Is This What David Bersin Did?

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Over the years I have done a bit of writing on the early history and pre-history of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America including various blog posts on the subject. Below, I have published some provocative unpublished emails and first-person accounts of the events as well as some new archival material. You may be very surprised at what you learn. Some of the info below was published on an earlier Feldenkrais blog. I am putting this info here on so that the various bits of information can be found more easily and so that people keep in mind the dynamics of the Feldenkrais Guild and Feldenkrais "Trainers" as events unfold.

David Bersin Committed No Fraud

"I want you all to know that Moshe very much desired that his work and the words associated with his work be legally protected, and that he wanted and entrusted the Guild to protect them. This was Moshe's expressed wish. He was also vitally involved in the formation of the Guild and wanted a strong Guild to act on behalf of his wishes. In registering the service marks on his behalf, I did nothing unethical or fraudulent…” David Bersin, 1999

Let's do a quick fact check on what Bersin wrote. The creation of a Feldenkrais Guild does not seem to be Moshe's idea but rather an idea of one of his students, Dub Leigh, who brought up the idea during the San Francisco Training. There is no record of Feldenkrais wanting a "strong" guild to act on behalf of his wishes. The evidence that David Bersin registered the service marks "on Moshe's behalf" is very slim. There was a letter allegedly signed by Moshe on November 18th, 1982 giving the guild the rights to the service marks. However, it must be pointed out that the letter was not considered strong enough proof of ownership by the judge that reviewed the documents in the Baniel lawsuit (see below). And Moshe was very sick at the time of the letter. He was bedridden and had suffered from multiple heart attacks. Was Feldenkrais of sound mind? Could he have legally consented to giving away his marks?

For those of you new to the community or new to the history, David's statement above that he "did nothing unethical or fraudulent" was in response to a lawsuit filed by Anat Baniel that accused him and the Feldenkrais Guild of fraudulently registering the service marks.

The lawsuit filed in 1999, asked the United States District Court Illinois to nullify the Feldenkrais Guild service marks. In short:

[Anat Baniel asks that]...this Court declare that...the Guild's registrations of the Terms Feldenkrais and Feldenkrais Method...were procured by fraud on the United States Patent and Trademark Office; and...order the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel [the service mark registrations]

Why nullify the marks? The lawsuit claimed that David Bersin mis-represented the Guild's ownership of the service marks and committed fraud. In short:

"In June, 1983, the Guild filed service mark applications for the Terms with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In connection with such applications, the Guild, through its officer and agent David Bersin (AKA/ David Zemach-Bersin, hereinafter "Bersin"), represented to the USPTO that the Guild was the "owner"of the Terms, and that "no person, firm, corporation or association" other than the Guild had the right to use the Terms.

Bersin's June, 1983 representations to the USPTO as described in I8, above, were materially false, as Bersin and the Guild well knew".

You can find a copy of the lawsuit filing here: BanielLawsuitFiling.

In other words, Bersin represented that the Guild was the owner of Moshe's service marks terms. Though some would like to say otherwise, it is not just Anat Baniel who doubts the Guild's registration and ownership of the service marks. There are many others. For example, in a memo marked "confidential" to the Guild's Board of Directors dated in 1985, just two years after Bersin's application, we see that even some Guild officers had strong reservations.

"I’m sure that in the fall last year, I was very much taken with the notion of owning a service mark, and all the power and implications that went with that, and I was responding positively to Fred Goldberg’s [attorney] position that we were the owners of the FI mark and we should do all we could to keep it. However, several weeks ago, I began being haunted by the question, “Are we really the owner of the marks?” My stomach churned…. these are Moshe’s marks, how can we call them ours… . By what authority do we call ourselves owners – maybe we need another legal opinion; what legal grounds do we have to call ourselves owners. Frankly I was scared.- Bonnie Humiston, Former FGNA Director, letter taken from the lawsuit filing."

My journey into understanding the "Great War For The Service Marks" began with email conversations to people in the San Francisco and Amherst trainings. This was before I had read any of the lawsuit filings or FeldyForum posts on the topic. I was honored by how honest and open people were in talking about the history. I was also little bit shocked by how often David Bersin's name came up. Though I have not been a member of the Feldenkrais Guild for many years, I did serve on several Guild-related boards and committees including FEFNA and the Esther Thelen Research Fund. To my recollection, David Bersin's name rarely, if ever, came up. Seemingly he has had no official role for many years.

