Life And Death Of A Lone Soldier
IDF soldier’s allegations of sexual abuse in Detroit leave behind unanswered questions.
By Keri Guten Cohen and Shelli Liebman Dorfman
Jewish News Staff
Through his articulate, insightful, deeply personal writings, Israel Defense Forces Cpl. David Menachem Gordon relayed experiences of being in the army, making a difference and of painful memories that, for a large part of his life, had haunted him and been kept secret.
The 21-year-old former Detroiter was found dead Aug. 19 after having been reported missing from his base in Central Israel following a dental appointment on Aug. 17. He was found in uniform and with his IDF rifle. Authorities have not elaborated on the circumstances of his death.
Gordon left behind blogs, most notably one published June 12, 2013, on Huffington Post online, describing alleged sexual abuse taking place during his childhood inside Jewish institutions near his Oak Park home. Gordon never named his perpetrators.
Living in the Detroit area from ages 8-11, Gordon attended an Orthodox day school, later going to high school in Pittsburgh. He made aliyah in January 2013 and joined the IDF last August, serving in the Givati Brigade. Throughout his short life, he amassed many friends who are now devastated at the tragic loss.
“He was an amazingly strong boy who went through a lot,” said 20-year-old Leah Berlin of Oak Park, currently a student at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in New York.“I met Dave years ago in Detroit, where his family used to live, and stayed friends with him throughout NCSY [an Orthodox Jewish youth group], my year in seminary, my first year of college and even this past summer.
“David was a goof, but not the type to embarrass himself. He made everyone laugh. He turned tears into laughter by just making one comment or one of his classic funny faces. When I think about my time with him, only the happiest memories come to mind.
“He’s a true role model,” Berlin said. “David’s strength was unexplainable. [He] made aliyah to fight for his country. At the beginning of his service in the IDF, he did not have the physical strength of the usual combat soldier, but his motivation and need to fight for his homeland pushed him to make himself fit the profile of the combat soldier he had dreamed to be.”
IDF Lone Soldier
Gordon served as a Lone Soldier, usually defined as someone whose family lives abroad and who leaves their country to serve Israel. He completed extended training that placed him in the elite 424th Shaked Infantry Battalion of Givati, and he served in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
“The IDF seemed to offer a panacea of sorts for him, a place where he could channel his kinetic energy, zest for life and infinite curiosity,” wrote his cousin Noa Amouyal in an Aug. 20 dedication to Gordon in the Jerusalem Post, where she is deputy news editor.
“When David entered my parents’ home, he seemed calm and confident. Just this past weekend, he visited my family and seemed rattled by what he saw in Gaza, but stable.
“He spoke of a harrowing incident where a split-second decision he made could have cost the life of a reservist. Luckily, David was the kind of soldier able to think outside of the box, follow his gut and not blindly follow orders. Thanks to him, that reservist’s life is spared.”
Known for being positive and upbeat, Gordon turned his military experience into a life lesson. In a blog from his Sparks of David site (http://belovedconsoler.blogspot.com/), he wrote:
“If the military has taught me anything it’s to appreciate the small things as well as things I had previously taken for granted. With all luxuries limited as of late, I have a new appreciation for everyday gifts like hot showers, tasty food, human connection, entertainment and even freedom.
“Surprisingly, the army’s limitation of all these things has transformed me not only into a reflexive warrior but, in many ways, a happier person. When I have that free time I’m more conscious of it. Every tune is magic. Every kind pair of eyes is adored. Every uninterrupted night’s sleep with my boots off is a miracle and, of course, time in general is better utilized.”
A friend who knew Gordon throughout his military career recalls his friend, who he says became like family.
“Out of all of us, Gordon was the most motivated and seemed to always be on top of his game,” he said. “This was why he was chosen to be the radio man of our immediate supervising officer.”
During their graduation ceremony, the friend said Gordon received that officer’s own purple beret, which was quite an honor.
“That last week he was alive, me and a friend [and Gordon] went to some dive bar in Tel Aviv. He seemed happy. He had just moved into a home for Lone Soldiers for Givati and was living with two of our best friends.”
Few of Gordon’s friends — in Israel or the U.S. — knew about the sexual abuse he alleged took place in Detroit. His Huffington Post blog was the first indication most who knew him had of any trouble in his childhood.
