The Avengers opened last weekend to the biggest film opening of all time. The film made more than $200 million at the box office in a single weekend in cinemas in North America, and is set to become one of only a handful of movies to gross $1 billion worldwide. However, what many people don’t know is that these characters were created by three Jews (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon) and that the film consists of an all-star team of Marvel superheroes. These were some tough Jewish superheroes!
The media has not often portrayed Jews as tough, but in real life there are many tough living Jews as I recently wrote for JMag. However, there are many tough Jewish characters in pop culture. Read on to discover my Top 10 Toughest Jewish Characters in Movies and TV. It’s a list open for debate, but consists of no gangsters, mainstream movies with mass-market appeal, and is written by a PR agency owner, not a Rabbi.
In no particular order, here are my Top 10 Tough Jews in Pop Culture:
- Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski in Defiance
One of the greatest Jewish movies ever, these are three Jewish warrior brothers who fought the Nazis, They are tough, but decent. Good, real-life (and on-screen) heroes.
- Ari Ben-Canaan in Exodus
Ari Ben-Canaan plays the heroic underground commander who outwits the British to bring Jewish immigrants into postwar Palestine. (Fittingly, Paul Newman, who portrayed Ben-Canaan, self-identified as Jewish because he says, “it’s more of a challenge.”)
- Avner in Munich
Avner and the other Mossad agents were strong Jews who let terrorists understand that Jewish blood is not cheap. In the comedy Knocked Up, a few Jewish characters discuss how great it was to watch tough Jews beating people up, killing them and taking revenge – I agree.
- The Bear Jew in Inglorious Bastard
The bat-wielding Sgt. Dony Donowitz, a.k.a. “The Bear Jew,” was played by Eli Roth in Quentin Tarantino’s movie about American Jewish soldiers in the immediate aftermath of World War II and depicted a Jewish soldier who beat Nazis with a baseball bat.
- Richie Roberts in American Gangster
Russell Crowe plays a detective who wears a Star of David symbol and tracks down a drug lord, stopping at nothing to win.
- Zohan Dvir in Don’t Mess with the Zohan
Surely the toughest hairdresser ever, this ex-Israeli commando played by Adam Sandler was a kind-hearted fighter with extreme capabilities.
- Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski
What a character, an absolute tough Jew who defends the faith. “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax – You’re …. Right I live in the past!”
- Taylor Reese in Knockaround Guys
Vin Diesel’s character in the movie has him take off his jacket where he had a huge Star of David tattoo on his arm. He then beat the toughest bully in the neighborhood bar to a bloody pulp.
- David Greene in School Ties
Portrayed by Brandon Frasier, Greene is a working class tough kid who wins a football scholarship. He’s handsome, smart and hard-working, but also challenges his anti-Semitic classmates and the school administration.
- Tevye in Fiddler on The Roof
Perhaps the most famous Jewish character in theater or movies, he is indeed a tough man who manages to keep his family together, knows when to laugh and keeps his faith despite tremendous difficulty. He stands up to the thugs who disrupt his daughter’s wedding and keeps the faith.
There were some close runner-ups, including Charlton Heston as Moses, and multiple Kirk Douglas characters. The quintessential tough Jew, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, wrote movies and books throughout his life – and it’s fitting that today there are dozens of movies depicting tough Jewish characters.
Chazak Ve-ematz – Be Strong and Have Courage are words from the Torah – and it’s beautiful to see courageous Jews portrayed on screen as they are in real life. As you watch The Avengers, think of strong tough Jews, and don’t get distracted by the gorgeous (and Jewish) actress Scarlett Johansson.