Culture, Global, Identity

Borat Goes to Kol Nidre

On Sunday afternoon when I turned off my computer and headed out of the house, I should have been thinking about repentance, the story I was going to tell during the children’s services I was about to lead, or maybe even people who are hungry every day. Instead, what was on my mind was the penultimate email that I received before turning off my computer. It was a newsflash from a UK satire site basically announcing that, among other things, Sacha Baron Cohen had been banned from UK synagogues.
After about 15 mintues of actually feeling sorry for the guy, I checked in with a few friends at our pre-fast, and it became pretty clear that it had been a hoax. While JPost and YNet picked up on the fact that The Board of Guardians of British Jews is the UK/Jewish version of The Onion, apparently these guys tried to investigate: “Due to Yom Kippur, all parties involved were unavailable for comment or verification.”
So you can imagine how surprised I was when a friend of mine (who happens to be a former writer for Da Ali G Show) — who had asked me on Friday if he could bring a few friends of his from the UK to daven with us at the shul where I work — arrived at davening with Sacha Baron Cohen and his fiance Isla Fisher. While other reporters could not reach him, I was sitting two seats away. As you can imagine, the holiness of the day took precedence over an interview, so we instead talked about me, and how impressed he was that I was “the mistress of the school.” (I am in fact the Education Director of a small synagogue).
Side note: While other synagogues may turn people away without tickets, mine welcomed Sacha, Isla and anyone else who arrived without a ticket. It their policy to ask people who can afford it to purchase tickets in advance, but no one is turned away. And they even offered to make a donation after the chag.
And so, because everyone’s talking about it and it had to be said very clearly:

ASTANA, Kazakhstan—There is no Running of the Jews here. No one greets you with the expression “Jagshemash,” which is either nonsense, garbled Polish or mangled Czech; it’s hard to say. The country’s national drink is not made from horse urine, though fermented horse milk, or kumys, is considered a delicacy. (It tastes like effervescent yogurt.)
There is almost nothing, in short, remotely truthful in the satiric depiction of Kazakhstan popularized by Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comedian who plays a bumbling, boorish, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic Kazakh television reporter named Borat Sagdiyev.
And yet Borat – Cohen, that is – has managed to infuriate and confound the country’s officials. Their attempts to set the record straight have resulted only in more attention here, where Borat’s antics, shown on British and U.S. television and on the Internet, now make the rounds like samizdat from the long-gone days when the country was part of the Soviet Union.

Last week Khazakstan started putting out ads in the NY Times to promote their country. Today when I was watching last night’s repeat of the Daily Show at the gym — looked away momentarily — and then when I looked back, I saw a clip of beautiful beaches, mosques, people walking on promenades and a gorgeous place to visit. At the bottom right hand corner of the screen was the word “Kazakstan.” I realized then that this was the TV next to the TV with the Daily Show, and after waiting for the commercial to end (there was no dialogue in the commercial; just these views with some soothing music), I realized this was in fact a real commercial between segments on CNN, a la this post.
The question is this. When JPost reports that

…authorities say the campaign was meant to coincide with President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit to the United States, where he met with President George W. Bush on Friday.

Is Kazakstan, the ADL, or anyone really that afraid of this man, or is it all pre-movie hype like in the case of the Passion? This Brit may not be afraid, but he sure is angry.

5 thoughts on “Borat Goes to Kol Nidre

  1. Angry, why? I’m laughing my A** off. CAn you imagine thecountry taking one comic THAT seriously?
    Even Lenny Bruce didn’t get that reaction!
    What kudos!

  2. Shamir:
    Kol ha kavod! The part of the article I liked the best was the side note re: your shul not turning people away without tickets. I sit on the council of a shul here in the UK and have lobbied for a few years to get the same accepted here. Warms my heart to see others ensuring that if a Jew wants to daven, you find them a place!

  3. Thanks Shamir!
    Glad the satire is confirmed. I was starting to worry that even proper British orgs were now confusing the word “affect” with “effect.” 🙂

  4. Was Fisher into it? Is she Jewish/becoming Jewish? IMDB says her family was Scottish, born in Omanm raised in Australia…

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