One of the most wonderful aspects of movies is the escape they provide from the mundane world in which most people spend their lives. One particular version of escape, represented by films such as Goodfellas or Pulp Fiction, feature characters or storylines that most people would never want to encounter in their real lives. Movie fans cherish these individual moments and characters that transcend mere storytelling and are elevated into the realm of the “bad ass” – a mythic place where violence is the norm and people aren’t motivated by the fear and worry that preoccupy the average human experience.
Jews don’t generally make frequent appearances in these films. Perhaps, this is a leftover of past prejudice – a remnant of the “weak,” bookish Jewish stereotype. If you search the internet for Jewish films, you’ll find numerous results that include characters that could be held up as examples of this stereotype. Whether it’s Annie Hall (or more or less anything featuring Woody Allen) to the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, Jews in film usually aren’t showing up “to chew bubblegum and kick ass.”
Strong Jews, or films that feature Jews in violent situations, are rare but have become more common over the last 20 years. This means there is no longer a shortage of “tough” Jewish cinema. So if you’re looking for a Hebraic-themed escape into ass kicking, please consider the following list of “bad ass” Jewish moments in film as a starting point.
Language and violence warnings for all the following clips, so don’t watch these at the office if you work in one of those places that cares about that kind of thing.
10. “Shabbat Shalom Mother F*$%ers”
The Hebrew Hammer is perhaps the clearest example of a Jewish crime-fighting anti-hero. Most easily explained as Shaft, but Jewish, this one’s a bit too obvious and over the top. It nevertheless merits a place on the list simply for the pure undeniable genius of the film’s most repeated line.
Nothing quite says “tough” like overcoming social challenges at a mid-1950’s New England prep school. Well maybe lots of things do, but that’s nevertheless the premise behind School Ties, in which Brendan Fraser plays, ironically, a Jewish football star recruited to lead the preppy kids to victory. Whatever the setup, we can all appreciate our Jewish hero for standing out in the rain, waiting to fight the sneaky bastard who left a Swastika in his dorm room.
8. Waltzing With Ron Ben-Yishai
One of Israel’s most famous war correspondents and journalists, Ben-Yishai taps his years of experience to lay down some wisdom on the Israeli-Arab conflict. I have a friend who heard Ben-Yishai deliver a lecture on his experience covering Israel’s unfortunately numerous conflicts. Apparently, he is every bit as bad-ass in person as he is in this scene from the artful Lebanon war-flick, Waltz With Bashir.
7. What’s Good And What’s Pleasant
Generally considered to be Israel’s most daring raid, the rescue of hijacked passengers from Uganda’s Entebbe airport was immortalized in more than one film. This scene comes from Raid On Entebbe starring Charles Bronson and featuring a ridiculously young James Woods (yes, this is a TV movie but we won’t hold that against it). The song featured here speaks of how important it is to sit together as brothers, perhaps never more important that right before battle.
6. I Don’t Roll On Shabbos!
I have to admit that I just don’t get The Big Lebowski. Maybe I was too young when I saw it, maybe the humor just doesn’t fit me, but this is one movie that never had the allure to me as it clearly does to so many of its cult followers. But there is one moment in this movie that is so profoundly bad-ass while also being deeply Jewish. That is of course the moment that John Goodman’s gun-totting Walter proclaims his love for the Jewish day of rest by affirming that he doesn’t roll on Shabbos.
5. That’s One Way To Capture A Nazi
In The Debt, Jessica Chastain plays a Mossad agent sent to capture a notorious Nazi doctor hiding in East Berlin after the war. She poses as a patient coming to him for help with fertility problems. I’m not sure if they teach this move in Krav Maga, but she is able to capture the Nazi in one of the most unique ways possible.
4. When Magneto Was A Nazi Hunter
I can’t tell if this moment is so bad-ass because it involves Nazis again (notice a theme yet?) or simply because Michael Fassbender’s performance as Magneto is so amazing here. Fassbender’s mutant villain is famously motivated by his experience as a Holocaust survivor. In multiple X-Men movies we see how Magneto is “born” in Auschwitz as he first discovers his mutant powers to move metal. In this amazing scene from X-Men: First Class, we watch as Magneto tracks down the former guards from the concentration camp. It’s as if Simon Wiesenthal discovered mutant powers.
3. Tuvia’s Revenge
In Defiance, James Bond … I mean Daniel Craig, plays Tuvia Bielski, the real-life leader of a band of Jews who hid in the forests of Belarus. This movie is, in a strange way, a more positive Holocaust movie (if such a thing exists) since the Jews in it manage to hold their own and fight for their freedom. One scene in particular, however, is as bad-ass as it is brutal. After discovering that his father has been murdered, Tuvia tracks down the local police officer and his sons who helped deliver his family to the Germans. He makes the officer kneel down before recounting the names of all of his relatives who had been murdered before killing the officer and his sons.
2. Basically Every Moment Of Inglourious Basterds
The penultimate selection on this list and it’s simultaneously one of the easiest and most difficult. It’s easy because Inglourious Basterds is basically one bad-ass moment after the other, but it’s also hard because how can you pick just one moment? The whole movie is about a team of Jews killing Nazis in WWII. I watched this movie in Israel, which was partly unfortunate do to the fact that so much of the movie isn’t in English and the subtitles were in Hebrew, but was also amazing because the climax of this movie takes place in a theater. It was a strange out-of-body experience to sit in a theatre full of Jews watching Hitler, Goebbels, and a theater full of Nazi bigwigs massacred in an orgy of bullets, fire, and death by a team of pissed-off yids. So … thanks for that Quentin Tarantino.
1. Melting Nazi Faces
I don’t know what thread of evil genius Steven Spielberg tapped into when he came up with the idea of an archaeologist fighting Nazis who were trying to steal the Ark of the Covenant and turn it into a weapon of mass destruction, but boy does it work. The end of Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most famous in film, but in my opinion it’s the single most bad-ass moment in Jewish film – and not because both Spielberg and Harrison Ford are members of the tribe. No, in this case it’s not even Jews who are being bad-ass. In this climactic, face-melting moment, it’s G-d’s turn to met out bad-ass justice on a bunch of Nazis.
I guess the lesson of this scene is that “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” G-d led us out of Egypt in order to melt Nazi faces like a bunch of cheap candles from the Body Shop.