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Jeff Jacoby Responds to Son’s Disappearance

Thanks community for the ‘tide of kindness, empathy, and worry’

Stephanie Butnick
January 22, 2014

One of the most surprising things about the sudden disappearance earlier this month of Caleb Jacoby, the 16-year-old son of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, was how quickly a vast, widespread community—made up of friends, neighbors, and concerned social media users across the country—came together in the effort to find him. After the outpouring of support, particularly online, much of which was spurred by Jacoby’s own tweets about his missing son, news that Caleb was discovered safe in Times Square was a relief to the many people who had followed the story as it developed.

Still, the silence that followed—the family, naturally, requested privacy—seemed in stark contrast to the way social channels had been embraced during the search. Now Jacoby, who used to publish a yearly letter to Caleb in the form of a column, has written about the remarkable effort undertaken on his family’s behalf.

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.

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 the tide of kindness, empathy, and worry that helped keep my family afloat during those agonizing days.

You can read the full column here.

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.