My own words
What is “Bayit Chadash” and who is Gafni? – A personal journey
The first time I was ever excited about the coming of the Sabbath was at the “Sagol” festival on the beach where Gafni had a mass Kabbalat Shabbat.
The impressive entry of the bride, Shabbat the Queen, as Gafni called her, this nuance, the drift towards holiness, permeated my body and spread with excited glee. This was the initial voice that came from within me calling upon me to ask about Judaism that so far had been my estranged aunt. Until that point I had not understood that Judaism beats through my veins…
After several additional encounters with Gafni at various festivals and after listening to his words that had entered my heart ringing so true, I understood this is what I am going to study, so I registered to the seminary at “Bayit Chadash”.
I spent three years there. Years of unequaled depth and meaning, a whole new world opened up before me. There I understood that Judaism is not external and does not belong to any body that claims to represent it. It is an ancient wisdom that has the power to discover an infinite depth in me, just as I discover in it, and the relationship between us, the more it deepens, it brings me closer to my creator, and actually, to myself, making me a more sensitive, more moral and better person.
“Bayit Chadash” became for me a pace that enriched my internal world and my inner power, a place that expanded my circle of teachers and friends to a path called life, a place that became meaningful also for my children who always share my path.
At the lessons, we chanted prayers, read texts and biblical exegesis, dove in together with him. Gafni took the ancient manuscripts, the Bible, and alongside us, as he directs and unfolds it before us, and we follow step by step… deeper still.. until it comes to life…
I went through an amazing journey… but beyond the fascinating content, there had always been his infinite sensitivity to each and every person.
The connection between all the things that came out of the wisdom of his heart and that were given to us softly and lovingly, his devotion as a teacher to his students, his desire and constantly give… all these I carry with me.
His care for each and every person was always felt. If there is just one thing I can say about him to describe him, it would be ‘caring’. Maybe he even cared too much… As though all the stories behind each of us went with him, in him, as though we were his family… and he would remember and show interest and attention and help… making sure that everyone felt that they belonged, that every single one would be within the circle… “Nobody stays outside the circle”, he would tell us each time anew… He said it and meant it, said and did.
And a community was formed, a not so small group of people who beyond their personal journey, beyond their individuality, there was also a link that was not self evident… it was the result of encounters where a profound process of discovering the self took place, from a place of connection to our roots, to Judaism, and along the journey, you open up and become excited. Things come up and open your heart and allow you to truly see the brother or sister around you in the circle going their own sojourn… that is, like my path, full of the life materials of which Gafni spoke with so much integrity and wisdom… and then it happens… you look into his or her eyes and see it happening… and the experience stays in your body… and stamps it mark… creating a new reality… which is just slightly different…
And from there the change begins, from there the world becomes a little clearer, from there the storm calms and from there I can create and act to make the world just a little bit better.
Bayit Chadash became and important and significant part of my life. At festivals the Bayit Chadash zone was the place I wanted to be, to study, to give… the amazing weekends became something I couldn’t miss. To the kabbalot Shabbat that took place in Tel Aviv, we came each time on a regular basis, and of course the lessons in Jaffa that were the essence and enriched all the other activities…
You can listen on this website to the seminary’s recorded lessons… I highly recommend listening to them. I went over them now to put them on the website, to assign names by topics… I heard almost all of them live after all… and again as I was listening to the recording, I was engrossed… They’re fascinating!!!
The curriculum is a-m-a-z-i-n-g, a veritable treasure trove. There are three years of our lessons and many more additions such as kabbalot Shabbat, the prayers we chanted… and more….
I invite you to listen beyond the content, beyond the profundity of the curriculum… You can hear Gafni’s voice, the love in his voice, his good natured humor, his wish to share with us his incredibly vast knowledge and remain humble and always respectful. Respectful towards us, his students, towards the quotes he used, the people who stood behind those quotes and the opinions and various institutions…
Bayit Chadash was not a school. It was an informal dynamic movement on the beach. There were no certificates and Gafni did not promise anyone this world or the next. It was a very flowing place, open and without strict structural relations. In short, an alternative Jewish scene.
Gafni was also everybody’s friend on a level plane. If you needed to do laundry, you were welcome to use his washing machine; whoever was “stuck” in Tel Aviv knew they had a place to sleep on one of the mattresses at Bayit Chadash. There was no separation between his own personal living quarters and the Bayit Chadash space. He was a sort of post-modern Hassidic Rabbi, a little hippie, a little bohemian, brilliant, caring, a kind man who takes care of everyone, but not much of himself.
So on the one hand, Gafni was my teacher, the man who lectured at halls around the world, who commanded the television screen, the man who made people sit wide-mouthed, laugh and become emotional…
On the other hand, he was not a distant teacher. He was a close friend, open and accessible. Everyone knew it was so at Bayit Chadash. Whoever wanted to be found and to be, was.
