10 Tough Jewish Characters in Movie and Television

Chazak Ve-ematz -- Be Strong and Have Courage -- are words from the Torah.

“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.

* Walter Sobchak in "The Big Lebowski”: What a character, but 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 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; handsome, smart and hard-working, he challenges his racist 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. He 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 all his life – and it’s fitting that today there are movies depicting tough Jewish 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.

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