Here is a part of a conversation that I had with a former student from Moshe' Amherst training:

"Can you tell me more on why you would attribute some of the [service mark] issue to David? I'm certainly not going to argue the point, would just like more details. Could help for a future blog post." - Ryan Nagy, email, 2010

And here is a reply, slightly edited to maintain the anonymity of several people referred to in the email.

"Ryan, your question is a good one. After all, David seems uninvolved in the Guild and publicly seems only to care about his training programs. The truth is that David ignores most everything other than training standards where he is like an eagle seeing movement from far away. When Anat spoke about her lawsuit it was all David all the time. David telling her that she couldn't change her trainings and still call it Feldenkrais, David initiating and prosecuting the suit, David having "gotten the rights to the name Feldenkrais from Moshe" and etc. When the NATAB worked on curriculum it was David's paper that closed the show, seeking unspecified higher standards - you trained under him, was everything so clear and were the standards of training so high as to insure that trainees would come out as well formed practitioners???

Even today, when the FGNA board wants to "Support an effective process for changing training policy" who is the 1st trainer to join to make certain that there will be no changes, other than those to raise barriers to entry, DZB. Who led the charge to exclude Yochanan, Mia, and to marginalize anyone who saw the world any differently than him? DZB Who will be the 1st to say that Mia is not doing Feldenkrais but some splinter application of his work when he finds out that she will do a training in the US, DZB, not the Guild, but DZB. Why do they feel so threatened???" Personal email to Ryan, April 2010 from a former student of the Amherst Training.

The above email sets the stage for you to understand what many people in the community know already: David Bersin is a behind the scenes player who does a great deal to attempt to control training policy, service marks and the guild. Several people have gone so far as to credit him with the genesis of the original service mark lawsuit due to his personal attacks and email tirades directed against Anat Baniel. However, I have not had a chance to read any of those emails, I only have second hand reports. I would like to get them and share them with the community if possible. Feel free to get them to me anonymously or just send them to me directly and I will gladly publish them.

This leads us back to the point of this blog post and the genesis of the Feldenkrais Guild's control of what were Moshe Feldenkrais' personal service marked terms. Does the Feldenkrais Guild truly own the service marks? Was it Moshe's intention to give them away to David Bersin and his other new and very inexperienced practitioners?

Settled Out Of Court

To me, the most interesting part of the service mark lawsuit was that it was settled out of court. The Guild and its supporters spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting it, and in the end gave in to most of Anat's demands. Though the Guild never admitted to any fraud or wrongdoing, they did give Anat what she wanted, which was the ability to use the service marked terms, change how she conducted her trainings and to stop paying to have her trainings certified by the guild. (Click to read: Baniel_Settlement+Summary.)

If the Feldenkrais Guild did in fact own the service marks and have clear title to them, I am puzzled as to why they would back down and give Anat what she wanted. I have heard, but have not yet been able to verify, that the court did not find the Guild's evidence of ownership compelling and made a preliminary ruling against its ownership of the marks. At this point, the Guild lawyer's recommended a settlement so that the Guild did not lose its marks.

Update April 3rd, 2017: I have recently gotten access to the court docket from the lawsuit, which sheds some light (just a bit) on the Guild settling out of court. The FGNA asked the court to make a summary judgement against Anat's claims, but the court refused to do so:

(Item 55)"The Guild's motion for summary judgement on...the complaint and it's counterclaim is denied..."

(Item 63)"...bench trial set for 10/26/00 at 9:00 am."

So, the FGNA was being forced to go to a full trial. A trial in which they could have lost their service marks. They decided to settle with Anat, giving her enough of what she wanted so that she would drop the suit.

If they had a strong and clear case for ownership of the marks, it would have never made it out of the pre-trial phase and a trial date would not have been set.

End up Update

However, it is not just the court case that throws doubt on David Zemach Bersin' story that Moshe wanted his marks transferred to the guild and wanted the guild to "protect" his work. In fact, most first person accounts summarily reject David's position. For example, below is a quote from Feldenkrais "Trainer" Carl Ginsburg who graduated from the San Francisco Training in 1977.

