Top Kazakh Rabbi: In My Country There’s No Problem

By Nathaniel Popper

Published November 24, 2006, issue of November 24, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In the fictional version of Kazakhstan in the hit movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” the only Jews in the country are larger-than-life caricatures that get trotted out for a ceremonial “Running of the Jew.”

In the real Kazakhstan, the top rabbi, Menachem Mendel Gershowitz, has never been forced to run anywhere. In fact, Gershowitz said, Kazakhs frequently treat him like royalty.

“One time, I spoke with a Kazakh businessman,” Gershowitz told the Forward. “He asked me: ‘Tell me, Bush is Jewish also, yes? Clinton is Jewish?’ They think the opposite — not that Jewish is strange, but that Jewish is the whole world.”

Gershowitz, whose Borat-like speech patterns come from a childhood in Israel, was in New York this week for a gathering of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries from around the world. He is one of five Chabad rabbis in Kazakhstan ministering to an estimated 25,000 Jews.

Despite the popularity the movie has enjoyed, Gershowitz has heard little of it in the Kazakh capital, Astana, where he lives. He is hoping that the movie never finds its way to Kazakhstan, as he fears it could hurt the warm relationship that the Kazakh president has with the Jewish community — and with Israel. “If he will think that the Jews are against him, and don’t like what he does, we will get the result,” he said.

While in America, Gershowitz, 26, has watched a few clips from the movie online and found them amusing, but he is not planning to go to a full screening before flying home.

“I want to see it, but I heard a lot of bad things about this movie also,” he said. “I understand it’s not so kosher. It’s not glatt kosher.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.