The Lesson We Can Learn From Dave Gordon Of Blessed Memory

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dave_gordon_slideFor a few hours on Tuesday, the Jewish world’s attention was focused on a missing IDF soldier. David Menachem Gordon was reported as missing and Jews around the world were fearful that he had been abducted by terrorists.

David’s body was found. David was dead. He was not abducted by terrorists in Gaza. He was not killed by Hamas terrorists.

But Dave, as he was known to his friends, had been “missing” for years. He had been abducted by a different kind of terrorist in his childhood years. Terrorists in Michigan. Jewish terrorists. These terrorists took Dave’s childhood innocence from him. These terrorists took Dave’s life from him, and after all these years, the pain became too much for Dave to endure.

Dave is a victim of sex abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. Dave was a victim of abuse and a victim of silence about abuse. He wrote about his ordeals in a stirring, soul baring article on the Huffington Post last summer.

Dave agonized over the decision to tell his story. He went back and forth with friends about whether he should publish the article. Like most victims of any sort of abuse, he was afraid of the stigma that surrounds so many survivors of abuse. Eventually he came to realize that “secrets don’t get better with age” and Dave decided to share his story and his pain, hopeful of inspiring others.

In his own words:

“The steps leading up to the boy’s second floor bedroom seem to go on for eternity. He just wants to be alone. He just wants to sleep. As long as he doesn’t have to consciously face the brutal reality. He wishes he had the courage to stop them, to say no. He is trapped. Unable to disclose his mortifying secret, the boy can only fantasize revenge on those vile men whose twisted lustful current raged through their veins. He couldn’t escape their eager clutch or their intimidating remarks. The boy was told to be silent. He was always told to be silent. They told him it was immodest to speak up or draw attention to oneself. But what did they know about modesty?

The boy sits silently in seclusion, sweating as waves of fury and nausea wash over him. He feels paralyzed as the repulsive images of his molestation, rape and sexual manipulation replay over and over in his young mind bringing along fresh doses of shame and horror. He dreams of an escape from his Hell. Bright and creative, the boy naturally finds ways to achieve his goal. But the numbing effects of his chemically induced bliss are only short lived. The poison could never quite fully break the shackles of his trauma. As much as he tried, he could not ignore the scattered scars that sexual abuse left on his Soul.

Everybody who cares only hurts him more. When they ask him what is wrong it forces him to confront what he so eagerly tries to suppress. Not wanting to be further harmed, the boy isolates. He just wants the horrors to end and secretly wishes to be forgotten forever.

But the boy is not forgotten. The boy survives. The boy thrives.

The boy is ME. This is my 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.”

Living as a victim of sex abuse with few allies and even fewer friends, is a slow way to die. It may eventually take one’s life. It might take one’s life in the spiritual sense, or the religious sense. It might take one’s life by killing any sparks of happiness that have managed to hide under a rock in the survivor’s soul. It might kill the survivors personality and ambition. Sometimes, as it seems in the case of David M. Gordon, sex abuse eventually snuffs out one’s life completely.

We don’t know for certain how Dave’s life ended or why it ended. But friends of Dave’s are pretty sure that he took his own life. Indeed, Dave seemingly predicted his own suicide in his article on the Huffington Post. “He just wants the horrors to end and secretly wishes to be forgotten forever.”

Dave is not the only survivor of sex abuse who has struggled with suicide. It’s a regular part of the pain of an abuse victim. I’ve heard it from more than one person. The feeling that one’s life is worthless or that the secrets are just too much burden to bear, are completely normal for sex abuse victims. When just living life takes so much effort, and that life can feel compromised in so many ways, it can seem like the fight to live is not a battle worth fighting. Dave was far from the only one to feel this way.

Oddly enough, it’s not usually the actual abuse that hurts so much. On more than one occasion, Dave confided in friends, that he often felt more hurt by the willful ignorance of those who were supposed to protect him, than by his abusers. Abuse happens in a finite space and time. It starts. It ends. It hurts. But the pain of being ignored and misunderstood is infinite. It doesn’t end. The pain of hiding and protecting people who hurt their victim. That doesn’t end. That’s what kills people.

Dave joined the IDF to fight a war. We all thought he was fighting a war against the enemies of Israel. But Dave was fighting a much more intense war in his own head. Aharon (Shloimie) Bennet, a friend who grew up with Dave and later reconnected with him through an online group for survivors of abuse, said “I feel like he died fighting the wrong war.” Another friend and former roommate, Chaim Levin, who is also an activist, told me “Dave Gordon was a fighter until the end. He died while the State of Israel is at war, but he died fighting his own personal war.”

When a soldier is killed in combat, his comrades are inspired to ensure that the death of their fellow soldier was not in vain. Dave was a fighter. He left everything he had on the battlefield. It all ended for Dave while the Jewish people prayed that we find him. It’s almost poetic that the image of Dave that was being shared was a picture of Dave wearing his uniform. There is an image of Dave’s lifeless body being pulled out of a hole where he presumably died. Dave literally went into a hole to die. More poetry for a life of shame and secrets.

Life is a struggle for everyone. One person’s struggle is not the same as another’s. For victims of sex abuse, the struggles are immense. Many successfully engage in their inner battles. They live beautiful, productive lives. The fight their pain every single day. Many others try valiantly, but eventually succomb to the inner demons injected into their souls by violent aggressors.

We can’t control everything. We can’t control every abuser. We can’t control every survivor’s feelings. But we can control how we react to abuse in our communities.

We prayed that we would find David Menachem Gordon alive and unharmed. There was no chance that we would find him unharmed. But there is a chance that we can reduce the harm for others.

We can create safe places for victims to report abuse. We can cooperate with authorities when abuse is suspected. We can hear the stories of victims and let them know that we feel their pain. Rabbi Pinchus Lipschutz said it best in 2009. “We realize it wasn’t your fault. We realize you didn’t do anything wrong. We realize that you were singled out for punishment due to no fault of your own. We realize you were taken advantage of. We love you. We care about you. We are here for you. We will listen and we will hear. You are not alone.”

That was five years ago. Things are better today than they were in 2009. But we can still do better. Do it for the hundreds of zombie victims who are too shell shocked to speak up. Do it for your friends and family who are victims of abuse. Do it for Jewish children everywhere. Do it for your children. Do it for Dave.

If you are a survivor of abuse and are struggling with thoughts of self-harm, please reach out to someone for help. I promise you that you are more loved than you could possibly imagine and there are people who will drop their entire lives to help you get through your periods of darkness. (Call 1-800-273-8255)

Thank you to Chaim Levin for helping with this post.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.