who knows and truly –who cares. I knew that Avraham – who was monogamously partnered at the time – brought a woman with him to many of our events who was his lover; he would slip her into his room. Not my issue. I did not inquire into how Avraham ran his relationships or his sexuality, and, tragically, I did not share my relationships with him. Other then one passing conversation on a busy day, the topic had never come up. There was no official written or unwritten policy about the possibility of this form of amorous relationship. What was clear to me is that as a community – I preferred there to be the possibility of amorous boundaries between teachers and students.
Now to be clear, all the students were full powerful adults and our community was predicated on personal autonomy and against any form of guru-hood. Nonetheless the best policy for most people most of the time was to create a sexual boundary. And that was how things were with ninety nine percent of the community. What organically developed was an inner circle of friendships –and intimate working partnerships –some of which became sensual. I naturally held these privately – not as some terrible secret, as it was later distorted –but for natural and understandable reasons, all of which I will discuss later. That was a tragic mistake on my part. But there was never any form of sexual harassment or anything remotely similar. Had there been any container, any fact checking, any face to face conversation, any facilitator, any investigation, any impartial consideration of the veracity of the claims, none of this would have happened. None of that ever happened. I was never to have any direct contact either with the complainants or with the various rabbinic leaders or other figures that loudly led the outcry around this. Why? What were the forces within myself, within culture, within the political and social contexts that I lived in that conspired together to murder Eros that night? I will not spend the book on this question although it would easily fill several volumes. In this writing I am interested in healing Eros. In liberating Eros. I want to understand what happened in the context of my own evolving relationship to aliveness, to ethics, to the fullness of Eros, to the sexual.
Rather than focus on the threads of pathology I want to shine light on Eros. I want to share the openings that came from the breaking. I will tell of my own refusal to embrace Eros – which I know was part of what contributed to that night. An old Biblical text says Greater is light than darkness. But the Zohar –the great teaching of ethics and Eros re-reads the text audaciously: Greater is light that comes FROM the darkness. The darkness of this night, and the days, weeks and years that followed, has birthed enormous light. It has helped me to clarify my life’s journey, and out of that a new teaching has emerged. It is a teaching about outrageous love – with critical implications for our politics, our personal lives, our integrity and our sexuality. But we are way ahead of ourselves.
The night however was far from over. The lawyer shoved a piece of paper in front of me and said – you need to sign this right now. I could not even read it clearly. Apparently it was a document in which I resigned as the director of the community. I looked at Avraham with blood in my eyes.
“Avraham – save the community – do not let it go down. I will help you. You will not be able to do it yourself,” I said.
Avraham looked up for the briefest moment. For the briefest moment I saw the pain, fear and helplessness in his eyes. He said something to me.
“Mordechai,” he began. The lawyer cut in sharply. “Do not speak to him.” And then he looked down again. I left the office and literally stumbled into the Tel Aviv night. I did not know where to go. My home was also the Bayit Chadash center. My body told that it was not safe to go there. I got into a cab. The driver asked me where to go. I said please please just drive. I began to shake uncontrollably. The driver wanted to take me to the hospital. I went to the Dan hotel on the Tel Aviv beach. When I collapsed in the room I had the first two minutes of respite.
Gathering my energy I called Metuka Benjamin. “What should I do?”
Metuka was adamant. “Leave the country. Tomorrow morning. Recover your computer.”
Metuka booked a ticket to Boston, where Erica lived. Erica’s voice quavered when I told her I was coming. She knew that there had been no sexual harassment of any kind. There was nothing about my life she did not know. But I could feel the fear building in her, and I knew that Erica would not be able to make it through this. I am grateful to her for everything she tried to do that week. In the end she betrayed me, grandly and horribly – and then months later found me again. Erica never became malevolent or vicious. She was simply afraid, caught in the hysteria and confused. I called Donna. The same Donna I had spoken to at the airport some hours before. She had utterly transformed in those twenty hours. She spoke to me with a degree of callousness and cruelty on that first night that ripped into my heart. She was desperately afraid.
“Your accounts are on my name!” she screamed. “If you get sued I will lose all the money in my trust fund.”