Whoever wanted something more formal went elsewhere.
Then again, at the same time, whoever was even a little close to him knew how caring he was and how sensitive. He opened up his home to us to teach us Torah, accepted whomever wanted to come, always with a hug, always with a smile, and we, the pupils from Israel from Bayit Chadash, felt that we were his most valuable “investment”. Every person chooses where to invest the majority of his efforts… he chose us.
If someone walked around sorrowfully, he sensed it, offered to talk, sat on the stairs with them and like a close brother, offered his help.
If someone was happy, he would share in his joy.
He joined several people from Bayit Chadash in matrimony. I was present at one of the weddings and stood near the Chupah.
I have been at many weddings, but I had not seen such a wedding in my life! I remember telling myself at that moment that this is the way I would like to be married. The weddings I had attended previously excited me because of my relationship with the couple, because of the occasion that is emotional in and of itself and because I was happy for them… but here there was something additional that I had never experienced before, beyond the standard text that a Rabbi must say underneath the Chuppah. Gafni stood there lovingly, with an open heart, and spoke to them. There was much depth, intent, beauty and respect for this journey of two people uniting and becoming one. The ritual was emotional to the depths of my soul.
I think I can fairly say that this was the first time I had truly been at a wedding.
Until then, I observed weddings, was present, but did not participate.
At this wedding, I had been with the couple at a very profound moment of their, I was truly with them.
I believe that is Gafni’s greatness, his ability at a specific and paramount moment such as that moment, to melt away the barriers between us people, the obstacles of fear and ego and to be truly together.
So as my teacher he gave me knowledge, a lot of knowledge, both external and internal. I became filled with content and tools and a rich metaphorical world with knowledge from the Bible that Gafni had reminded us of…. I gained much clarity… light had been added to my life.
My link with Judaism became stronger, something I had not believed possible in this lifetime.
Gafni in my eyes filled a very important role as a Rabbi in Israel, on the borderline between religious and secular, to help and deliver the Torah, the Judaism that is collecting dust because the former are not “having intercourse” with it and allowing it to wither and die… and the latter give up and allow it to die too…
And then the crisis happened.
It is I time I remember with great anguish.
I felt a deep pain of things breaking apart… and a sorrow of farewell.
I will refer to it later on…
I will only say now that I thought then that from such a large crisis, one can and should grow.
I did not think that only one person should grow from it.
I thought it was an opportunity for all of us, and I though we can do it together.
But life has its own way…
Even beforehand I had been close with Gafni, and of course I remained so when it happened.
After several months of very profound cross-Atlantic conversations… I decided to take up Gafni’s offer to visit the United States.
I had a charming visit here, sad and charming.
I went back to Israel and knew I would come back, this time to live here (the phone calls were just very expensive J)
I packed both my kids, myself and our dog, and we came here.
From the start we felt very comfortable and safe. Gafni, even prior to our arrival, asked details about local schools and other issues regarding the children’s move and it was important to him that they should not lose step.
We took a charming house in a good part of town right by their school, “to make them feel safe” as he said. The move was easy and a soft landing for us. Thank to him.
I very much appreciate it, because I know that despite the difficulty and pain he was experiencing, he invested a lot of time and effort in the first months until we settled in.
Gafni showed himself throughout this period as a noble and conscientious man.
I had a feeling it would be so and I wasn’t wrong.
We have been here more than a year and a half, almost two years.
I won’t say that it’s an easy time.
This period contains a lot of profound pain but also plenty of love and courage.
Our connection with each other is good. We all set our path together, a special path.
Gafni does not fulfill a father figure role for my children. He has his own children and they matter to him greatly.
My children have a father who is very much involved in their lives on a daily basis, but Gafni is definitely close to them and contributes to their development.
We are surrounded here by a group of friends, good and charming people.
I will remember this time fondly.
During the first months I spent a lot of time with my children, time that was a gift… In Israel, it would not have happened.. They were busy with friends and I with making a living… It was a far-off dream that was fulfilled here. I taught them English (today they teach me), we made jewelry from beads and we went on trips. At the same time I also painted a lot and sold what I painted…
Right now I’m very independent in every way. My children speak and read English (which is a gift in and of itself). They are happy and curious children.
Of course at some point we will return to Israel… That is to us home.
I’ve got parents, siblings and friends there… Our place is in Israel.
Gafni will stay here in the United States, writing books, producing a movie about what he has learnt from all this, teaching and studying, going through profound processes, creating new worlds.
I would not give up on a single moment from the past two years. It was not easy, not everything was perfect, but everything was profound, true and good.
Gafni once said that “the opposite of sanctity is shallowness”. We had depth and many moments of laughter, beauty and softness.
To sum up, I’m writing to whomever is reading now and will read in the future, from a place deep inside me.
