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May 7, 2012 1:45 pm

10 Toughest Jewish Characters in Film and Theater

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Stan Lee. Photo: wiki commons.

“The Avengers” hit theaters this weekend in what turned out to be the biggest film opening of all time, taking in over $200 million at the box office in North American cinemas.  The film is on pace to become one of only a handful of movies to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Unknown to many is that the movie’s characters were created by three Jews (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon).

Jews have not always been portrayed as tough in the Media but in real life, as I recently wrote, there are many tough living Jews, and there are also many tough Jewish characters in movies and on TV whom I have listed below. It’s a list that is open for debate and includes characters from mainstream movies with mass-market appeal.

In no particular order, a list of the top 10 Tough Jews in Movie & TV:

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Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski in Defiance : one of the greatest Jewish movies ever, these are the three Jewish warrior brothers who fought the Nazis – tough but decent, real life (and on screen) heroes.

Ari Ben-Canaan in Exodus:  The heroic underground commander who outwits the British to bring Jewish immigrants into postwar Palestine. (Fittingly, the actor Paul Newman, who portrayed Ben-Canaan, self-identified as Jewish, “because 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.

Daniel Craig (right) in "Defiance". Photo: www.filmschoolrejects.com.

The Bear Jew in Inglorious Bastards: The bat-wielding Sgt. Dony Donowitz, a.k.a. “The Bear Jew,”  – played by Eli Roth in Quentin Tarantino’s movie about American Jewish soldiers in the immediate aftermath of World War II – was a Jewish soldier who beat Nazis to death.

Richie Roberts in American Gangster:  Russell Crowe plays a detective who wears a Star of David necklace, tracking down a drug lord, and stopping at nothing to take him down.

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 his faith. “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax—YOU’RE … RIGHT I LIVE IN THE PAST!” he says.

Taylor Reese in Knockaround Guys: Vin Diesel’s character takes off his jacket and reveals a huge Star of David tattoo on his arm. He then beats the toughest bully in a 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, and challenges his racist classmates along with the school administration.

Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, in American Gangster. Photo: www.resources0.news.com.au.

Tevye in Fiddler on The Roof: Perhaps the most famous Jewish character in theater or in film. He is indeed a tough man, one  who manages to keep his family together, knows when to laugh and how to keep 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.

Chazak Ve-ematz – be strong and have courage, are words from the Torah.  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 Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR firm and Author of “For Immediate Release”, a leading PR book.

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  • People rag on jews, but you got to admit, they get stuff done. On the screen, and in real life!

  • Shoshana

    I find this post rather sexist. You include no women characters and call Jewish actresses a distraction. I appreciate recognizing some tough Jews, but let’s broaden our definition and stop making snide comments about actresses.

    • A REAL American

      Ronn is talking about tough outwardly Jewish characters, not actors and actresses. But any list of this nature should have mentioned the character Ziva David from NCIS.

  • Magneto

  • Seth

    I don’t know how Ben Grimm got left off the list, especially considering he’s a creation of Stan Lee (who inspired this article)!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thing_%28comics%29#Religion

  • Abigail

    How could Moses not be in the Top 10 ? Doesnt make sense at all that he isnt a leading tough Jews. Ronn Torossian how could you miss Moses ?

    • Steven

      Moses missed the cut because Charlton Heston is the anti-Jew. The article gave short shrift to the performances, which are hard to separate from the character.

      • A REAL American

        Why do you say Heston is an “anti-Jew”?? What in the world does that mean?

        The Cecil B. DeMille version of Moses wasn’t very Jewish. Is that what you mean? I would blame that more on DeMille than on Heston.

        Ben Kinglsey and Val Kilmer (in cartoon form) also played Moses. And apparently Kilmer also played Moses in a musical version of the Ten Commandments.

        • Steven

          Come on, Heston was just such a W.A.S.P.! I will grant you that DeMille is the one who cast Heston and set the production’s tone.

  • Richard A.

    Tough JEWS ! Love it and the world needs many many more tough jews.

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