Donna was trust fund supported. The fear of losing her money gripped her that night. I tried to explain to her that there was nothing to fear, but nothing I said got through.
There was one other key substantive reason – that Donna did a 180 degree turn in twenty hours. I will share that in a later chapter. For now it is enough to say – that Donna felt apparently that the way to “save herself” was to align with the complainants which she did wholly on that night and subsequently. In the next four months the levels of betrayal and invective coming from Donna just defy imagination.
My friend and lover, whom I had held when she fainted – Donna had regular fainting spells, who I caressed through many nights, whom I called and held with respect and honor in every way I knew – had become obsessively dedicated to my destruction. And destruction is not too harsh a word. To this day – eight years later – she is still at it. Behind any resurrection of the controversy her fingerprints always appear. Half of the anonymous comments on the internet on various tabloid sites are from her. She encourages bloggers, calls any place where I might be teaching, writes long concerned citizen letters under the guise of “making sure more women do not get hurt” and has pretty much committed her life to this obsession. Perhaps the shame of her initial betrayal is too great to bear. I have tried writing her several times. I have offered any form of meeting and truth telling and healing in any context. I cannot find her. I do not know how to reach her. She is lost so deeply in the demonization that there is no way in that I know of.
Naturally all of this is behind the scenes. Donna hides behind “everyone says” – “all the women says”-she calls, emails and builds coalitions of hatred to this day. When I think of Donna even today, I double up in pain. Through it all – I still love Donna. The Donna I knew. I have made a commitment – even in this memoir –not to tell the story of Donna. It has so many layers – documented and unfolded in dozens of emails and conversations before the fall, between us. I do not see how it would serve Eros. So unless left with no choice – I close this chapter. I remember in this moment the grace of a late night conversation in bed. Donna’s eyes are filled with tears. As are mine.
“You are sooooo good,” I say.
“Yes I am,” she says. “You are soooo good,” she says.
“Yes I am,” I respond.
We look at each other. I hold her. She holds me. We slip under the covers and enter into the land of truth. What was true then is still true today. I cannot swear to the precise accuracy of these exact words. But this was the core truth of our experience. We held each other as friends, holding each others’ fears, insecurities and greatness. When Donna and I heal – in this lifetime or the next- something essential will be healed in the cosmos. This is true not only for Donna and me. It is for true for all of the Donna’s and Marc’s. When things go this bad – it is not because we are bad. It is because we are wounded. And the only thing to do is to forgive. To forgive each other and forgive ourselves. Not casually. Not simply but to get up bravely and say –wow, we made a mistake. We got lost. We have found each other again. I would sit with Donna anywhere in the world –with a skilled facilitator or any other kind of community and spend a week or two or three or whatever we needed – to heal the Eros that died – and to birth a greater Eros that we cannot yet even imagine.
After hanging up with Donna – I just sat on the bed in silence. Not the silence of presence which is so thick that words are unnecessary. But the silence of God’s absence, where there are no longer any words left to cover over/up the void.
From “Tefllin story…
I could not bear to stay in the room. I needed to find Eros. At something like three in the morning I stumbled again into the Tel Aviv night. The Dan is on the ocean. The ocean in Kabbalah is the Shekina, She, Eros herself. I fell in the sand ready to die. Melech Memeit U Mechayeh I screamed – you are the king –the queen – you bring death and you bring life – Matzmiach Yeshua –You are liberation. I prayed. For everyone. For all of it. I screamed. For everyone. For all of it. For the liberation of Eros. I did not know how or what – but I knew that somehow blessings must be born from all this. I cried and cried.
In the three months before it happened I had just finished writing – a book on tears. Every morning in Israel I got up very early and wrote for hours. It was the story of tears, ten different qualities of tears, as the path to awakening.
Specifically, I remembered an incident that I would often tell my students about which was an important story in the book.
