10 Tough Jewish Characters in Movie and Television

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“The Avengers” opened to the biggest film opening of all time – making over $200 million at the box office in a single weekend in cinemas in North America, and set to become one of only a handful of movies to gross $1 billion worldwide.  Unknown to many is that these characters were created by three Jews (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon), and the film consists of an all-star team of Marvel Super heroes. These were some tough Jewish superheroes – and as has been documented, they are also real life avengers and heroes who took revenge upon those who killed Jews.

The media has not often portrayed Jews as tough – but in real life there are many tough Jews as I recently wrote, and there are also many tough Jewish characters in movies and TV.  It’s a list open for debate, but it consists of no gangsters, entails mainstream movies with mass-market appeal, and is written by a PR agency owner, not a Rabbi.

In no particular order, below a list of the top 10 tough Jewish characters in Movie & TV:

* Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski in “Defiance”: Starring in one of the greatest Jewish movies ever, these were three Jewish warrior brothers who fought the Nazis; they were tough but decent good 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.  In the comedy movie “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 Basterds”: 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 Two, depicted a Jewish soldier who beat Nazis to death with a baseball bat.

* Richie Roberts in “American Gangster”:  Russell Crowe plays a detective who wears a Star of David 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.

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  • oldtimer

    How about BenHur, Moses, and David….

  • JerryJ26

    What about The Hebrew Hammer? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317640/

  • StephenD

    I know of a "Tough Jew" that went on a cross for crimes he didn't commit.

    Some call it the greatest story ever told.

    • mlcblog

      He saved me from utter destruction.

      • johnnywoods

        Me too.

  • kong.ming

    Doug "The Thug" Glatt from Goon.

  • Demetrius M

    StephanD – Good one – 5 thumbs up!
    I enjoyed Ben Kingsley playing Amos in The Assignment.

  • tagalog

    A real Jewish tough guy: Rosie Rosenburg of the 8th Air Force.

    Fictional tough guy: Irwin Shaw's Noah Ackerman in The Young Lions, who stands up to some antisemitic bullies in basic training in the Army who steal money from him by fighting them in fistfights one by one, gets beaten one by one, and finally gets tough enough that he beats the last guy.

    Also in The Young Lions is Captain Green, who is the U.S. officer in charge of the concentration camp that his unit liberates at the end of the war. When a rabbi asks if kaddish can be said for the dead Jewish prisoners, the local townspeoples' leaders protest that it would cause offense; Capt. Green orders machine guns to be set up on the guard towers, turned on the nearby town, and to open fire on the German citizens if there is any fuss. Tough.

    Brooklyn-born West Point grad Col. David "Mickey" Marcus, real AND a movie figure. Cast a Giant Shadow.

    William Holden as the Jewish violin player who becomes a professional boxer in Golden Boy.

    I also got a kick out of the GI Ranger (I think he's the BAR man) in Saving Private Ryan who taunts the German POWs in American hands, calling out to them "Ich bin ein Jude! Ich bin ein Jude!" Also Liebgott in Band of Brothers.

  • sharpsrifle

    I don't believe Thor is Jewish, nor is Captain America…as for the Hulk and Iron Man, who knows? Ben "The Thing" Grimm is EXPLICITLY Jewish, just as a note (and you just have to love when he hollers, "It's clobberin' time!" just before he cleans some villain's clock–and causes massive destruction at the same time).

  • Schlomotion

    I disagree with most of those nominees. These guys are better, I think:

    1) Oliver Reed as Proximo in Gladator.
    2) Dustin Hoffman as Babe in Marathon Man, Lenny Bruce in Lenny, Carl Bernstein in All the President's Men.
    3) Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz in Inglorious Basterds. (Eli Roth plays a loser.)
    4) Gila Almagor as Rachel in Ha-Hov (The original The Debt).
    5) Edward G. Robinson as Dathan in The Ten Commandments.
    6) Peter Strauss as Eleazar ben Yair in Masada.
    7) Eric Bogosian as Barry in Talk Radio.
    8) Howard Stern as himself in Private Parts.
    9) Ian McKellen as Magneto from X Men.
    10) George Arliss as Benjamin Disraeli in Disraeli.

    • tagalog

      Edward G. Robinson as Dathan? A tough Jewish guy? Well, the character is a Jew, so there's that…

      • Schlomotion

        He's tough from the standpoint of the archetype of the court Jew. He's not righteous, but he represents the toughest sycophant, trumped by Moses.

        • tagalog

          The toughest sycophant? Okay, I guess. "I suck up to those more powerful than me in a really tough way!"

    • aspacia

      Oh, please the goy, polytheist as a Jew. What are your smoking??

    • choi

      You are one sick FK

    • Ghostwriter

      I'm amazed you're even here,Schlomotion,considering how much you hate Jews and all. You'd probably have your beloved Palestinians kill these characters simply because they were Jewish.

  • Seth Bullock

    Add Commander Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5
    Sol Star on Deadwood (he had "sand")
    Ari Gold on Entourage
    Hesh on The Sopranos

  • marios

    Golda Meir role in "A Woman called Golda". Golda Meir was tough outstanding, courageous Jewish woman with principals. The most of Israel PM's are not up to her level. Ingrid Bergman's is one of the best role.
    However there were so many outstanding, prominent, tough heroes in Jewish history but leftists Hollywood prefer avoid this subject. … though anti-Semites blame them anyway that they "occupied" Hollywood. Such an irony.

  • Supreme_Galooty

    Sandy Koufax. If they haven't made a movie about him, they should. True gentleness is strength. The warrior's hands are the hands of the healer. It is not necessary to act like a tough guy in order to be tough. A lot of gentle tough guys out there. I know.

  • Fred

    How about Sammy Franco. Great martial arts guy. Look at his bio and photo with Jewish Star on his arm.

  • Stuart Parsons

    The tough Jew who died on a Cross did not actually die on the Cross. According to Moshe Allah in His best selling ‘The Holy Quran’, ‘they (the Jews) only thought they had killed him’.

    • johnnywoods

      The "tough Jew" who died on the cross did actually die and then resurrected still bearing the nail prints in HIS hands and feet . One day soon we will all get to see HIM with those scars and some of us will rejoice and others will tremble in terror. Maranatha!

    • stern

      The bracketed (the Jews) makes me wonder about your motivation. Unless I have been totally misinformed, wasn't it the Romans who nailed him?

  • Mercilis

    Rick in Casablanca, he was a tough Jew from NY. Read As Time Goes By for an explanation as to who he is.

  • suz

    Ziva David on NCIS, for sure.


    What about the real Mossad?

    They ensure that those who shed Jewish blood are punished.

    • stern

      Well, they used to. Unfortunately, they're reined in by a politically government these days. But still, love your nomination.

  • Mercilis

    What about Lepke Buchalter and Abe "Kid Twist" Reles (Peter Falk) in Murder, Inc. Benny Siegel in Bugsy, Noodles (deNiro) in Once Upon a Time In Americaand Dutch Schultz,

  • blackdog52

    My favorite is Robert Shaw's Major Kabokov, the sage, war weary Israeli commando who thwarts a terrorist attack on the superbowl in "Black Sunday" (1977).

  • ygalg

    why mixing fictional characters with real actual people who substantiate true heroism? this sort of gesture discredit the meaning the article meant to deliver.