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A Grateful Jeff Jacoby

A Grateful Jeff Jacoby

We are blessed by an amazing community.


I've always liked Rudyard Kipling's 1895 poem "If—" , with its four stanzas of rugged, Victorian-era paternal advice. But it wasn't until this month, when my older son Caleb went missing for 80 hours and my wife and I were frantic with worry and fear, that I gained a real appreciation for the virtue with which Kipling's poem opens: "If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…"

Never before has the quality of levelheadedness meant quite so much to me. As my mind lurched among nightmare scenarios and my gut churned with anxiety, it took an effort of will just to process what was happening. I had no idea how to formulate a plan of action going forward. What are you supposed to do when your teenager has been gone for hours – six hours, 12 hours, 24 hours – and hasn't been seen or heard from? When you've called in the police and given them all the information you can think of? When you've checked your child's usual haunts and come up dry? When his friends, realizing that something is wrong, are beginning to sound the alarm on Facebook and Google Chat? And when the temperature outside is in the single digits – and falling?

Left to our own devices, with no relevant training to draw upon, my wife and I would have been overwhelmed by panic and uncertainty. A natural-born crisis manager I am not. Fortunately there were others – steady, sensible, experienced – who were able to think clearly, set emotion aside, and impose some order on the turmoil. There were three or four such people in particular who stepped forward to help without waiting to be asked. They organized themselves into a kind of war room operation and focused relentlessly, but calmly, on the immediate tasks at hand. How I admire their talent for keeping their heads when it was all I could do not to lose mine.

After more than 25 years of working for newspapers, I figured I knew something about stories that grab public attention. But the intensity of interest in my son's disappearance was extraordinary. Of course some of that was due to the public following that comes with a regular byline in the Boston Globe. But I wasn't prepared for the way the news erupted, especially on social media, or how it radiated outward in wider and wider spheres of compassion and concern.

It astonished the police, too. "You have an amazing community here," the detectives working on the case told us more than once. Tips, queries, and offers of help surged into the Brookline police station. Maimonides, the Modern Orthodox Jewish day school where Caleb is an 11th-grader, coordinated a local search effort involving more than 200 volunteers. But offers of aid came pouring in from strangers in other states and countries, many of whom were prepared to drop everything and go anywhere they were needed to search for a teen they didn't know from a city many had never been to.

After 80 hours of anguish and fear, the relief we felt when our son was found was indescribable. After 80 hours of anguish and fear, the relief we felt when our son was found was indescribable.

The "amazing community" that so impressed the detectives wasn't just the community of Maimonides school students, administrators, and graduates, who poured heart and soul into finding Caleb. It wasn't just the broader Jewish community, so often riven by factions and disputes, that momentarily set those differences aside out of concern for a missing boy.

It was more – much more, as I came to understand while trying to make sense of tide of kindness, empathy, and worry that helped keep my family afloat during those agonizing days.

Like the interlocking circles of a Venn diagram, our "amazing community" is really many communities with one family common to all of them. We were embraced and helped and prayed for by people who are connected to us through our son's school or our local synagogue – as well as by others with different connections: residents of Brookline, my colleagues at the Boston Globe, companies my wife has worked for, readers (by no means all fans) of my column, fellow media people, our younger child's school, charities we support, causes we've been involved in, people who know Caleb's far-flung aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

And above and beyond them all, the "amazing community" of parents who have been through their own stresses and storms, and who know from experience that no family is immune to them.

During the worst ordeal of our lives, my family experienced the best that human beings are capable of. That was a blessing I'll never forget, or ever cease being grateful for.

January 22, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 32

(20) joan michel, January 28, 2014 7:53 PM

After the "Event"

What a beautiful thank you... cool, calm and collected .... from dad Jeffrey to the Jewish community. But how I would love to know about the aftermath ... what happened when Caleb was brought home? In what direction is the family now going? Such a horrible thing Caleb did to his parents (and so soon after a Jew was savagely beaten and dumped into a dumpster) ....what thoughts and fears did his parents have? How does one impress upon a young boy the implications of what he did?

(19) Renee, January 26, 2014 1:38 PM

Life in Israel

In Israel out sweet Jewish kids can roam free. By the time they are 18 most kids have travelled much of our beautiful land. It's not unheard of that At 2 years of age kids on my street are outside playing with older siblings and other kids. At 6 or 7 some kids already hitch rides with neighbors to the other side of our Yishuv. ( neighborhood). Israel is a place of FREEDOM for the young as opposed to the USA. I don't blame Caleb for his need to leave. He wouldn't get permission so he did what he needed to do Unaware of and regardless of consequences. I get it

ilana, January 28, 2014 6:12 PM

Reply to Renee

I am raising 3 boy in Israels and I wish it were a place of "FREEDOM" as you put it. Children have to be watched anywhere. Please don't be naive, protect the most precious things that Hashem gave you.

Anonymous, January 30, 2014 5:29 AM

No, you don't get it apples and oranges

You said it yourself. Israeli kids have traveled much of the land by 18. While there are many dangers in Israel it (Thank G-d) does not yet have as many of the Western dangers (pedophiles, being lured by the Internet)I'm not saying no danger just not as much danger. American teenagers do not roam the country by themselves. I do not know that Israeli teenagers roam by themselves either. If a kid takes off on a lark they're usually with a friend, are going to meet a friend, have told a friend where they are going. If a child takes off by himself, in the middle of a school day, confides in noone and manages to vanish for two days that is not the same situation. It suggests the child is troubled. For that matter, if an adult did that it would suggest the adult is troubled. I would say generally speaking American teenagers, though impulsive, like any, are aware of the dangers in America (kidnapping, rape etc) and do not just leave home like that. Running away, in general is a dangerous solution to a problem. If children just have wanderlust or want to travel there are ways to accomplish this there are many travel camps etc. Vanishing alone, in the middle of a school day, for two days (must have saved money and planned this to some extent) is a very different story.

(18) Regina, January 26, 2014 4:23 AM

The Bigger Picture

To those of you who think you are entitled to "an explanation" and/or "the details" of where Caleb was and why, I say BACK OFF. As a member of the community who searched for Caleb day and night, I am grateful and satisfied knowing that he is alive, well and reunited with his family. My worry, prayers and even the hours I spent/ miles I walked looking for him don't entitle me to an "explanation". What makes you think YOU are ENTITLED - and what nerve to say Caleb's story should be told in detail. Do we now in the Jewish community have a tabloid mentality? Caleb Jacoby and his family are entitled to their PRIVACY - we should continue to daven for them and stop speculating on the details. Those of you who "want answers" could join me and the multitude of people all over the world who prayed for Caleb's safe return and THANK HASHEM FOR ANSWERING OUR PRAYERS. The Achdut and Ahavat Yisroel that was born in the midst of this event is the silver lining here - if only we can continue to build on this going forward. AM YISROEL CHAI V'HAZAK - B'ECHAD.

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