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Kenneth Ryesky
Kenneth Ryesky

Barbra Streisand, Big Blue Elephants, & Walder

The term “Streisand Effect” refers to the dynamic whereby an attempt to hide, censor, or downplay a fact, image, or object has the diametrically unintended consequence of increasing interest, curiosity, and knowledge of the fact, image, or object.

The term stems from an incident involving the California Coastal Records Project, an enterprise spearheaded by photographer Kenneth Adelman to create a database of photographs of the California coastline; the photographic database is particularly intended to serve as evidence in lawsuits by conservationists and preservationists against illegal developments on and encroachments upon the natural beauty of the coastline. One of the photographs posted on the Project’s Internet website was an aerial view of the Malibu real estate parcel upon which the personal residence of entertainment celebrity Barbra Streisand was located.

Adelman resisted the demands by Streisand’s attorneys to remove the photograph to which Streisand objected, and ini 2003, Streisand’s attorneys sued Adelman for invasion of privacy (never mind that Barbra had earlier allowed full color photographs of the interior of her residence to be published in the Architectural Digest). The court not only decided against Streisand, but ordered her to pay Adelman’s attorney fees and costs.  The  publicity of the lawsuit caused increased access to the posted photograph, and term “Streisand Effect” soon came into the American parlance.

{Barbra Streisand was neither the first nor the last person of fact or folklore to be hit by the backfired unintended consequences of an attempt to keep matters confidential; the Arabian Nights tale of Abu Hassan is rooted back more than a millennium.}.

One can easily demonstrate the “Streisand Effect” with a simple exercise by going to a populated venue and loudly ordering everyone, “Don’t look at the big blue elephant!!!”  The typical individual reaction will be for people to look around in search of an elephant, and will surely prolong their attention towards any elephant of any size or color if one happens to be in the range of vision.

The Streisand Effect is quite apparent in this current tumult regarding Chaim Walder.  As is widely known by now, Walder was a highly lionized figure in the insular allegedly religious Jewish community [I believe that the use of terms such as “ultra-orthodox” or “charedi” only serve to propogate The Big Lie that people who wear black hats but who bribe government officials, commit tax fraud or arson, and/or cheat on their wives are more religious than I] who, it turned out, had long engaged in sexual abuses of children and others. Walder’s transgressions went far beyond spontaneous hormonal rushes; he groomed his various victims over the course of many years. Following his suicide, people are being implored to refrain from criticizing Chaim Walder, if not from discussing him entirely. Many pronunciamentos and publications from in the insular community have directed public attention to Walder’s family, while ignoring his victims, whose needs are particularly acute at this time. And in Brooklyn, Rabbi Menachem Frank, the principal of the Beth Jacob School in Boro Park, sent out a letter to the parents of his students in which he stated:

“In truth, this subject should never have reached the ears of our children in the first place. …

I therefore ask that you do not include your family in this discussion. If they bring it to you, please seek counsel from a Rav on how to address it. After consulting with Daas Torah, we suggest that where possible, it is best to remain vague and simply state “We all thought he was a good guy but it appears that he may not have been very good after all. It sounds like he hurt people. But he is gone now, it’s over, let’s move on.”

Notwithstanding the attempts to direct the public attention away from taboo subjects, the everyday discussion of Chaim Walder has increased exponentially.

I have considered the possibility that the rabbis who have urged radio silence regarding the Walder fiasco may realize that their long-standing strategy of stifling discussions of sexual abuse has deprived children and their parents of knowledge necessary for the childrens’ protection and welfare, and accordingly, now hope that the Streisand Effect will enable them to save face if they change course. I have rejected that hypothesis, however, because if such were the case, then the rabbis would have done a quick rethink and reset after Walder victim Shifra Horovitz committed suicide, apparently distraught at Walder’s continued glorification.

The Big Blue Elephant is far larger than Chaim Walder.  The very standing of the insular community’s leadership is at stake. Barring some deep fundamental shift in the insular rabbinic leadership’s operating paradigm, it is difficult to envision this Walder dust-up ending well for the insular community and its leaders.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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