10 Toughest Jewish Characters in Film and Theater
“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:
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.
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.
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.
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