In his piece, “Secrets Don’t Get Better with Age: Why I’m Choosing Leadership Over Privacy,” Gordon begins with a tale of a blue-eyed boy with a terrible secret of sexual abuse that he can’t reveal to his family and that causes him to isolate himself or to have explosive outbreaks if he’s pressed too much. Then Gordon reveals that he is that boy.
“I kept my secret for eight years,” he wrote. “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.”
When Gordon got the courage to disclose his alleged abuse behind closed doors with rabbis here, he says in his blog he was disappointed with the lack of response.
Then he discovered writing, an outlet that would earn him an internship and job at The Suit magazine, a business publication in New York.
“… the more I told my secret, the farther it became removed from my psyche,” he wrote in his blog. “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.”
Gordon also wrote that years of group meetings and private therapy enabled him to face his reality and find the strength to survive.
“Past the pain, shame, flashbacks and emotional setbacks linked with my abuse, a spark of hope glowed,” he wrote in his Huffington Post piece. “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.”
So when he arrived in Israel, one of the first things he did was to volunteer at Magen, the Child Protection Organization based in Beit Shemesh. He introduced himself as a survivor of sexual abuse and went to work.
Gordon set up a website for Magen, established and promoted media relations, and also helped with specific child protection cases. As a result of his work, according to a tribute to Gordon on the organization’s website, a known perpetrator was blocked by Magen from continuing his work in an Orthodox summer camp for hundreds of kids in the U.S.
In a Sparks of David blog on Jan. 2, 2014, titled, “Secrets Part II: Joining the Revolution,” Gordon looks back over the six months since his Huffington Post piece was posted.
“The article shocked many in the United States and abroad, but words cannot describe how moved I was by the outpouring of responses —from friends and strangers alike — full of love, support and encouragement. Dozens of previously ‘hidden’ victims contacted me to share their silent pain, look for help and express their gratitude to me for speaking out on behalf of those who cannot find a voice.”
He also witnessed the beginning of justice for victims. Included in this 2014 blog are links to 25 stories that broke after his Huffington Post blog. They included articles about Jewish perpetrators facing charges, arrest and prison, victims telling their stories or being awarded restitution in lawsuits, and of sexual abuse prevention programs springing up at camps and in Jewish communities.
One of the biggest stories involved a $380 million lawsuit filed by 34 Yeshiva University students claiming a sexual abuse cover-up in the 1980s at the New-York City high school. That case resulted in the resignation of Rabbi Norman Lamm, YU’s chancellor, for inaction.
Similar to sexual abuse cases unearthed in recent years in the Catholic Church, where official silence was the norm, Gordon seemed gratified that some openness was beginning to occur in the Jewish community.
“While it is true that dozens of other incidences of sexual abuse occurred in Jewish communities worldwide during the past six months,” Gordon wrote in Secrets Part II, “I have selected the more public ones that highlight improvements in breaking the Jewish taboo of abuse as well as steps taken to raise the global Jewish consciousness of abuse.
“Those not mentioned must not be overlooked and their powerful voices are contributing to a monumental paradigm shift in Jewish society and beyond.
“Together, we are an army of victims and advocates equipped with the weapons needed to slay the stagnant status-quo: hope, courage and the fervent desire to ensure that others don’t feel the pain that we felt and continue to feel to this day.”
In the same blog post, he looked ahead toward his future.
“I’m proud of myself, and I hope to continue this attitude well into 2014 and the rest of my life. The attitude that I can reach previously unattainable heights and purge from life the toxic people, ideas and thoughts that tend to hinder my progress. I’m excited for a new year of life, connection, growth and fun. A year of honesty where what I think, say and do are one in harmony.”
Yossi Tobi, 20, of Southfield was unaware, until recently, of the alleged abuse Gordon endured. “I finally found out when he sent me the link to his blog,” he said. “That was in 2013. It was unbelievable.”
In a tribute to Gordon, he wrote: “Back when we were young, you were one of those popular kids who was somehow able to remain so without putting others down. Even after we went our separate ways, we still bumped into each other in Israel. You always sent me the stuff you wrote, which I could never get enough of.
“Your style of writing, and the way your words were able to penetrate so easily and meaningfully into the reader’s mind and carry the influence to think deeply about the messages you were trying to convey were the work of a true genius. You found a way to write about even the things that others in your place may have had a very hard time describing, and I will miss all of that forever.”
Joe Ravitsky did not know of Gordon’s alleged abuse until after his death. His memories of Gordon are from meaningful time spent together with his family.
