Jewish Journal


July 11, 2008

Borat and the Jewish cowboy


The realty office would be a better fit in Tombstone, Ariz., than midcity Los Angeles. A wound rope hangs on a wall next to a breast collar, bull horns and antique rifles; on the other walls are cowboy hats and a saddle and horseshoes and spurs and more ropes and more bull horns and a wagon wheel. A life-size cardboard John Wayne peers through the doorway, welcoming visitors.

Smiling behind the desk is Steve Freed, a blue-blooded Jewish product of Beverly Hills High School, a successful industrial real estate developer and owner, and a ... cowboy.

“This isn’t a typical office of a Beverly Hills executive,” Freed, tall, thin and tanned, in jeans and cowboy boots, said dryly.

That, like the fact Freed doesn’t run into many other Jewish cowboys, is a given. Not since the Southwest was pioneer country and Adolphus Sterne smuggled arms to Sam Houston have Jewish cowboys been commonplace.

No, today when we think of cowboys the image that comes to mind, at least for this reporter, is of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Borat inciting a Tucson bar to join him in signing “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”

“Most of these people have never met a Jewish person that they know of,” Freed said as he recounted his rodeo exploits, “and some will look to see how big my horns are.”

So begins a short feature I wrote this week about the Jewish John Wayne, in which I just had to reference the above video. By far my favorite of Sacha Baron Cohen’s many contributions to society, it’s amazing how easily he spurs the crowd into age-old anti-Semitism, even better, as a social mirror, than when he got a Virginia rodeo manager to preach some rabid Islamophobia. But where, I must ask, does this idea that Jews have horns come from?

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