Who are movies’ top 10 Jewish tough guys?

By Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian

NEW YORK —The Avengers opened this weekend 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 super-heroes – and has been documented by some, there are also real life avengers – heroes who took revenge upon those who killed Jews.

Media has not often portrayed Jews as tough – but in real life there are many tough Jews, and there are also many tough Jewish characters in movies and TV.  It’s a list open for debate – but consists of no gangsters, is based on mainstream movies with mass-market appeal, and is written by a PR agency owner, not a rabbi.

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

*      Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski in Defiance – one of the greatest Jewish movies ever; these are 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.  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 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 Two.  It 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 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 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 – who 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 in The Ten Commandments, 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 – and 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.


Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR and  author of For Immediate Release, a book on the public relations industry.  5WPR is a a full-service public relations firm with practice areas in consumer, technology, health and wellness, entertainment, lifestyle, fashion, and corporate communications.



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Copyright 2012 San Diego Jewish World

5 Responses to “Who are movies’ top 10 Jewish tough guys?”

  1. richard Levy says:

    The world needs more tough Jews ! Thank you ronn Torossian for this article.

  2. Totally cool list! I didn’t know that the Avengers were based on historical characters. I love it!!!


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