In a Facebook post, he wrote: “David’s father was my chavrusah (study partner) in Detroit, and I spent a great deal of time at their home with his family. I stayed there for Shabbos; I ate there many times, and the family can only be described as caring and sweet,” said Ravitsky, who now lives in Dallas. “Dr. Gordon [David’s father] said a brachah under my chuppah.
“Dave Gordon was probably in sixth or seventh grade at the time and was challenged to find his own voice in a very structured environment. Oak Park can seem very rigid to anyone trying to find his place as a teenager.
“His parents are unbelievable people, and I learned a great deal from them. David’s desire to find his own way came from a courage and strength that was evident in his parents as well. One of the things that solidified my drive toward observant Judaism was this family’s way of life within observant Judaism.”
Chavivah Amanda Bluth of Southfield said, “Dave and I became friends about two years ago. We were in the same NCSY chapter. We knew each other, but didn’t really talk. Then he started writing his blogs and sending them to everyone he knew. So I read his post and thought it was brilliant, and told him what I thought. So I guess you could say that’s what started our friendship.
“And through his writings we became close friends quickly because the concepts he brought up in his blogs were ones that show how deep a thinker he was. We just clicked. He was a thinker, ut also a writer.
“He saw the beauty in everything,” Bluth said. “Any experience, even painful, was one he looked at and said, ‘What message does this have to offer me, and what message is here to share with others?’ And that’s how he’d live his life.”
Shmuel Bass, 26, of Oak Park, a friend of Gordon’s brother, Aaron, and a schoolmate of David’s, said, “My heart is breaking for a kid who went through unimaginable ordeals in life and still had the strength and courage to propel others forward to happiness. I know so many whose lives he has touched and so many more who will never realize how his influence indirectly affected them. I wish the family comfort in this terrible time and, even through all the tragedy, rejoice in the incredible person that he was to all that knew him.
“I remember something I had read from someone else posting on Facebook. Dave was messaging a friend and was no doubt having one of the deep meaningful conversations he was known for.
“He wrote, ‘If there really is a judgment system, when I die and they inconspicuously yell ‘David Menachem!! What did you do on Earth?’ I want to be able to yell back a positive report. I want to be able to shout back that I saved lives and helped others build their own. That I used my talents and creativity wisely.
“I want to be able to point out how many moments I created and how many projects I had my hands in. How many lives I touched and how many barriers I broke. How I used my time properly.’
“I think on that and take some small measure of comfort,” Bass said. “I know that he achieved every single one of those things. I know he blew some people’s expectations out of the water when it came to what he could do and who he could help. He was spearheading campaigns to weed out child abuse in the Jewish communities. He gave people life. He gave others the ability to see someone like them who had the strength and fortitude to speak up and end the history of silence.
“His touch and his influence went so far beyond that, though. His story published by the Huffington Post may have touched millions. The number of abuses it may have prevented will never be known. Those of us who hold him in our hearts will know that he reached out and changed the world itself. We know that he can go to Heaven and proudly stand before God and declare that he did indeed use his short time on this Earth properly, and that his footprint will remain on this Earth forever more.”
David Gordon, 21, had a military funeral on Aug. 21 and was buried in the IDF military cemetery at Mount Herzl. He is survived by his parents, who live in Columbus, Ohio; his three siblings; and many, many friends.
Speak Up, Reach Out
At the end of his Huffington Post blog, David Gordon listed organizations that help victims of sexual abuse:
• National Child Sexual Abuse Helpline: 1-866-367-5444
• Confidential Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
• Websites: www.d2l.org, www.rainn.org, malesurvivor.org, magenprotects.blogspot.com, supportthesurvivors.proboards.com, belovedconsoler.blogspot.com and gottagivemhope.blogspot.com.
Michelle Garland of Postville, Iowa, a staunch advocate for victims of sexual abuse who corresponded with Gordon, said,“My wish more than anything for the Southfield, Oak Park area is prevention, prevention, prevention. Education is the strongest message for the children.
“Make the issue known and talked about and maybe the perpetrators will stop. The worst thing is silence pushed onto the victims, making them feel that if they speak out, their motives are questioned. Get professionals into the schools and synagogues and educate kids about good and bad touches and what to do. This is my wish to honor Dave.”
If you are a victim of child sexual abuse from within the Jewish community or know someone who is, you can contact Southfield Police Det. Autumn Ceci directly at (248) 796-5373 or the Oak Park Police at (248) 691-7447. If you want to speak out, please contact Keri Guten Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (248) 351-5144.