The disappearance of Caleb Jacoby — who was found, thankfully, safe and sound in New York last night — brought out the best in many people in the Jewish (and general) blogosphere and Twittersphere. And it brought out the worst in others. As the news that Caleb had been found hit social media, people shed the self-restraint they’d been exercising while the boy was still missing, and ignited fresh Twitter wars.
Mira Sucharov noted in these pages a couple of days ago that journalists, bloggers and tweeters had united in an effort to publicize the search for the missing boy. She also calmly noted that Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, “perhaps took the low road” when he tweeted about Caleb’s father Jeff Jacoby, the conservative Boston Globe columnist: “Jeff Jacoby is a hateful fanatic, but I very much hope his son is quickly found safe and sound.” After many people took Ibish to task online, he apologized, acknowledging that his initial tweet was “uncivil and unnecessary” as well as inappropriately timed, since now was not the moment to be airing his political differences with Jacoby, Sr.
I think those who've calmly pointed out that there was a degree of incivility in my first tweet are correct, and for that I do apologize.ampmdash; Hussein Ibish (@Ibishblog) January 9, 2014
But that apology — which was brought about, it’s worth noting, by calm interventions delivered in reasonable tones — didn’t stop the blogosphere and Twittersphere from continuing to hurl invective at him. It was the kind of invective that’s so offensive and ridiculously over-the-top that it makes the people meting it out look way worse than the person on the receiving end.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately 800,000 children younger than 18 are reported missing each year. That means close to 2,200 children a day or 91 children every hour are reported missing in the United States. And yet, I don’t remember a story catching the attention of the Jewish community like the report that this past Monday, 16-year-old Caleb Jacoby from Boston was missing.
By the time Caleb was found on Thursday night, the news had spread to Jewish communities across the globe that had been praying for his safe return. Jewish organizations and Synagogues sent out email alerts asking people to look for him. The report of Caleb’s disappearance united incredibly diverse segments of the Jewish community who rarely come together in such a cohesive way. People from all different ages, backgrounds, denominations and levels of observance shared in the pain of the Jacoby family and expressed it by posting the missing person poster on their Facebook statuses and tweets.
The unusual reaction to the missing Jewish teen was not lost on the Brookline Police Department. The Atlantic described, “Police have told Maimonides parents that they’ve never seen this degree of interest in a missing person. They’ve received calls from strangers in Israel who are ready to fly over and carefully comb the streets of Brookline with the Maimonides classmates who are searching for him, house-to-house, in below-freezing weather.”
The fact that Caleb is the son of Jeff Jacoby, a prominent conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, certainly added to the intrigue of the story, but I would like to believe the same attention and efforts would have be extended to the news of any Jewish child who had gone missing.
The news that Caleb had been found spread just as quickly as the news of his disappearance. Jewish communities everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief that this story has a happy ending. Hearing Caleb is safely back with his family should be more than enough for us to close this story out, but remarkably, most people are not satisfied.
When one puts forth conservative ideas that go against the grain of what many see as the defining pattern of a more liberal press, one earns one’s share of attention. Jeff Jacoby, a Jewish columnist at the Boston Globe, has tackled hot-button topics ranging from abortion to climate change to the war on Christmas to same-sex marriage to Palestinian terrorism. In a Stephen-Colbert-like turn, on Twitter he describes himself as a “purveyor of conservative cheer in the midst of a dusty liberal wilderness.”
But today, Jacoby is gaining attention across the blogosphere not for his provocative opinions but for a hurting heart. His older son, Caleb, 16, has been missing in the Boston area since mid-day Monday. He is a student at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA.
Bloggers, journalists and tweeters have been keeping the story alive across the web, hoping that added exposure might encourage tips that will help bring the boy home. This is undoubtedly the right role for the Jewish (and general) blogosphere and twittersphere to play in such a situation — and Caleb’s father acknowledged just that today. “We are so deeply, deeply grateful for everything being done to reunite us with our beloved son Caleb,” Jacoby tweeted.
We are so deeply, deeply grateful for everything being done to reunite us with our beloved son Caleb. pic.twitter.com/o7wHTr0BrAampmdash; Jeff Jacoby (@Jeff_Jacoby) January 8, 2014
Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, and an outspoken advocate of liberal politics and moderation in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, also tried to help, though perhaps taking the low road. While tweeting his hope that Caleb would be “found safe and sound,” Ibish couldn’t resist calling Jacoby a “hateful fanatic.”
Jeff Jacoby is a hateful fanatic, but I very much hope his son is quickly found safe and sound http://t.co/BDIJnT9E0Hampmdash; Hussein Ibish (@Ibishblog) January 8, 2014
The Mormon practice of baptizing deceased Jews by proxy is nothing new. The Jews called the Mormons on it years ago, and the Church promised to stop doing it. But recent headlines have indicated that some Mormons, unable to suppress their desire to save the souls of dead Jews, are back at it.
Big names — both deceased and living — have been involved. The parents of the late Simon Wiesenthal and relatives of Elie Wiesel have been baptized. Just the other day word got out that Anne Frank had been baptized…again. As would be expected, the Simon Wiesenthal Center spoke out against this, as did Abe Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League. Wiesel called on GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who admitted to performing these posthumous rituals at one point), as the most prominent Mormon in the country to tell his Church to stop the practice.
As distasteful as this baptism by proxy business seems to me, I had originally decided that I was going to refrain from commenting on it. But when I happened upon two related items in the media almost simultaneously on Wednesday, I thought again.
I completely agree with Jeff Jacoby, who wrote in his Boston Globe column titled, “Mormon ritual is no threat to Jews” that it is odious to equate these posthumous conversions to a second Holocaust, as some have hysterically suggested. I also concur that the Mormons’ highly unusual interest in the family trees of every person who has every walked the earth can be very helpful and meaningful to Jews. My mother, an avid genealogist, has made several “pilgrimages” to Salt Lake City to make use of the Mormon’s vast databases.
I am also inclined to concede Jacoby’s point that the Mormons who conduct these rituals are well meaning, nice people. Some of my best friends are Mormons. Really. (Though, I’ll admit it took my moving to Northern California from my Jewish bubble in New York to meet any.)
But it was the other item I read today that convinced me that I needed to not sweep baptism under the rug or follow Jacoby’s lead in thinking that it is just a benign phenomenon. That other item was a news story stating that the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl had also been posthumously baptized by the Mormons.