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Caleb Jacoby’s Disappearance and the Barbed Embrace of Community

The family doesn’t owe us an answer, but should expect that people will ask

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Missing persons report for Caleb Jacoby. (Brookline Police Department)

This week yet another blogger chimed in on whether or not Caleb Jacoby’s journey is any of our business. And yet another blogger missed the point.

Of course it is none of “our” business. But it also wasn’t “our” problem.

I hesitate to include myself in this mysterious “our” because I am only marginally associated with the modern Orthodox community. I was once a participant in that community, though, and I continue to reap some of its enormous benefits. To a lesser extent, I also continue to pay the price.

When my father, a 67-year-old dentist, was diagnosed with stomach cancer, his friends helped to keep his office open during treatment. When he died two years later, they were right there again: some to lend support, some struggling to cope with their own emotions, and some to whisper among themselves about the length of my skirt (or was it a dress?).

This is just the way it is. There is a price to pay for being part of a community that gathers its forces to help find your son, or to help keep your office open while you are sick and then dying. And it is like any other investment: Sometimes you win (big) and sometimes you lose (big). You can’t know in advance how it will play out, so you make a decision based upon the best information available, about yourself and about the people around you. You can adjust your choices prospectively, but you can’t undo.

The Jacoby family does not owe anybody an answer. It should expect, however, that some people will talk, gossip, and blog about it. They should expect that someone down the block will call out sexual identity issues while others, based upon the same lack of information, will wonder about schizophrenia. They should expect that still others will give them adequate space and privacy. Some people will surprise them; some will not. In Jacoby’s column this week, he made multiple references to the “amazing community” that helped to find Caleb. I imagine at that moment it was worth every proverbial penny to him. Let them talk, gossip, and blog about it; it’s a small price to pay for the return home of one’s missing teenaged son.

As for me, when I encountered Mr. Jacoby’s heartfelt gratification toward a community that in so many ways deserves it, I began to doubt some of my own choices. Am I depriving my children of a future that includes such enormous benefits because, selfishly, I am unwilling to pay the proper price? Am I not playing both sides of the Street as a “post-Orthodox” Jew who benefits from her parents’ commitment without taking it upon herself to secure similar safeties and stability for her children?

But I also felt validated in my choices, as I watched so many people chime in with unsolicited opinions, thoughts, and injunctions to react or not react in this way or another. I’m right and I’m wrong. I’m wrong and I’m right. The only thing I’m sure of is a question: Why now, of all times, are we looking for a simple answer?

Alisa Guyer Galperin is an equity analyst who lives in Brooklyn.

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Caleb Jacoby’s Disappearance and the Barbed Embrace of Community

The family doesn’t owe us an answer, but should expect that people will ask

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