My favorite aspect of the Borat character is his antisemitism. Naturally, my appreciation of this relies on the knowledge that Sacha Baron Cohen is Jewish. And the more Jewish I feel, the more I feel at liberty to mock Jewishness. Like Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce, Sacha Baron Cohen is allowed to approach antisemitism in ways we wouldn’t tolerate from a non-Jew.
The other day, I was amazed to hear the British headmaster of the elite London boys school where Baron Cohen was a student, boasting on NPR about the school’s large population of “Jewish Boys.” Lord Jesus! In 2006, a sophisticated Brit can still regard “Jewish” as a special category! No wonder Sacha Baron Cohen is so savage about this subject!
I have a friend who has learned to try not to use the word “Jewish” to describe former girlfriends. He knows I will scream “Jewish?!?” and he knows where that leads.
A week after seeing the Borat movie, I attended a bar mitzvah, only the second one I’ve ever been to. It was full of ritual and tradition that I can only describe as lovely and moving. But the spirit of Borat hovered over the proceedings. Nothing could shake my sense of seeing Jews as an outsider, even as I felt a rare connection to my ancestors.
Jews! They are just so Jewish! My grandma used to stuff her handbag with packets of saltine crackers whenever we went out to eat. If she heard that someone was sick, she couldn’t get enough details. She would always ask, “What is the doctor’s name?” meaning “Is he Jewish?”
At the bar mitzvah, the Rabbi described how the torah he was using was hundreds of years old, and had been preserved by the Nazis to use in a museum of Jewish Icons. Silly Nazis! This story and all the biblical crap about Moses and Abraham helped to remind me how much the world hates Jews. And that, of course, made me that much happier about being Jewish.
As long as some upper class British guy is still commending his school for accepting “Jewish Boys,” Borat will have a mission to accomplish. Thank god the Jews run Hollywood and the media!
*originally posted in 2006