A New Age guru has been sued over allegations he molested a child while he was a student at Yeshiva University in the 1980s.
Under New York's Child Victims Act, Sara Kabakov filed a lawsuit Thursday against Marc Gafni, the founder of the Center for Integral Wisdom, who was then known as Marc or Mordechai Winiarz.
He was a rabbinical student at Yeshiva in 1980 when Kabakov said he sexually assaulted her. She was 13 at the time.
"He was 19 or 20 years old, and a friend of my sister’s had invited him over (to their home). He offered to tutor me in Talmud, a new subject for girls entering ninth grade in yeshiva high school, as I was. It seemed like a friendly gesture, and so I agreed to meet him a week later," Kabakov wrote in a 2016 piece for The Forward.
"After our first lesson, he proceeded to tell me how “special” I was, and that he really liked me. I got a weird feeling about this, but, being inexperienced with adult men, I didn’t have a clue how to respond," she wrote.
Gafni began staying at the family's home occasionally to visit a local synagogue, and Kabakov said he molested her several times over the period of a year.
In a post on the website whoismarcgafni.com that appears to be dedicated to defending Gafni, he wrote that he had a typical teenage romance with Kabakov:
"At the time I met Sara, I was a 19-year-old boy," he wrote. "I was a teenager in a relationship with a younger teenager" and said her allegations of abuse were "nothing greater than teenage necking." Gafni also said he took a polygraph test to prove his innocence.
The New York Post reported that in a 2018 appearance on the "Dr. Phil" show, Gafni said he was “madly in love with Sara” and “there was never any sense whatsoever… that there was any sense of coercion." Gafni claims he's the victim of an Internet smear campaign; around the two minute mark in this "Dr. Phil" clip, Gafni says he's been "name raped."
Now living in Portland, Oregon, Gafni's website described him as "a visionary thinker, social activist, passionate philosopher, and author of ten books... He teaches on the cutting- edge of philosophy in the West, helping to evolve a new 'dharma,' or meta-theory of Integral meaning that is helping to re-shape key pivoting points in consciousness and culture."
A 2015 New York Times piece noted that Gafni has several influential followers including John Mackey, the co-founder of Whole Foods, who was a chairman of the executive board of Gafni’s center. Arianna Huffington was a speaker at one of Gafni's conferences.
The Times piece also notes that Gafni was accused of sexual misconduct by another 16-year-old girl who said he climbed into her bed naked while she was visiting him and his wife. Gafni told the Times "that it was 'a one-time event' and that Ms. Mitzner was 'highly initiatory' and came on to him." Mitzner denied this, telling the Times, “I never initiated anything with him." No charges were filed.
The website for Gafni's organization the Center for Integral Wisdom states: "we fully trust that the claims of sexual harassment and abuse are false," and adds, "Please be aware that Dr. Gafni’s legal team has advised him to not comment further at this time given the defamatory nature of the false accusations against him and the distorted narrative that has ensued."
Calls to Kabakov's lawyer were not returned immediately.
Yeshiva University, which is named as a co-defendant in the suit, did not return an email for comment Thursday.