Just like so many of you, I was distraught over the last few days as we hoped and prayed that Caleb Jacoby be found safe and unharmed. Thankfully, Caleb was returned to his family unscathed, at least physically. It shouldn’t matter, but because of my personal relationship with Caleb’s father (I spent some time with Caleb too) and my very close friendship with Caleb’s aunt, I felt very connected to this saga. Learning that he was found brought me to tears, in public, and I was so relieved that the most difficult part of the ordeal seemed to be over.
The first thing I want to say is that every parent out there had to have been at their wits end concerned for Caleb’s wellbeing. We all love our children very much. But like so many things, we sometimes take our children for granted. We sometimes forget to give them the love that we want to give them. We sometimes are distracted when we are spending time with our children and we miss out on quality time together. That’s time we will never get back. But seeing Jeff and his wife Laura, in my mind’s eye frantic and nervous and scared that they might never see their beloved son ever again, reminded me to give my children a little more than I might have given them otherwise. Reminders like this are terrible but we might as well listen to our messages.
Please don’t squander your opportunity to be a parent. As I wrote on Facebook when I heard the good news that Caleb was okay, hug your children a couple extra times today. Maybe tomorrow too. And the next day. When we empathize with others who are unable to do what we can do, it can motivate us to be more forthcoming in our efforts. Give your children some extra affection. Go for it. They deserve it. I am sure of it. Do it for all the parents out there who wish they could give their child a hug but they can’t because they are estranged, or the child tragically passed away, or their children are simply grown and it’s too late for gratuitous hugs.
Next I’d like to point out what has become standard operating procedure for this sort of ordeal can not in any way be sufficiently lauded. It’s truly remarkable that people who never met Caleb or his family were spending their time and energy searching for him. There are volunteers and do-gooders in all communities, but there is something special about the way we band together in times like these. It’s normal for local people and people with a special interest in something to pitch in and help out in any given situation or tragedy. What makes the Jewish community’s response so remarkable is that it transcends time and space.
Jewish people, and perhaps especially Orthodox Jews, who are from distant places will put their lives on hold to give a hand to their fellow Jew. People from completely different social and religious circles will participate in the efforts. There is something that unites all the Jewish people. It’s not just a cliché or a platitude. And it’s not only in times of tragedy or pain. We are quite literally a family and family puts everything on hold to help family. It was on display as this story unfolded just as it was so many times in years and decades past. Searching for Bais Yaakov girls in the woods, looking for Leiby Kletzky, converging on Sea Gate after Hurricane Sandy, and most recently as we tried to track down Caleb, our people have a way of pulling together and uniting to help one another. We loathe these opportunities, but we know how to rise up to the occasion. It’s impressive.
Finally, and this is the most important thing I have to say, let’s be careful about what we say in the coming days and weeks about this incident. It was quite dramatic and we saw an outpouring of willing volunteers. That made the story quite public. But at this point, the public part of the tale has come to a close. The rest of the story is private.
After suffering through a few days of agony, let’s not spoil the euphoric reunion with innuendo and speculation. More than a few people have offered their armchair psychological analysis and others have demanded a full report to the public. One person even asked me if the public has a right to hear the story because they prayed and volunteered their time in the search. I find this abhorrent. It’s not just nosy, it’s disrespectful. And I think it’s a symptom of a very base desire. One that we ought to reign in as best we can.
It’s no secret. We love gossip. We love juicy details and nuggets of inside information. My father used to say that the idol of the late 20th century was the Fox, as in 20th Century Fox. We loved television and movies. But now we love gossip even more. Our idols are Perez Hilton and TMZ. We just need to know. And when we don’t know, we just throw out wild guesses. People might try to disguise their curiosity in moral terms or altruistic intentions. But really, it’s just plain gossip.
It’s pretty much always wrong. Judaism famously places great importance on privacy. But I think this is a unique scenario that requires even more sensitivity than usual. Here we are dealing with a child. Yes, sixteen years old is still a child. And when we are dealing with children we cannot drag them into the public eye. It was an emergency situation that called us to action. But once the emergency is over, our license for information is rescinded. Not only are we dealing with a child, but we are dealing with a father who is very much in the public sphere. Not only that, but this sort of incident lends itself to speculation because so much is almost certainly going to be left unsaid.
Please give the family the space that they need to heal from this ordeal. Do not speculate. Do not make accusations. Do not make demands for information. Just wish the family well and go back to your lives.
One of the challenges of the Internet age is defining boundaries. People share more of their lives with more people than ever before. It could be great. It could be fun. It could be meaningful. It could be a blessing. But don’t confuse voluntary sharing of information with gossip and telling tales.
It’s been quite the roller coaster week in the Orthodox Jewish community. Some things have divided us. Other things have united us. Let’s always remember that even when we disagree, we are brothers and sisters who, when all is said and done, go back to the same home and love each other despite any differences we may have. It’s not lost on me that immediately following an event that generated vitriolic and hysterical (not the funny kind of hysterical) opinions between Jews, we’ve come together with the Jacoby family.
Of all the Torah portions, Beshalach is the most intense roller coaster ride of a parsha. We escape Egypt to safety, the Egyptians pursue us and we are trapped by the sea, the sea opens for us and we march forward, the Egyptians follow us and we can only assume they will catch us, the water crashes behind us and drowns the Egyptians thereby saving us, we sing a song of thanks, then we are thirsty, we are given water, then we are hungry, we are fed, then we want meat, we are given meat, we are given the gift of Shabbos, it is violated immediately, we were thirsty again, God gives Moses a secret well, Moses sins and is punished, then we are attacked by Amalek in a microcosm of the entire sedra, we can’t seem to stave them off, Moses lifts his hands and we start to win, then Moses gets tired and we start to lose, Joshua and Chur support Moses so he can lift his hands and we are able to defeat Amalek. Safety and danger. Safety and danger. Safety and danger. Safety and danger. Safety and danger. Time and again. Beshalach is a roller coaster ride and this week was also a roller coaster ride.
The Beshalach coaster ends positively and portends the revelation at Sinai. A good ending to a frenetic story. Let us hope and pray that we learn and grow from the peaks and valleys of the parsha and our communal life. Even more, let us be forge ahead to a new week and anticipate better tidings in the coming days and weeks.
— Eliyahu Fink (@efink) January 10, 2014