Yesterday, amidst the quite grassy solitude of Israel’s national Military cemetery on Mt. Herzl, I attended the first “Yahrzeit” (memorial) service of David Menachem Gordon who entered eternity last August. David was a “Chayal Boded” (lone Soldier) in the elite Givati unit who served with distinction in Operation Protective Edge and was an exemplary soldier. He was an upbeat, highly intelligent, ideologically motivated young man who chose to serve in the IDF, despite having no family here, because he felt it was the correct form of action for him as a Jew and a Zionist.
The memorial service was awash with a sea of purple berets of his brothers-in-arms, friends, family, representatives of the Lone Soldier Center in the name of Michael Levin and people from all walks of society in Israel who came to pay their respects to this young man whose life came to so sudden and tragic an end.
There are so many stresses, physiological, physical and emotional that serving in a high-tension unit so far away from family and friends can cause. The fact that David managed to always stay focused and was eternally optimistic is a sign of the remarkably upbeat, resilient and special person he was.
Through his articulate, insightful, deeply personal writings, David 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. Those painful memories, which occurred in his childhood, were alleged sexual abuse by Jewish authority figures in his school and, according to an emotional blog by David in The Huffington Post, took place over the span of years.
His cousin wrote: “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.” David learnt many life lessons about serving in the army. Among them, 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.”
Ultimately, despite his best attempts to move on, David’s past demons caught up with him. Let us hope that he is a better place and has found the peace he so desperately sought.