My Brother's Lives and Deaths

Mentally Ill Sibling Reinvented Himself Many Times

As Children: Jackie Jacobs (back row, middle) poses with his sister Ethel and brother Gerald (front row, right) and with two cousins in ties.
Courtesy of Jackie Jacobs
As Children: Jackie Jacobs (back row, middle) poses with his sister Ethel and brother Gerald (front row, right) and with two cousins in ties.

By Jackie Jacobs

Published November 12, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Mental illness took my brother’s life on numerous occasions, most recently and for the last time when he was 58.

He was 22 the first time he died, six years to the day after my father’s yahrzeit. His obituary noted that Gerald M. Jacobs died at home, but funeral arrangements were incomplete. Contributions could be made to the American Cancer Society.

At the time, Gerald had already been hospitalized at two mental institutions. The first was a private facility in New Canaan, Conn., that cost my widowed mother, a Holocaust survivor, over a thousand dollars a week. The second was a state hospital in Middletown, N.Y. He signed himself out of both places. He was sane enough to write his own obituary. But because he never signed release forms, his doctors could not tell us exactly what was wrong with him.

At the time of his first death, he had already spent time in college and jail, and lived as a Jew and as a born-again Christian. He had a budding writing career as the long-lost brother of Emily Brontë. His friends knew him as Jeremy Matthew Harrison.

After several arrests for shoplifting, nine bounced checks, and serving time in jail for criminal possession of stolen property, he moved to a homeless shelter. Neighbors said it looked bad and smelled. The house manager quit shortly after he moved there. She complained that there were no benefits, no holidays off, no medical insurance and no vacation.

He then camped out in my college dorm room for a while and fell in love with one of my friends. He gave her an engagement ring that he said was a family heirloom, and left on a bus to California.

He got baptized in San Bernadino, Calif., at the John XXIII Center Newman Apostolate, after which he returned to the Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. Its billboard promoted the school as a two year solution to a four year problem. He studied hotel management, but never graduated.

He had intermittent part-time jobs at McDonalds, a dude ranch and a day camp. He got a scholarship at Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y. He misplaced a writing assignment lamenting his trials and tribulations as a suspect in a statutory rape case. The owner of the day camp found the essay and fired him on the spot. He worked at a printshop north of Westchester County, N.Y. and was fired again when he was caught stealing.

Somewhere along the line, our mother told him that she no longer had a third child, yet he continued calling her and sending cards and letters. Some were menacing and vitriolic, others filled with love and remorse. Depending on his state of mind, he reached out on the High Holidays, Christmas, Easter, Passover or her birthday. At times he begged for reconciliation. She never responded. Knowing that his mother sat shiva for him was another painful death.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.