Why Caleb Jacoby's Disappearance Is Our Business

Jewish Families Must Learn From Issues — Not Cover Them Up


By Adena Cohen-Bearak

Published January 23, 2014.
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Two weeks ago was a strange time in the Boston Jewish community. Caleb Jacoby, the 16-year-old son of prominent conservative Jewish columnist Jeff Jacoby went missing.

There was a huge and unexpected outpouring of support from the Jewish community on social media; much has already been written about this. Yes, it was wonderful, and yes, it was unprecedented. People from around the country and around the world volunteered to come to the Boston area to help search for Caleb. Caleb’s classmates at the Maimonides school effectively utilized social media to spread the word far and wide.

People everywhere prayed for his safe return.

We don’t know if it was through social media, or through the work of the Brookline police detectives. But Caleb was ultimately found in Times Square in New York, and is now presumably at home.

Several Jewish leaders have written pieces, which can be found here , here and here, stating the opinion that we, as a community, now know that he is home, and that should be enough. We don’t need to know the details. We should not ask for more information; it is too personal. We need to leave the family alone now that Caleb has been found.

I disagree.

The fact that a 16-year-old boy left his house and traveled to New York without telling his family or friends is not okay. Something is amiss. It may be mental health issues (depression, anxiety or some other problem), sexual identity issues, abuse issues, or any number of things. But the fact is: everything is not fine.

Returning him to his family and saying “it’s private, everything is fine” is not telling the truth.

Jewish families have problems just like families of any other religion or culture. It is important that we don’t hide our flaws, our faults, and our tragedies behind a wall of privacy. I know Jewish families dealing with issues of depression, anxiety, sexual identity issues of all kinds, learning differences of all kinds, chronic illnesses, life-limiting illnesses, cancer, addiction issues.

The list goes on and on.

Of course, we aren’t obligated to tell everyone in our community the details of our family problems. On the other hand, to suffer in silence and to tell no one – I feel that is wrong, too. It is denying ourselves the support of our community. And perhaps even more importantly, it is denying others in our community the opportunity to see how we handle our challenges, and model for others how we try — and fail — and try again to deal with those challenges.

It is okay to show others that you are weak. It is okay to show others that you are sad; that you are sick. That’s what community is for. To help when things aren’t going so well.

Jacoby wrote a heartfelt piece in the Boston Globe thanking the community for helping him find his son. I feel he didn’t go far enough. He doesn’t need to tell us all the details. He could simply say: “Caleb is having some mental health issues, and he is being evaluated and treated for them.”

But to say nothing at all? That is not honest, and it is not fair to the thousands who worried and prayed for Caleb’s safe return.

We deserve better. We deserve more openness, more honesty. Caleb deserves it, too.

Adena Cohen-Bearak is a freelance writer who blogs at MotherThoughts.com.


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