– by Marc Gafni –
In November 2016, this article about Marc Gafni appeared in the Jewish Forward. Unfortunately, the Forward again presented this material in a very biased way. They went out of their way to discredit Marc Gafni’s piece by surrounding it with disclaimers and so-called expert opinion. The seeming lack of journalistic integrity in this and in so many other instances of the Forward’s coverage has been highly unfortunate and caused significant damage.
Marc Gafni’s Response To Sara
Over the last year, I have been attacked in the press and on Internet blogs, falsely accused of everything from sexual harassment to plagiarism. My character and work have been demeaned. These attacks have unfolded as a series of articles reaching back to the end of 2015. I believe that these articles are the result of a highly orchestrated smear campaign.
I want to directly address a particular false story by Sara Kabakov that is being used in an attempt not only to destroy my reputation, but now has become the basis for a wider organized campaign to destroy the reputations of peers and colleagues.
The series of articles and blogs I’m referring to, particularly ones published in Jewish press, cite the alleged “molestation of Sara Kabakov, starting at age 13, by her former Rabbi and spiritual guru, Marc Gafni.” They present this claim as if it were an established and self-evident truth. It is not.
Speaking the truth about this story is not just crucial for me personally, it is also important for the evolution of public culture in the Internet age. Fact checking and fair process are at the core of democratic society. How we manage conflict tells us much about who we actually are as human beings and as a society.
Our culture must protect against all abuses of human rights and dignity. That includes racial and class-based abuse, sexual harassment and all forms of physical and emotional abuse. At the same time, we must be alert to all forms of defamation and cyberbullying in any form. Cyberbullying and false complaints create trauma, sometimes leading to suicide and always deface human dignity.
This response, which contains detailed refutations of the false and distorted claims being circulated about my actions and character, is the first in a series of articles I will be providing various media outlets who have published erroneous stories about me.
These issues have been extensively and directly addressed on the Facts page of my personal website. However, it now feels necessary to go one step farther.
What follows is my direct response to the assertions made by Sara Kabakov in her opinion piece published by the Forward on January 13, 2016. I am writing about this relationship for two important reasons. First, her story significantly distorts key details about our relationship. And secondly, as I mentioned above, her claims are being actively and intentionally used in some of the most malicious elements of the smear campaign against me.
Sara’s Forward article describes a highly distorted and often outright false narrative about our relationship from 36 years ago. In this article, Sara introduces herself as “the woman Gafni molested when she was 13 years old,”
At the time I met Sara, I was a 19-year-old boy. I was not a rabbinical student, as Sara stated in her essay. I was a college freshman, and not a rabbi, or the man who writes this response today. I have also never been a spiritual guru as Sara has labeled me. I was a teenager in a relationship with a younger teenager. Moreover, I was not then, nor am I now, a “child rapist,” “statutory rapist,” or a “pedophile,” as many have claimed through various media sources. These claims result from the ongoing recycling of falsehoods about this relationship 36 years ago.
I met Sara toward the beginning of her freshman year of high school. I was one year out of high school. Our relationship began some time later, in the early winter of 1980. Sara now says that she was 13 during the time of our relationship, but, according to what she told me then, she was 14 during the time of our relationship. Her 14th birthday was November 30. Our relationship began in December.
The first sentence of her article significantly disguises the fact that ours was a relationship between two teenagers. The portrait of me as a sexual predator is made much more credible when in her Forward article she is twice described as a 13-year old before mentioning my actual age at the time of our relationship.
Relatedly, Sara claims that when we met, “he offered to tutor me in Talmud,” a subtle distortion that sets up a formal authority relationship, which also strengthens the abuse narrative. Such a relationship never existed. It is true that we discussed the Talmud — I was an Orthodox yeshiva student, and discussing Talmud was what we did. But I was never her tutor in any sense.
Of critical importance is the fact that, 36 years ago, I hadn’t any awareness that her being a minor was an issue. We were 14 and 19 — teenagers, who had no knowledge of such things in New York, when, culturally, such topics were far less discussed than they are today. Indeed, either these words or this topic ever came up between us — not even once during the few months of our relationship. It was just not in our cultural awareness.
As a committed Orthodox boy, I was conflicted about my feelings versus following what I thought at the time was God’s law. I had strong feelings for Sara. And, at that time, she claimed to have the same feelings for me. What once was a mutual expression of teenage love has somehow, over the course of many decades, become, for Sara, a story of abuse. This is the heart of the matter.
In describing the start of our friendship, Sara states: “He proceeded to tell me how ‘special’ I was, and that he really liked me.” This is true. I was falling for her and we shared our feelings with each other directly. She then says that I suggested we “keep our friendship a secret,” and that I was “grooming