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What's Borat really saying? Ask an Israeli

December 22, 2006|Aron Heller | Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Like moviegoing masses around the world, Israelis have crowded theaters to watch the hit spoof "Borat." But they are laughing for another reason: They actually understand what the anti-Semitic, misogynist Kazakh journalist is saying.

Few realize that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's wacky comedic creation, Borat Sagdiyev, is not speaking Kazakh or even gibberish, but rather Hebrew, the biblical language of the Jewish people.

The 35-year-old British comedian is no stranger to Israel. He is an observant Jew, his mother was born in Israel and his grandmother still lives in Haifa. In high school, he belonged to a Zionist Jewish youth group, Habonim Dror, and upon graduation spent a year working and studying on a kibbutz, or collective farm, in northern Israel. He has since returned for several visits, his Hebrew is excellent and his understanding of Israeli culture superb.

The irony of a Hebrew-speaking anti-Semite is not lost on the admiring Israeli audience, which has made the movie a huge hit here.

"It is extremely funny and kind of cool to realize that you are understanding something no one else does," said Gaby Goldman, 33, of Tel Aviv. "It's not just the Hebrew but also the way he speaks. He sounds almost Israeli, he sounds like one of us."

Israelis begin giggling right from the opening scene, when Borat departs his hometown in Kazakhstan for the "U.S. and A.," assuring a one-armed man in fake Kazakh: "Don't worry, I will bring you a new hand in America."

The subtitles give the direct translation, but there's no need in Israel. It merely repeats what Borat has just said in his impeccable Hebrew.

The film is peppered with Hebrew expressions and Israeli slang, inside jokes only Israelis could truly appreciate. In one scene, Borat sings the lyrics of the legendary Hebrew folk song "Koom Bachur Atzel," meaning "get up lazy boy." Later, he refers to a Kazakh government scientist, "Dr. Yarmulke," who proved that a woman's brain is the size of a squirrel's. Even Borat's signature catchphrase -- "Wa wa wee wa," an expression for "wow" -- derives from a skit on a popular Israeli comedy show and is often heard in Israel.

Uri Klein, movie critic for the Israeli daily Haaretz, said the Hebrew-sprinkled dialogue gave Israelis watching the mockumentary some added value and created an empathy with the Israeli audience. "We are the only ones who know what he is talking about," he said.

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