All We Have Is A Letter

"The Guild's response letter [to the lawsuit] is as expected to the challenge and on the surface seems reasonable and correct. It matches the outer history of how the Guild got the service marks and what the Guild's purpose is in controlling these legal protections. But there is also an inner history. Anat [Baniel] and Eilat's view actually matches this inner history. Although the Guild's letter tries to put the weight of Moshe's intentions behind the legal stance, we have only his letter asking the Guild to make the service marks in his name and his initial promotion of the Guild as evidence. There is much more to know, and this has to do with what Moshe was saying privately. Here there isn't much documentation, although I am told there are some taped conversations and statements." - Feldenkrais "Trainer" Carl Ginsburg

Is that not fascinating? We only have a letter. A letter that may or may not have been written by Moshe. Carl Ginsburg is saying that Anat's view matches the inner history...meaning what? Carl believes that the service marks were obtained fraudulently? That the "outer history" that is taught about the Feldenkrais Guild is false? That the "outer history" or public stories told about the guild are not truthful?

And how about this:

"I don't think it was Moshe's actual signature."

"All I'm saying is, I don't think it was Moshe's actual signature on the document, although he "may" have given his tacit approval...but there was a lot of ambivalence there at the time...or possibly when David and Mark were in Israel with Moshe collecting signatures for certificates, guild business, etc...that he was not fully cognizant of what he was signing....whatever it was Anat knew and that is how she got the out of court settlement...." 2nd former student of the Amherst Training, March 2010

Keep in mind, that when David returned from Israel with the letter, allegedly signed by Feldenkrais, that Feldenkrais was near death and had suffered several heart attacks. Could Moshe Feldenkrais have possibly have consented to transferring the marks? Did he know what he was signing? Did he sign sign the letter at all?

“even if we put aside the possibility of fraud. I have often wondered about Moshe’s state of mind when he signed over control of the Service Marks to the Guild. From what I have heard, he was not fully himself after the strokes. Even though he wanted there to be a Guild, it is highly doubtful that he [Moshe] wanted to grant control over the structure and content of trainings to a group of his least experienced students. Did he realize that these relative newbies would become the final arbiters of the who and how of certifying newly minted practitioners to use the now Service Marked terms ATM, FI, and the Feldenkrais Method for the forseeable future? I don’t think that there is any doubt that this would not have been his intent. - Personal email to Ryan, April 2010 from a former student of the Amherst Training.

That needs a bit of clarification. Perhaps in today's world David Bersin, Paul Rubin, Denis Leri, and the others from the first American training in San Francisco seem like "old hands." After all, they have been training almost 30 years now. However at the time of Moshe's death they were new to the method. Very new. Bersin states on his website that he has been a Feldenkrais Practitioner since 1977 which was the year of graduation of the San Francisco Trainer. He became a so-called "Feldenkrais Trainer" a mere five years later in 1983. And how did he become a trainer? Did Moshe ask him to? No, Moshe died in 1984 and was in Israel in 1983, terminally ill. David was actually "declared" to be a trainer by Jerry Karzen who was functioning as the Director of the (now defunct) Feldenkrais Foundation. According to a letter sent by Jerry to the Feldenkrais Guild:

In January 1983, I was asked by the Directors of the Feldenkrais Foundation to become its executive Director while simultaneously the No. [North] American Feldenkrais Guild established the Training Accreditation Board. Soon thereafter, I asked Mark Reese, Russell Delman, and David Bersin to serve temporarily as trainers in Foundation sponsored training programs...

- Full Text of Karzen's letter here.

So David Bersin had been a practitioners for five years, with no demonstrated competence as trainer, a virtual neophyte to the work, and he was thrust into the role of trainer by Jerry Karzen who himself was not a trainer and had no basis for his decision other than political and business reasons.

Keep in mind that at the time Bersin "ascended into heaven" as Feldenkrais trainer after 5 years, there were others, who had already been working with Moshe for more than 20 years! In fact, when David became a practitioner in 1977, Mia Segal and Yochanon Rywerant had already been working with Moshe for about 20 years and Mia was teaching independently having been given permission by Moshe. Mia, in fact, was an assistant and teacher at the training in which David Bersin became a practitioner.

There were others who had been working with Moshe for decades, including the rest of the 13 students from Moshe's Tel Aviv training including Alon Talmi, Eli Wadler, Shlomo Efrat, Gaby Yaron, Batya Fabian, Devora Chisday, Myriam Pfeffer, Chava Shelhav, Bruria Milo, Shlomo Bracha, Ruthy Alon, and Fanny Loc.

