Remembering Gil Gordon

In 2005 Gil became a Member of the Fellowship Community and moved into Hilltop House. The practice of service that is foundational to the Fellowship Community resonated profoundly with Gil’s spiritual values.

 

Gilbert Robert Gordon, an only child, was born on July 8, 1941into a large extended Jewish family of first and second generation immigrants in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY. His extended family members emigrated from Eastern Europe before WWII, escaping racial violence and religious persecution. The family was very close and Gil fondly remembered the entire Gordon clan meeting at his grandmother’s house every Sunday for family dinners. Everyone crowded into the small apartment to eat, argue, laugh and play. That and regular group family vacations to a bungalow colony at Congers Lake in Rockland County were highlights of his early childhood.


Gil was educated in NYC public schools and excelled academically. With an innate talent for the technical, Gil graduated from Brooklyn Polytech with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. He went on to pursue a Master's and PhD in Business and Statistics from Purdue University in Indiana.

After Purdue, Gil moved to San Francisco, CA to start his first professional job at Standard Oil as a computer programmer. Standard Oil was on the frontline of implementing software systems on their punch card mainframes, and Gil became one of the first professional Software Engineers before that term existed.

Gil returned to Brooklyn and applied for a position at Baruch College Department of Statistics. He was one of the few people at the time with industry experience in software programming and was offered a job in the field of Operations Research, a precursor to the modern field of Computer Science. Over the course of his career at Baruch College, he was instrumental in establishing the Computer Science curriculum. He excelled at research, co-authoring several papers and a textbook on early iterations of Machine Learning and applied stochastic modeling, but his real love was for teaching which he focused on exclusively once he was awarded tenure.

Gil was touched by the religious studies he took to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah but his parents were secular and discouraged his interest in religion. As a result he sought spiritual understanding as a young adult elsewhere and came across P. D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, introducing him to the teachings of George Gurdjieff, a mystic spiritual teacher from the Caucuses. Gil joined the Gurdjieff Work, a community of seekers in NYC. It was here that he met three people who would go on to play a major role in his life: his future wife Susan, who at the time was a studio potter, and NYC artists Tosun and Jean Bayrak.

Throughout the 1970s, Gil visited the Bayraks at their summer home in Kanlica, Turkey, and was introduced to Muzafer Ozak Efendi, the Sheik (leader) of a group of Sufi dervishes. He immediately fell in love with Muzafer Efendi and the Sufi tradition, which is the mystical path of Islam. He spent the next several summers with the Bayraks in Istanbul, regularly meeting with the Sheik at the Jerrahi Dergah (meeting house) and spending time with him in his bookstore in the Grand Bazaar.


Through Sufi Islam, Gil found the spiritual path that fully integrated his life and he devoted himself to it. His life suddenly became very intense and full. In addition to his professional obligations at Baruch College, Gil studied Islam, the Quran, and its application through the life and sayings of the prophet Muhammed. He learned to read and memorize Arabic scripture, to speak Turkish fluently, to sing and play middle eastern music, and mastered Islamic and Sufi rituals in order to serve the growing community. In 1979 he and Susan married, bought a house in Rockland County, and worked tirelessly with the Bayraks and other American dervishes (Sufi practitioners) to establish the Jerrahi Order of America. They eventually built a mosque in Chestnut Ridge, also called a Dergah.


In 1981 Gil received a Fulbright scholarship to teach at Bogazici University in Istanbul. He and Susan moved to the town of Rumeli Hisar for the year. Their son Dawud was born the following February in Istanbul. Two years later, back in NY, they welcomed their daughter Sara and moved to Hungry Hollow Road which they made their family home for the next 30 years.


In 1990, Gil was diagnosed with Chronic Progressive Multiple Sclerosis after suffering mysterious symptoms for some time. Over the next six years, his physical condition deteriorated, forcing him into early retirement and eventually a wheelchair. Although he suffered tremendous physical challenges, he had an indomitable spirit driving him to make the best of whatever life presented him. As his physical abilities failed, his ingenuity and engineering background made up for it, creating Rube-Goldberg-Contraptions for every hurdle. There was nothing that couldn’t be solved with some wood, screws, duct tape, glue and a ton of tinkering. He remained undaunted by his disabilities for the longest time. Even after he was wheelchair-bound Gil managed to complete the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia three times.


The Gordons first became acquainted with the Fellowship Community through the Medical Office and Dr. Karnow. Over the years the family volunteered at the Fellowship in various ways. Gil, after retirement but still relatively independent, using his electric scooter to get around, would help out with setting up computer systems in the Foundation and Medical Offices. In 2005 Gil became a Member of the Fellowship Community and moved into Hilltop House. The practice of service that is foundational to the Fellowship Community resonated profoundly with Gil’s spiritual values and he was a dedicated advocate considering this to be the best possible place for someone to choose to live out their lives. Here he was able to be of service to others until the end of his life sometimes if only with a gentle smile.


When Gil first joined the Fellowship, the culture in Hilltop House was practically devoid of electronic technology, even televisions among members were rare. He was probably best known for being an advocate for fellow members, helping them with technical support, computers, cell phones and other electronics. He delighted in finding deals and sales for his friends. Overjoyed when his granddaughter Samira was born in 2017, he loved bringing her to meals in the dining room and proudly gave her her first taste of ice cream there! In his later years, he rediscovered the music of his youth and especially loved the Chicago Blues, which he considered to be enjoyed best at high volume.


Gil passed peacefully on January 21, 2022 in his room at Hilltop House, his home for the past seventeen years, with his friends all around and his family by his side.

 

To make a gift to the Fellowship Community in honor of Gil please visit fellowshipcommunity.org/donate