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February 26, 2013 3:02 am

Top Ten Tough Jewish Movies

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Hebrew Hammer DVD cover. Photo: Wikipedia

In the comedy movie Knocked Up one of the characters says he loves the movie Munich because  in “Every movie with Jews, we’re the ones getting killed. ‘Munich’ flips it on its ear. We’re capping (people)… and taking names.”

As one who owns a PR firm, I have noticed that the portrayal of Jews in movies is often the Woody Allen type, rather than a tough guy. Recently, Arthur Phillips wrote in his New York Times best-seller, The Tragedy of Arthur, “In American literature and movies, the reigning Jew is still the meek scholar or the mild family man, although I’ve lately noticed a growing cinematic population of tough Jews, surprising hero soldiers, rebels, kickers of Nazis ass, the occasional gangster…”

So, while beautiful celebrity Jewish women are front and center, from Scarlett Johansson and Bar Rafaeli, to Natalie Portman and Maggie Gyllenhaal, I believe that tough Jewish movies deserve more attention. Beauty and brawn are both desirable.

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Here is my list of the Top 10 Tough Jewish Movies Ever:

  • Defiance: It is impossible to watch this movie as a Jew and not rejoice with pride at the valor of the Bielski brothers and their heroism in fighting the Nazis and in teaching us not just how to fight, but also how to live. Even more impressive is that they were real heroes and saviors of Jews and not merely fictional creations.
  • Exodus: This Zionist epic describes the great tale of the creation of the Jewish state. Starring Paul Newman, it’s a who’s who in Hollywood cast and a must-see.
  • The Avengers: The Marvel superhero movie is the third highest-grossing film of all time with revenues exceeding $1.5 billion. The movie is about good fighting evil, is made by Jewish filmmakers and is created by Austrian-American Jew Jack Kirby. These superheroes aren’t real, but a 1967 book called “The Avengers” documents a group of Holocaust survivors who hunted down Nazis and killed them.
  • Raid on Entebbe: With Charles Bronson playing an Israeli commando, what more can be said? This is based on the actual fantastic and miraculous mission of freeing Jewish hostages being held by Palestinian terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the commander who orchestrated the rescue mission and was killed as the successful mission ended.
  • Once Upon a Time in America: The epic gangster movie tells the story of Jewish kids on the Lower East Side and their rise to gangster prominence among Italian and Irish mobsters. While not quite a heroic film, it shows Jews in a different time and age when they were seen as weak and timid immigrants, having escaped Russian and Eastern European Persecution in search of the safety of America, as strong and powerful people.
  • Munich: If Israel has taught the world anything, it is that Jewish blood is not cheap. Indeed the Israeli Defense Force will not allow Jews to die in vain. The movie may have its shortcomings, but the daunting Mossad protects Jewish dignity and pride worldwide, and this is a depiction of the hunting down and killing of the terrorists who killed the 1972 Israeli Olympic team in the city that the movie was named for.
  • School Ties: A hard-working Jewish college student must fight anti-Semitism, while being used to win football games for a prep school. Throughout it, the character of David Green remains a mensch.
  • Fiddler on The Roof: Not just a great tough Jew movie, but a great movie all around, the main character Tevye is a real hero. He protects his family and his faith stands up to the thugs who disrupt his daughter’s wedding and is a macho man through and through, and he remains true to his people and his faith throughout.
  • The Hebrew Hammer: While not a great movie, there’s a classic scene which shows a bar fight with skinheads, where the hammer yells: ‘Shabbat Shalom, Motherf******!’ and that alone may be worth watching. Watching him protect the Jewish community gets this movie named to my Top 10 Tough Jewish Movies list.
  • Knockaround Guys: Vin Diesel is the tough guy of a crew of tough guys – and has a huge Star of David tattoo on his arm. He doesn’t lose a fight and is the constant protector.

I always enjoy seeing tough Jews, and the movies that portray them.

Ronn Torossian is an entrepreneur, author and philanthropist. He’s a proud Jew who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

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  • willie mays

    A hard-working Jewish college student must fight anti-Semitism, while being used to win football games for a prep school.

    —-well, which is ity? a college student or a prep school? because it can’t be both. is there anyone editing this stuff?

  • Raymond in DC

    “The Avengers” is hardly a movie about tough Jews. It’s a movie made by Jews imagining being tough. “X-Men” at least portrays a fantasy tough Jew (Magneto). Agree, “Inglorious Bastards” depicts tough Jews, but it’s alternate history.

    Of course, there are movies that were never made. “Raid on the Sun”, a book by Roger Claire about the raid on the Iraqi reactor, would make a great “based on actual events” movie about real tough, determined Jews. But in today’s world, a movie portraying Israelis as heroes wouldn’t find much of a market.

  • Hello

    Just wanted to say that I find your content to be superior to a majority of what’s out there. I’ve alas found an oasis of hope in these pages, and thank both the writers/editors, and the readership for offering comments.

    Theory about the omission of the Tarantino flick: Too campy and over the top.

    I also recommend an obscure Russian film entitled ‘Come and See’.

    Jewish resistance fighters battle in Ukraine, during the open-air killings of 1941.
    (Film is not for the feint by any means.)


  • Jonny

    do tell why Inglorious Bastards isn’t on this list?

    • JamesEJ

      Inglorious Basterds is probably too tough for the list I’m guessing.

    • Manoflamatzah

      I second the question.. I am sure it is an oversight – pretty obvious