Women in Judaism have always played a fundamental role in establishing our tradition, embedding our history – and confirming our greatness as a people. Thick-skinned, the Jewish people are inclined to be strong and tough, and of course so many of us were raised by strong Jewish mothers.
Jewish history paints a vibrant picture of female Jewish leaders who have taught us many lessons about standing up in the face of danger and taking charge in difficult times. There’s a long history of strong, tough Jewish women; from the Biblical Mothers to Queen Shlomzion, who in the face of deep difficulty was firmly devoted to Jewish teachings; heroic Hannah Shenesh who parachuted into Europe to save Jews during World War Two; and Golda Meir who was the leader of Israel and one of the first female leaders of any world nation.
Having previously written about tough Jews, I wanted to provide a lighthearted view of the Top 10 strong Jewish women & characters in media and television. These women, including on-air characters and real-life people, are strong and resilient, much like so many laudable Jewish women worldwide:
Ziva David (NCIS): The former Mossad officer, who speaks nine different languages, is smart, devoted to her mission, and strong-willed. Ziva proudly demonstrates her Israeli patriotism by wearing a Magen David necklace. David epitomizes tough Jewish woman when she says, “In the Mossad we have a saying, ‘Knives never run out of bullets” and with that, proving her way around a weapon. For those seeking a strong Israeli woman on-screen, look no further than Ziva David of NCIS.
Gal Gadot: The Israeli brunette beauty will play Wonder Woman in the upcoming movie Batman vs. Superman. Gadot has starred previously in Fast and Furious (where she performed her own stunts) – and is a traditional woman deeply committed to her family and her people. An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veteran, Gadot has said “Jewish identity means family, the holidays, the traditions, and home.” Besides being a great actress, Gal is a motorcycle aficionado – that’s one tough Jewish woman.
Shosanna Dreyfuss (Inglorious Bastards): Played by Jewish actress Melanie Laurent, Shoshanna forcibly stands up to the Nazis and plots the downfall of the Nazi regime. She practices vengeance against those scheming against the Jewish people and succeeds. It is clear why Laurent is the best known Jewish actress in France
Emmanuelle Chriqui: She’s a Moroccan-Jew raised with tradition, and involved with Israel and numerous charities. Chriqui is quite well-known for her role as Sloan on HBO”s Entourage and is currently playing the role of Herodia in Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus film. Chriqui also starred in “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” with Adam Sandler.
Rachel Berner (The Debt): Courageously played by Helen Mirren, Rachel is a member of the Mossad in her older years, yet sets out to find and kill a Nazi war criminal.
Jane Smith (Mr and Mrs Smith): Played by Angelina Jolie, the assassin is resourceful, charismatic, and of course incredibly beautiful. As she reveals in one scene, “I am Jewish”, there can be no question that this character qualifies for the strong Jewish women list. (Notably, Jolie’s father, actor Jon Voight is a valiant defender of Israel and the Jews, having said, “I am and I always have been in total awe of the Jewish people. They are the conscience of the world. They hold the greatest gift to man: the Torah.”)
Tania Chernova (Enemy at the Gates): Played by Rachel Weisz (whose father is Jewish and her mother converted to Judaism), Tania was a resistance fighter who became a sniper and chose to fight the Nazis after they killed her parents. In this true story, Tania was intelligent, principled and proud of her Zionist ideology.
Gemma Teller Morrow (Sons of Anarchy): Played by Katey Sagal (Her father was Jewish, and she has described herself as “culturally Jewish”), Morrow portrays the proud mother, wife and matriarch of a biker gang. Violent, and erratic, she’s fiercely devoted to family and can become one angry Jewish woman. Sagal won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series for this role.
Isabelle (Predators): In the 2010 movie starring Adrien Brody, Isabelle is an Israel Defense Forces black-ops sniper who survives in the face of fierce alien predators. Tough and infused with attitude, Isabelle keeps her large sniper rifle and pistol attached to her throughout the movie.
Scarlett Johansson: Any list of this sort would be remiss if Scarlett Johansson is not mentioned. The native New York actress has starred in many movies, often playing gorgeous, charismatic, strong and tough superheroes. Johansson displayed leadership, moral clarity and courage to the world when she stood up for Israel by stepping down as “global ambassador” of Oxfam due to the organization’s boycott of Israeli settlements. On this issue she noted that she and Oxfam “have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
Having strong Jewish women in pop culture is an excellent role model for all everywhere. Chazak Ve-ematz — Be Strong and Have Courage — are words from the Torah, and these women do.