It was the story of Tanta Esther. I could not stop crying all night. But I new somehow that the tears could not be tears of resignation. Tanta Esther, Yiddish for Aunt Esther, is not really my aunt, but while I was growing up she was part of our extended family. She lived in Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, New York, and we would visit her whenever we came to New York. Although she was always kind and good to us, there was something strange about Tanta Esther. When she would hug you, a chill would go up your spine, and at times her eyes would pierce right through you as if you weren’t even there. I remember asking my mother when I was 8 or 9, “What’s the story with Tanta Esther?” For it was clear that there was a story. My mother responded, as mothers often do, “When you’re old enough I’ll tell you the story.” At my Bar Mitzvah I asked my mother again, and her response was, “You’re still not old enough.” Returning from a year of study in Israel at age 18, my mother came to pick me up from the airport, accompanied by Tanta Esther. Tanta Esther hugged me as usual, and this time I felt the chill more than ever before.
Making our way to Riverdale, after dropping Tanta Esther off in Manhattan Beach, I pressed my mother for the story. I was old enough…or so I thought. This is what my mother told me:
Tanta Esther was with me in Stanislav (a Polish town near the Russian border). She had two young children whom she had hidden from the Nazis with non-Jewish families for most of the war. In 1944, a rumor went through the town that the SS were coming to round up any remaining Jewish children still hidden in Stanislav and the surrounding area. Rumor had it that the Nazis knew exactly where the children were and that they were being rounded up not for deportation to gas chambers, but for a fate even worse. They were being rounded up for experimentation. They were to become human guinea pigs for pain-threshold experiments the Nazi doctors were performing throughout the Holocaust period, even whilst these same doctors continued to revel in the beauty of Schubert and Bach.
Tanta Esther refused to let her children be taken, so she made a decision that normally should only belong to God. She killed them, suffocating them even as her bitter but silent tears drenched her hands. The Nazis eventually came and burst into every suspected home in Stanislav…except one. They never came to Tanta Esther’s house. Tanta Esther went insane. Somehow, she was brought to a sanitarium in Europe where she spent most of the 50’s. In the early sixties, she was released, emmigrated to the United States, and eventually settled in Manhattan Beach.
Some two weeks after hearing this story, I returned to Israel, and upon arrival rushed directly to the person I was closest to at the time – a wise elderly Kabbalist named Reb Menashe, who lived in a small one-room flat in an old Jerusalem neighborhood. I recounted this tragic story to Reb Menashe and asked him, “What does it mean? What does it mean?” He quoted to me from the teachings of the Rebbe of Ishbitz, who taught that anything we see or hear in the world is somehow related to us, somehow part of the wisdom we need in order to live our stories. Meaning and explanation are not fully available in this world said R. Menashe – wisdom, however, is available and must be garnered from all that we see and hear. At the time, I wasn’t particularly satisfied or moved by his answer, which appeared to me to be an exercise in sophistry. I must have sounded somewhat exasperated, and even a little angry, when I said to him in my broken Yiddish –“So what is indeed the wisdom you would take from this horrific story?”
I remember to this day his blazing blue eyes as he answered me slowly and clearly. It was a soliloquy of sorts, the longest speech that I ever heard from him. And yet, he only actually spoke for two minutes. “Understand, Mordechai – that no matter what happens in the world, you can’t judge anyone…” And of course it was so eminently clear that it would be profanity of a most obscene kind to even begin to think of judging Tanta Esther. “However,” he continued, “in Judaism there is one biblical prohibition. It doesn’t matter how you identify Jewishly, there is one posture that biblical consciousness cannot allow.
And that is, No matter what happens,”– and he said it again and again –“No matter what happens,” he stressed, as he rolled up his shirt sleeve and showed the concentration camp number tattooed by the Nazis on his arm, “No matter what happens – you are not allowed to give up. You never have a right to say it’s over, to say there is nothing else I can do to change reality, or there is nothing else that can happen to make it different, and that redemption is no longer a possibility. We are never allowed to give up. We can never lose our ability to act, we can never abandon our belief that the future could be better, that tomorrow can bring the dawn of new hope. Giving up is the greatest of all Jewish prohibitions!”
I had been working on my Tears book. For me, R. Menashe’s words gave dramatic personification to the utter rejection of resignation implicit in biblical consciousness. Hagar’s crying was a cry of resignation: “Let me not witness the boy’s dying.”