But where this story gets even weirder and sadder is when we look at the attitudes that these young, american, neophyte practitioners had, and continue to have, towards their more experienced elders.

When she [Mia Segal] and Yochanon started their [Feldenkrais] programs I had already left my positions with the Guild and the Feldenkrais Foundation. However I told Guild board members then that they should sue both Yochanon and Mia for improper use of the terms. (...) I asked people why are you sponsoring Mia and Yochanon to give advanced programs and mentorships?  Why are you elevating them to such a high status in the community? - Jerry Karzen

I hold no grudges towards Mia, Yochanon or Anat for starting their own versions of the "true" Feldenkrais Method according to them. More power to them. However it is chickenshit of them and their students to slam us and then expect to be welcomed into the fold. - Denis Leri

Fascinating, is it not? These young men who declared themselves to be trainers while Moshe lay dying and who took ownership of his service marks and legacy, continually degrade those who had been working directly with Mosh for many, many years, some of whom had in fact been their teachers.

And this idea that Mia and Yochanon were somehow creating their "own versions" of the Feldenkrais is fascinating, is it not? They had been working with Moshe for decades. In reality, it was the North American Guild, after getting hold of Moshe's marks, who started their own version of the Method. A version almost entirely based on legal control of the service marks and the assumption that what Moshe was doing at the Amherst and San Francisco trainings was "true Feldenkrais." Given that Bersin, Leri, Rubin, Karzen and the others were new to the work how could they have known what "true" Feldenkrais was?

I will skip for now the deeper question of discussing whether "true Feldenkrais" exists. It does not and cannot. Feldenkrais did what he did and you and I do what we do. There may be common principles and attitudes but true Feldenkrais only exists when you are true to yourself.

Let us also keep in mind, that these same people have stopped Mia, Yochanon and the other's from conducting trainings in the United States. Do not believe me? Here is a first-person account from Paul Rubin of the time when Mia was forced to stop training in the U.S.

Here’s what happened that I know about in regard to Mia's N.J. [Feldenkrais] training being called off. It is a painful memory for me all these years later. When Mia announced that she was planning a training in N.J., I was Chair of the NATAB. [North American Training and Accredidation Board] ...and was neither officially informed nor consulted...I was asked by the Board of Directors and the rest of the TAB to speak to Mia about this, so it fell to me to tell my highly respected and beloved mentor that the Guild felt a strong need to protect the service marks and that we hoped that she would consider re-joining the larger community in North America and to negotiate to operate her training within that system.

It was the hardest conversation of my professional life. I did my best to explain that this was not about doubting her or the quality of her work...

This conversation took place as I was driving her from a workshop she invited me to visit that she was co-teaching at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco to where Leora [Leora Gastor, Mia's daughter] was staying in Palo Alto. A travel time of about an hour.

Mia listened to me and said on the spot, "Then I will not do this training. I do not wish to oppose what you are doing." It was a very sad moment for me. I had been hoping that she would have said, instead, "then let's explore how I can be a part of the North American community of teachers."

Mia who had been doing the work for decades and was already a trainer in her own right was told by Paul Rubin, a new practitioner with little experience in the work, that she had to work under his rules. What would you do if one of your student's told you to quit doing your work and to answer to them and their new policies? Would you consent?

Below is another viewpoint. We have been constantly told by David Bersin, Paul Rubin and others that Moshe was "vitally interested" in the Guild and saw it his vehicle for "protecting" the work. You may be beginning to see that is not the case?

“Moshé had no interest in the incorporation process, and not very much interest in the “Guild“ activities in the years following. I have a letter from Moshé, stating his unwillingness to give time to an organization, members accepted, no matter how ineffective. With Moshé working hard and traveling, he did not want to waste time with the “confusion”, common to the “guild”, with several factions, wanting to control and influence the “guilds” activities.”

Moshe did not want to waste time on the Feldenkrais Guild. Smart man. Apart from waking you up the reality of what the Guild is and from whence it came, neither do I. I have not been a member for many years.

Ryan Nagy
from somewhere in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

1 Comment

  1. Well, I too thought it was a stitch up. I particularly thought so after starting a training with some one more suited to driving a truck.
    So, thanks!

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