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

By Nathaniel Popper

Published November 24, 2006, issue of November 24, 2006.

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.”



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