From a very open, real and respectful place as much as I am able to.
I wrote as a witness for a period of several years, as Gafni accompanies my life.
At the start a well-known figure, later my teacher, a close friend and a man with whom I have lived.
I can say, after a deep acquaintance with him, that Gafni is mostly a man of books, conversations, writing, a serious man who works from dawn to dusk.
I can only imagine it was so during the time at Bayit Chadash.
It addition, Gafni was single at the time and the fact that Bayit Chadash was also his home created a close circle of people around him, making close bonds that Gafni, as a public person, had hoped in his innocence, would provide a quiet corner for him.
It is clear to me that he really did see his personal contacts for those two years as a private, safe and beautiful place.
I hold opinions of my own in matters of the heart, and in my many conversations with Gafni, he have come to realization that in retrospect he understood that this was impossible.
Gafni and I still disagree on several things within the grand vision of what should be between masculine and feminine, but he encourages and respects the independent views of those women who stand before him.
This is why I was shocked that women who had never expressed any complaint or discontent to Gafni about their personal relations with him, somehow came together and through emotions and experience of hurt, submitted complaints, that it is crystal clear to me were false, to the Israeli Police.
I heard that evening at a meeting of Bayit Chadash alleged descriptions of the relations between Gafni and certain women who testified that evening. Later on, first hand material came into my hands that showed these claims and the descriptions by one of those women in the magazine “Chaim Acherim” were false and completely distorted.
If Gafni would have arrived at that meeting, if the members of the community would see the recorded material written by those very same women at the time of their relations with Gafni (together with plenty of other material that Gafni’s team spent two years collecting) – the entire evening would have panned out differently.
That evening I wanted to bring Gafni to the meeting. He was shocked and alone at the airport and did not comprehend the magnitude of the distortion and betrayal taking place at that time.
I myself did not thoroughly understand what was going on and still thought that everyone was acting out of love.
Were I to have known, I would not have permitted the girls to prevent me from picking up Gafni.
Both from the girls and from the organizers of the event, I got the distinct impression that they feared Gafni would show up.
They excused it as though Gafni would endanger me, as though they were protecting me. Today I know this was complete nonsense. That same evening I answered one of the organizers who had expressed himself so by saying “Gafni? Dangerous? Are you sure you’re talking about Gafni?!”
He broke down crying.
Gafni not only is not dangerous, he was even shocked and dumbfounded that evening (and the entire subsequent period). Whoever knew Gafni, knew this, but part of the issue was to sow panic among us.
My clear understanding that I had been so blatantly lied to that evening came not from what Gafni had told me, but rather from extensive reading through a large volume of material that came into my possession that is in part those same women’s words, and all this material unequivocally contradicts what we were told that evening, and more so what was written later in Chaim Acherim magazine and other newspapers.
There is no connection between what happened and criminal matters.
“Everything was with full consent”
The girls themselves admitted unequivocally that evening that all the relationships were with full consent and to this fact I and several others who were there that evening would bear witness anywhere and the documents also testify to the fact that there was no abuse neither of authority nor of false promises or anything that resembles those. When they wrote “rape” in the newspaper, I went to Avraham Lieder who like me was appalled by the term. I told him, “Avraham, after all the girls had stated that everything was with full consent and now they wrote in Yediot Akharonot ‘rape’. Do something!”. Avraham was helpless. He told me, “I agree with you, but there is nothing that can be done, people will forget”. I was stunned. I asked him what would he do were he to wake up one morning, open the newspaper and read all about himself being a rapist…? He replied, “I can’t do anything. Call one of the girls”.
(He also wrote an e-mail at the time to Gafni apologizing for the “foul press” but did nothing more).
I approached one of the girls and told her “you had all said that it was with full consent and the newspaper said ‘rape’”. She agreed with me and beyond that she said it had hurt the girls themselves and that they had dismissed their counsel who had “lied to the newspaper at their expense in order to advertise herself and that [they] intend to sue her”. I asked her what she was going to do now concerning the false publication in the newspaper, and she responded that she had written a letter to the editor. I told her he would toss it directly to the bin. Indeed no one bothered to rectify the injustice.
These are my words
After all this, I must say I have never found any connection whatsoever between what had taken place and criminal matters.
There was no rape here and no sexual coercion.
What do you do when it hurts
Life is very complicated.
We feel… expect… fear… love… are hurt…
And questions are asked such as:
What do you do when it hurts?
For what and how much can you blame the other side?
For what and how much do you take responsibility?
To what extent are the stories I call ‘facts’ truly real?
Am I a victim or a creator in my life?
These are real questions.
On the questions and many others I will try to touch in this corner called “feminine outlook”,
I invite you to join me,
I wish you a pleasant visit to the website.
I wish all of us joy, completeness and love.