Thursday, January 2, 2014

SECRETS Part II: Joining the Revolution

As we begin the new year I am naturally inclined to reflect in introspection on 2013's pass. As I always say "it was a year of abundance" meaning I had plenty of positive as well as negative experiences. Personally, the year 2013 was one of achievement, creativity and exploration. I moved to Israel, ran the Jerusalem Marathon, volunteered, travelled and hiked, wined and dined, drafted into the Israel Defense Force and overall stepped over many personal boundaries. It has also been the year of the pen. I've published numerous articles - both in the United States and Israel - as a Journalist for the NYC-based Suit Magazine and started many expressive blogs. But one pivotal article written this past year changed the course of my life.

On June 12, 2013 The Huffington Post published the disclosure of my horrific history of Sexual Abuse within the Jewish community of Detroit, Michigan. 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. Some surprised me while others did not. I was contacted by rabbis and teachers, community leaders, child advocates and news agencies and received one message from a Jewish gentleman saying he was going to a friend's house to read my article because his internet filter detected the word "sex" and blocked the link. I found that flaw to be eerily symbolic to the current state of consciousness in many Jewish communities on the epidemic of child abuse.

Six empowering yet excruciating months have passed since the public disclosure. My article opened many locked doors allowing me to access previously inaccessible areas in both my personal and professional life. Although, the article has also left me feeling socially ostracized for my very public release of a very private issue. While I have allowed many toxic friendships to fizzle out during these past 12 months I have also drifted from many who have shown me great love and support and I truly miss them. In doing so, I have come to learn much about friendship as well as the sociological taboo of abuse in general. Thankfully, however, the past six months have brought the global Jewish community  closer to a cure for their enigmatic epidemic of sexual abuse cover-ups and scandals. Below is a timeline of critical turning points that occurred within Jewish communities worldwide during the latter half of 2013:

JUNE 12, 2013 – Huffington Post publishes my story.

JUNE 12, 2013 – Jewish activist and sex abuse victim Chaim Levin is awarded $3.5 million in molestation lawsuit against his cousin Sholom Eichler

JUNE 12, 2013 – Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Director of Project Y.E.S. issues a series of videos on child safety and abuse prevention.

JUNE 16, 2013 – A letter from leading rabbi in Lakewood apologizing for publicly humiliating the victim of Yosef Kolko for involving the authorities is publicized.

JUNE 19, 2013 – Dovid Kohn, a Jewish man from Monsey, New York man is sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually abusing his daughter's friend.

JUNE 23, 2013 - Jewish Community Watch produces a viral YouTube video warning summer camp staff about sexual abuse.

JUNE 27, 2013 – Menachem Levy, a Jewish man from London is sentenced to three years in prison for sexual assault of a minor.

JUNE 30, 2013 - David Cheifetz of Teaneck shares his story of sexual abuse at the Rabbinical Council of America's Annual Conference.

JULY 1, 2013 - In a letter of resignation, R' Norman Lamm, former Chancellor of Yeshiva University, acknowledges his failure to adequately respond to sexual abuse allegations in Y.U. in the 1980s.

JULY 8, 2013 - $380 million federal lawsuit filed against Y.U. by 19 former students claiming sexual abuse cover-up.

JULY 10, 2013 – A Jerusalem father is sentenced to 28 years in prison for repeatedly raping stepdaughter.

JULY 11, 2013 – Rabbinical Council of America issues guidelines to prevent sexual abuse in Jewish communities.

JULY 13, 2013 – 19-year-old Jewish counselor at Camp Dora Golding arrested for sexual misconduct to a minor.

JULY 21, 2013 – Brooklyn D.A. releases names of 45 men convicted of child sexual abuse in New York's Jewish community.

JULY 24, 2013 – David Kramer, an Australian man, is sentenced to over three years in jail for multiple accounts of molestation in Melbourne's Yeshiva College.

AUGUST 20, 2013 – Over 200 Jews gather in Los Angeles for a series of lectures to confront the epidemic of abuse in the Jewish community.

AUGUST 21, 2013 – A Hasidic man in New York pleads guilty to offering $500K bribe to silence sex abuse victim.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2013 – Rabbi Avraham Stulberger, Dean of Valley Torah High School in California issues a video statement urging the collective Jewish community to stand up and confront abuse.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2013 – Just days before the Jewish Day of Atonement, the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia issues a statement apologizing for previous mistakes to combat abuse and urging the collective Jewish Community to take action against child sexual abuse.

OCTOBER 18, 2013 – Yosef Kolko, a former Jewish education from New Jersey is sentenced to 13 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 12 year old boy.

OCTOBER 29, 2013 – Jewish Community Watch holds community-wide seminar to address the issue of sexual abuse in Jewish centers worldwide.

NOVEMBER 12, 2013 – A Haifa University study finds that 48.5% of all Jewish children and 67.7% of all Arab children in Israel experienced abuse or neglect.

NOVEMBER 12, 2013 – Vice Magazine publishes interview with child sex-abuse whistleblower Nuchem Rosenberg on systematic abuse in Jewish ritual bathhouses

NOVEMBER 18, 2013 – Michael J. Salamon, fellow of the American Psychological Association, pens an op-ed in the Times of Israel urging for new leadership in the Orthodox Jewish community to address the critical issue of child sexual abuse.

DECEMBER 20, 2013 – David Cyprys, an educator from Melbourne's Jewish community is sentenced to eight years in prison for rape and assault against a minor.

While it is true that dozens of other incidences of sexual abuse occurred in Jewish communities worldwide during the past 6 months, 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.

2013 was a year of change for all of us. But the process of transforming a culture of secrecy into a culture of security is a steady evolution and our work is far from finished. Notwithstanding, the global Jewish community has come a long way and their efforts deserve recognition. I applaud their progress and am proud to have joined the revolution

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Breaking the Silence:

The following article was published in the Huffington Post and can be found here:

Secrets Don't Get Better With Age: Why I'm Choosing Leadership Over Secrecy

Posted: 06/12/2013 11:15 am 
David M. Gordon

The boy closes his bright blue eyes as he climbs the stairs to the front door of his house. Silently, he enters the internal solitude where he cannot be harmed by his gruesome memories. He's been there before; blocking out his pain has become second nature. It's his only option, his only way to survive. The boy's family cautiously greets him as he walks through the door. They sense he is consumed by something, they can see it on his face. Yet, they fear another explosive outbreak if they press too much. So, as much as it hurts to watch, they give the boy his space. "He'll grow out of it," they say.
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.
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?
This must stop! If we keep sweeping our problems under the rug we will eventually trip over them. The time has come for us to stand up for ourselves, our children and our communities. It's time to sacrifice the comfort of not tackling serious issues that are awkward and embarrassing and focus on the dignity of human life. If I can have a voice you can too. Take a stand and be a real leader. Blush for a few moments so others don't have to bleed.
One reason why victims of abuse are also called survivors is because so many don't make it. So many are too ashamed to reach out and frequently fall into depression, violence, addiction and ultimately into death's arms. But we can be brave and stand up for what we know is right. Together our voices can be louder than ever. I know that I alone cannot change the world, but together we can make a difference.
If you are a victim of abuse or just want to help those who are still-suffering, please contact:
  • National Child Sexual Abuse Helpline: 1-866-367-5444
  • Confidential Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
Other resources: