August 19, 2014
To my distant cousin David,
I know your grandfather, Sherman. He is one of my grandmother’s favorite cousins. And while I don’t know him well, if I caught his eye at a family celebration across a buffet of chopped liver, I’d know it was him, I’d know his name to be Sherman. I can recall his face in my mind.
But I don’t know his daughter, your mother Ruthie, and I didn’t know you.
Earlier tonight an acquaintance posted on Facebook that an IDF soldier who had been missing since Sunday was found dead. I noticed the post, but didn’t read the linked article, and continued scrolling through my news-feed of assorted atrocities in our world today (Ferguson, Israel/Gaza, ISIS, Ukraine) accented by ALS ice bucket challenge videos.
Then I got an email from my uncle. The subject line: Sad news about our cousin.
Dear David: you are that cousin.
The sad news: that post from the acquaintance.
The post I noticed and didn’t read.
In the span of only 10 minutes on the internet, I learned a lot about you. 21 years old, very cute, from Ohio via Detroit (though I know our shared roots to be in Western, PA.) I know that you were in the Givati Brigade which must be important because it is mentioned everywhere and the headgear of the Givati is a purple beret. I know that you chose to serve in the IDF even though you were raised in the US. I know that you blogged and liked Phish and that you were published in HuffPo, talking about the importance of speaking out as someone who was sexually abused as a child. I know you were sexually abused as a child. By rabbis. Multiple rabbis.
Wow. The internet.
I process things out loud.
If not aloud, then on paper.
If not on paper, then onscreen, like this. Processing processing with swift clicks and and clacks of overgrown nails on keys.
I suspect this was true for you too. This need to process.
Of sharing the truth of your abuse, you wrote, “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 understand that. The purging that can come with divulging some truth.
I’m not sure what else we had in common, if anything.
You were eager to be a soldier, either in the US Navy, or ultimately, in the IDF.
I don’t believe in war.
You sited the Holocaust and contemporary anti-Semitism as your reasons for joining the IDF.
I don’t like my choices or politics to be fear-driven.
At 21, you were a young, vibrant, fighting Zionist.
At 21, I was just beginning to become politicized beyond my Zionist upbringing.
At 21, you died while fighting for something you believed in.
At 35, I mourn the loss of thousands of lives lost just this last month, mostly Palestinian, but yes, also many Israeli soldiers. Including you, my distant cousin.
Dear cousin David,
I’m sorry we never met. I’m so deeply sorry for the loss your close family must be feeling. I am so deeply sorry for the pain you felt as those gunshots burned through your flesh. I am sorry that you cannot continue to speak out as a survivor of abuse, and sorry that you cannot continue to empower others to do the same. I am sorry that I could not, and sorry that I still cannot, support a war that you gave your life for.
Putting feelings to words may make a heavy heart feel light. But not these words. Not this heart.
May your memory be a blessing.
Even though we never knew each other, I know that it will be to me.
Your distant cousin,
An update. (8/26/14)
The circumstances surrounding David’s passing have recently come to light. I found this blog post* to be focused on what seems to me a crucial take-away from his death — that the Jewish community is not immune to sexual predators, and that it is imperative we address these instances in our communities. That seems so obvious, and yet so often in our society, in cases of sexual abuse, rape and assault, much is done to cover up the story, to dismiss the survivors’ claims, to blame the victims. David boldly shared his story in an effort not only to heal his own wounds, but to empower others like him to do the same.
In his memory, may we all be so bold, and take the torch he left behind, shedding light on the dark truths of our world.
*This is a reference to one specfic blogpost, and in no way an endorsement of the blog or blogger.email print