Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Double Tragedy of Lone Soldier David Menachem Gordon

Yesterday, I kept checking Google for any news about the missing lone soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). A "lone soldier" (or Hayal Bodad in Hebrew) is a serviceman or servicewoman serving in the IDF without parents in Israel. David Menachem Gordon had been reported missing since Sunday, and like everyone else I presumed he had been kidnapped by terrorists. In fact, most news agencies were already counting him among the few lone soldiers who have been killed thus far in Israel's on-again-off-again war with Hamas in Gaza.

A statement from the IDF, however, read that the 21-year-old Givati Brigade soldier was found dead in central Israel with his rifle by his side. It now appears that Gordon allegedly committed suicide. Magen, a child protection agency based in Beit Shemesh, Israel, has publicly stated that Gordon was a survivor of sexual abuse as a child in the Orthodox Jewish community of Detroit, Michigan. After making aliyah to Israel, Gordon contacted the organization, which said that he was determined to use his experience to help others.

Israel Soldier David Menachem Gordon, who grew up in Detroit
IDF Lone Soldier David Menachem Gordon, who grew up in Metro Detroit

Last June, under the name David M. Gordon, he wrote a Huffington Post piece about the childhood abuse he endured in Metro Detroit. The post, titled "Secrets Don't Get Better With Age: Why I'm Choosing Leadership over Privacy,” was a detailed account of Gordon's experience without mentioning the names of those who violated him.

Gordon opened the HuffPost piece by talking in the third person about a boy who is scarred from abuse, but can't muster the courage to stop his attackers. He writes that the boy "could not ignore the scattered scars that sexual abuse left on his Soul." And then Gordon admits that the boy is actually him and so is the horrible story.

I kept my secret for eight years. For eight years I suffered in silence through the horrors of my own personal Hell. I endured close to a decade of rage, tears and ultimately self-destruction. The memories are nauseating, the shame unparalleled.

As a victim of recurrent sexual abuse by numerous perpetrators within Michigan's Jewish communities, those eight years of secrecy were horrific. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions in the Oak Park and Southfield areas of Detroit provided the secret hideout where I endured multiple forms of molestation, sexual manipulation, and rape from the ages of 8 to 11. But the trauma didn't stop when my abuse did.

Although, the fact that my painful secret was out proved greatly beneficial. It was like taking off a pair of really tight shoes. The pressure eased and although I was far from serenity the expression itself altered the course of my life. Forcing self-honesty and expression was like splitting an atom, but the more I told my secret, the farther it became removed from my psyche. I told trusted teachers, therapists, mentors and friends but, most frequently, I spilled my secret on paper. Writing became my unique and effective form of expression and it enabled me to have a bold voice without excessive public exposure.

If you are a victim of any type of abuse, wherever you are, I beg you for your own sake: Reach out! Secrets don't get better with age so don't keep them boiling inside any longer. Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, said "Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways." Trust me, they do.

Years of group meetings and private therapy enabled me to face my reality and find the strength to survive. Did it work? It helped. It would be foolish to think that years of sexual abuse would be reversed in an instant. But along the road I realized that I was not "damaged goods" or another "case-study" or any of the other cliches that so many insensitively label victims. Past the pain, shame, flashbacks and emotional setbacks linked with my abuse, a spark of hope glowed and illuminated my venomous darkness. I wanted to be a positive influence on a global level. I wanted to lift up the downtrodden who shared my pains of abuse and lack of expression and voice. I wanted justice.

But after mustering up the courage to disclose the facts behind closed door meetings with rabbis, I -- like so many others -- was hurt by the lack of results. With a breath of authority -- and without any investigation -- one leader in Detroit's rabbinical court exclaimed that the accusations were "My word vs. The perpetrators' word" and that there was nothing that he was going to do about it. In a further attempt to muffle my cries, he took out a large volume of the Talmud and encouraged me to read the words in a pathetic attempt to comfort my pain and revitalize my Spirit. Simply studying the Bible and its commentaries did nothing to help me or the other victims in the community. I still feel betrayed by their lack of sympathy and action.

The insular Jewish communities of Detroit, Baltimore, New York, and countless other religious, academic and athletic circles throughout North America and beyond can no longer hide their secrets. Huge advances have been made in the pursuit of justice for victims of all types of abuse in areas traditionally shrouded in social stigma and secrecy. Change is coming and justice is thundering in. Lawsuits are being filed and an increasing number of perpetrators are being exposed. More and more victims are getting help, sharing their story and empowering others. More lives are being saved.

