As the ribbon is cut at the first 365 store in Los Angeles on Wednesday, however, protesters at that location and at a Whole Foods in Manhattan will focus on an issue unrelated to $6 asparagus water and systemic overcharging. The protesters are targeting Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s links to Marc Gafni, a former rabbi who allegedly had sex with a number of his followers, including two teenage girls, as the New York Times reported last year.
“There’s a culture of silence around [child sexual abuse]. I believe Whole Foods has an opportunity to really shape that conversation,” said activist Matthew Sandusky, the adopted son of former Penn State coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky, in a telephone interview with The Washington Post.
Matthew Sandusky, who said he was abused by his father, is involved with the protest through the Peaceful Hearts Foundation, the nonprofit support group for sexual assault survivors he co-founded.
Born Mordechai Winiarz in 1960, Gafni is the founder of the Center for Integral Wisdom — a San Francisco-based “Activist Think Tank” whose “mission is to love outrageously, live outrageously, and create an extraordinary world,” according to its website. Though this mission may seem vague, Mackey, known for his libertarian views and stated desire for businesses to do good, has been visibly involved in the center in recent years.
That involvement, however, has proven controversial. In 2004, a woman told Jewish Journal Gafni “repeatedly sexually assaulted” her over a nine-month period, beginning when she was 13 in 1979. She repeated the claims in a piece published in Forward magazine in January.
“I was a stupid kid and we were in love,” Gafni told the Jewish Journal. “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.”
In email to The Washington Post, Gafni denied any “sexual misconduct,” saying he was 19 at the time of the relationship.
“Charges have never been brought against me, nor have I ever been found guilty in the court of law regarding these false claims,” he said.
In the Jewish Journal, Gafni denied another woman’s claim that he abused her when she was 16 in 1986. He also told the New York Times this woman was “highly initiatory” and came on to him, and said her account is “categorically untrue” in a statemented emailed to The Post.
“I take full responsibility for my mistake in having a one-time limited contact … thirty one years ago,” he wrote.
Gafni moved to Israel in 1988, changed his name and founded Bayit Chadash, a community for mysticism and creative worship. But that community later dissolved after Gafni was accused by his adult students in 2006 of asking them to keep their sexual relationships with him secret.
Gafni later wrote a letter in which he appeared to apologize for his behavior — but then wrote another blaming the controversy on “feminine shadow manipulated behind the scenes by masculine shadow, that is to say women encouraged and manipulated by men.”
“I did not,” Gafni told the Times, “represent myself as someone who didn’t sleep with students.” He also told the Times he had asked lovers not for “secrecy” but for “privacy.”
CEO Mackey, meanwhile, has served on the board of Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom, and has publicized his links to Gafni and the center in the past. He quotes Gafni liberally in his 2013 book “Conscious Capitalism,” and appeared with Gafni in videos discussing the book that, until recently, appeared on Whole Foods’ website.
In one such video, Mackey and Gafni discussed the “shadow” of capitalism. From a transcript:
Gafni: One of the things business needs to do is to actually not be demonized, hold the heroic narrative, hold its nobility, and then like any healthy self, living its story, become conscious of its shadow, as opposed to identifying with its shadow.
Mackey: Yes! What’s interesting about business is – of course business has its shadow – but it’s almost like if it’s been turned upside down, and the shadow is seen as the narrative about business and the hidden part is the heroic part of business. So, it needs to be turned completely opposite where business can realize its higher purpose of creating value in the world and helping humanity to progress and prosper. The shadow side will always remain the greedy, selfish, uncaring side that’ll still be there, but it should be the shadow side that’s seldom seen, not honored, and consciously sought to be overcome.
Gafni: Envy – I think it’s so great what you said because envy… Love is: I see your beauty, and I identify you with your beauty, I interpret you through the prism of your beauty. Envy is: I see your shadow, and I identify you with your shadow, and see you through the prism of your shadow. And I think … actually, envy… causes… mass-culture often to interpret business through its shadow as opposed to through its essence.
The videos were replaced with a note from Mackey on May 5.
“My involvement with Marc Gafni and former Board of Directors relationship with the Center for Integral Wisdom is conducted strictly in my personal life and does not represent an endorsement or support for either Mr. Gafni or the Center for Integral Wisdom by Whole Foods Market,” Mackey wrote in the statement. “With that said, I have decided to remove the video interviews I participated in with Mr Gafni, and am doing so to be consistent with the position that this is indeed strictly a personal relationship.” The statement provided a link to the Center for Integral Wisdom website.
Rabbi David Ingber of New York’s Romemu synagogue, a former associate of Gafni behind a Change.org petition titled “Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again,” said Mackey should publicly break with Gafni.
“It’s unbelievable to me that someone who has as much to lose as Mackey would have done so little research” on Gafni, Ingber said. He added: “Talk about conscious capitalism – this is the most unconscious expression of capitalism that you could possibly imagine.”
Sandusky also said he wants Mackey to distance himself from the former rabbi.
In an emailed statement to The Post, Gafni said Mackey’s term on the Central for Integral Wisdom’s Board ended in March, and that Mackey “has no affiliation with the center at this time.”
“This group of protestors, led by many of my competing adversaries, is using Mackey as a platform to continue their smear campaign designed to destroy my reputation and career,” Gafni wrote. “While combating sexual abuse or harassment is essential and something I fully support, so is providing a fair forum for those being wrongly accused. Publically [sic] lashing out against someone based upon false or distorted information about sexual events is itself a form of abuse.”
Whole Foods declined comment for this story.