Former lone soldier battling cancer in New York

When Mendel Gordon was diagnosed, he was forced to postpone his wedding and leave Israel — and now his family is asking for help.

Former lone soldier Mendel Gordon who is battling cancer, with his fiance, Ruchama (photo credit: Courtesy)
Former lone soldier Mendel Gordon who is battling cancer, with his fiance, Ruchama
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Mendel Gordon was supposed to get married in Beit Shemesh last month. But all the New York native’s plans were put on hold earlier this year when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
Now, back in New York City and being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Gordon and his family are asking for help – and receiving it in droves.
Mindi Gordon, Mendel’s mother, said her son had told her before Passover that he had seen a doctor about lumps in his neck, but she didn’t worry too much.
Reuniting A Mother and Her IDF Lone Soldiers Son (Standing Together/YOUTUBE)
“To be honest, I didn’t think anything of it,” Mindi told The Jerusalem Post via phone on Sunday. But right after Passover, at 2 a.m., “He calls me up and they were hysterical.”
“They” are her son, Mendel, 23, and his fiancée, Ruchama Tokayer, 19, who had gotten engaged just a few days earlier and had begun planning their lives together.
But the doctors in Israel told Mendel that the form of cancer he had and the intensity with which it had spread was best treated in New York, “where they see this much more often than they do in Israel,” Mindi said.
For a week after the diagnosis, Mendel was incredibly torn over where to begin treatment.
“He kept on saying, ‘Ma, Israel is where I want to be, I want to be with my friends,’” said Mindi.
At age 18, Mendel left his home in Brooklyn and came to Israel to study in yeshiva. He decided to make aliya and joined the army as a lone soldier, serving for three years in the Paratroopers Brigade. When he finished his paratrooper training in 2016, a nonprofit group arranged to fly Mindi out to surprise him at the end of his beret ceremony march – her first time in Israel.
Mendel Gordon (Credit: Courtesy)Mendel Gordon (Credit: Courtesy)
So while it was difficult for Mendel to leave Israel, it was decided he would be best served by being treated in New York, and taken care of by his family.
Mendel put his life and his wedding on hold, and he and Tokayer flew to New York, where they have been ever since. He has begun aggressive chemotherapy for the cancer, and is slated to have several extensive surgeries in the coming months.
“Mendel has it up to the top of his spine,” said Mindi, “all the way up to his spine – it is metastasized all over the place.”
The Gordon family wanted Mendel to receive the best care, and be able to look after him at home between treatments. But even with insurance, the costs of such treatments are sky-high, and the family has been in a financially precarious situation for a long time.
“Sixteen years ago, my husband got sick with peritonitis,” Mindi said. “Since then, he’s had six major surgeries. He was very, very sick... he’s not been able to hold down a job.” She said their home is in foreclosure and the family is struggling to meet its basic needs.
While Mindi removed Mendel from her health insurance when he joined the army several years ago, “Because of Obamacare I’m able to put him back on. But because it’s a preexisting condition, because it was diagnosed in Israel, they’re not covering as much as they would be.”
Earlier this month, one of their daughters, Sora, set up a GoFundMe page under the name Mendel Gordon to ask for help in paying the medical bills.
“It’s hard, it’s very hard,” said Mindi, who teaches at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. “We’re good people, we do everything we’re supposed to do, and then this goes and adds to our downward spiral.”
As of Sunday afternoon, the campaign had raised close to $50,000 out of a $100,000 goal. The vast majority of the more than 600 donations that have rolled in are for less than $50 each. Mendel’s three sisters, and many of his former army buddies are rallying everyone they know online to share his story and ask for donations.
“I’m shocked, beyond shocked” at how much everyone has helped,” said Mindi. “After he was diagnosed, his social worker in the army – who had heard all about my husband and his story – she said to me, ‘I know his story, and I am going to make sure that he is taken care of and that you get what you need.’”
“I didn’t know that all these people were going to come out and do what they did,” Mindi said. “It’s beyond amazing.”