But justice is yet to be served. In fact, I doubt it ever will. Unfortunately for many, to date, the death penalty is not an option for convicted perpetrators and -- like a bandaid on a broken arm -- what the judicial system offers is a far cry from true justice. Surely victims cannot change the past and nothing will ever make up for what we have been through. But, at best, our abuse can be pacified with money used to pay off years of debt for therapy as well as temporary jail time to keep those perverted perpetrators' hands off other children.

Is it fair? No, it's not. But I know I can do something positive for humanity, especially for those who were robbed of their innocence by child abusers. I can offer hope, counsel and guidance to the still-suffering. I can be a leader with a voice.

But any good leader knows that they must sacrifice their own comfort as they confront core issues that those less capable choose to neglect. It's what makes a pioneer a pioneer. It's what separates the incompetent faux-leaders of Jewish, Catholic and countless other furtive communities from the true advocates and activists that are literally saving lives.

So I set out to make a difference. I actively pursued my perpetrators through the United States Judicial System and lawsuits are pending. I joined an Israeli-based NGO as a volunteer to support victims of abuse and their families, while also offering counsel and direction to friends and strangers who have been victimized, yet are still silently suffering. And now, I'm using my past and my proficiency to raise awareness about a social issue that's still surrounded by so much negative stigma that many choose to turn a blind eye and shy away from it altogether.

Sexual abuse is an ever-growing epidemic. Although all four of my perpetrators are Jewish, sexual abuse is not limited to religious communities. Before you jump to the conclusion that your social circles are immune from this frightening phenomenon, I advise you to read some of the unforeseen, high-profile cases covered in many media mediums. Furthermore, shocking statistics show that 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Today, I personally know over a dozen other victims of abuse in Detroit's Jewish Communities and hundreds of others throughout the U.S. and internationally. It could be your son or daughter or co-worker or friend. Would you even know?

David Menachem Gordon decided to go public last June with his painful experience of childhood abuse at the hands of Jewish leaders in Metro Detroit's Orthodox Jewish community. His words in the Huffington Post didn't go viral. The article was not mentioned much here in the Metro Detroit Jewish community. Until now. Sadly, it has taken a tragic act for people to begin talking about the pain that this 21-year-old went through as a boy.

Gordon desperately wanted to help other victims of abuse. According to Magen, he was the one who built the Israel-based organization's website. He assisted with media relations and even handled specific cases of children needing protection. After returning from Operation Protective Edge, Gordon wrote on his Facebook page that he was "unbelievably overwhelmed, not from this mission but from the support and messages of encouragement from family, friends and strangers. I am OK and I've never felt more loved. Thank you all!”

Today, the world isn't just grieving that another IDF soldier is dead. We're all grieving the loss of a soul who was so deeply in pain because of his childhood oppressors. What's scary is that something could have been done. The blood of David Menachem Gordon is not on the hands of Hamas terrorists. The blood of David Menachem Gordon is on the hands of those who committed heinous abuses to him while he was growing up in Metro Detroit. David Menachem Gordon's abusers must be exposed and held accountable for his death.

Baruch Dayan Ha'Emet -- May the memory of IDF Soldier Corporal David Menachem Gordon be for blessings.


Michael said...

FYI, a different blogger doubts that it was suicide:

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

@Michael: The blogger Emet V'Emunah could be correct that it was not suicide. I thought I had used the term "alleged" before "suicide," but if not I'll go back and edit that. It's possible we won't know if David Gordon took his own life or if he was murdered. Regardless, this is a very sad and tragic story. The men who sexually abused David in Detroit (and any where else) should be punished.

Mary Ruth said...

I am hoping that David's fight does not die with him. Thank you for sharing his story. I have also been checking every day for more information as to his death. I am saddened and ashamed that this happens in Jewish communities.
Baruch dayan emet. May his memory be a blessing, and spur us to fight in his and other victims' defense.

Mary Ruth Andrews

Mary Ruth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mordecai said...

To put that alledged .... should be withdrawn completely. The boreders on loshon hara and can cause social and psychological damage to parties involved.
But certainly the perpetrators should be sought out. Terrible crimes are being committed today and put up on video on the internet. The is a viral disease of huge proportions The videos should be illegal in all the world.

NancyB said...

Thank-you for posting this. Just very sad, he had so many exceptional gifts. And great courage. I too agree that the men involved in continually sexually assaulted David must be exposed for the pedophiles that they are. People like this just do not stop until they are legally forced to.Is his legal suit, now dead too?

Anonymous said...

David's "fight" did nor nor will not die with him.
The manner in which he dies is irrelevant, but I see that so many want to jump to conclusions, please know that there is an ongoing investigation as to the cause of death.

Baruch Dayan HaEmes, my beautiful nephew!