The 100 Greatest Jewish Movie Moments, #89 – 80

89. Deathwish III (1985)

Death Wish 3 Jewish Movie Moment Heeb

This Jewish movie moment is a poetic reminder of an urban era gone by — the apex of inner-city violence, right before old-world Jews fled to suburbia. In this re-re-boot of the 1974 original, an old Orthodox couple, terrorized by hoodlums, kvell when vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) presents them with a human-sized mouse trap to protect their home.

88. The Chosen (1981)

The Chosen Robbie Benson The 100 Greatest Jewish Movie Moments

The bully breaks the nerd’s glasses. From Lord of the Flies to Take the Money and Run, it’s that moment when a character’s frailties are shown at their most vulnerable. Here, the smashed specs belong to Reuven Malter (Barry Miller). The bully? Hasid Danny Saunders (Robbie Benson) who smashes Malter’s softball pitch right back into his face. This little bit of violence sets in motion their friendship, and Chaim Potok’s meditation on how best to serve God, and yourself.

87. Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns Jewish Movie Moment Heeb

It’s Christmas Eve when the Penguin’s parents (played by Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger) dispose of a their deformed newborn. Placing him in a basket, they send him floating, Moses-style, down the sewer. Surprised they don’t seem to own a Christmas tree? You can cue the Wagner soundtrack right about now.

86. Ocean’s 13 (2007)

Oceans Thirteen Gould Heeb Jewish Movie Moment

Wait, isn’t that the dad from Friends? Indeed it is, but believe it or not, Elliot Gould was once one of America’s biggest stars. In the words of J. Hoberman, he “was a new breed of schlemiel—handsome, athletic, even dangerous.” As Reuben Tishkoff, the moneyman in George Clooney’s thieving fratpack, Gould chomps on cigars and barks out Yiddish with every sentence. His 60s-era lamé shirt is left unbuttoned so a gaudy Star of David can be seen nestling in his chest hair. A fascinating coda to a career spent imploding Jewish stereotypes.

85. Role Models (2008)

Role Models Jewish Movie Moment Heeb Wheeler Explains who KISS is to Ronnie

During court-ordered mentoring hours, Wheeler (Sean William Scott) introduces his “little brother,” Ronnie, to the music of KISS: “Four of the smartest guys who ever lived. They’re these Jewish guys who grew up in New York and put on guitars and make up to get girls and all their songs are about fucking.” Ronnie’s little mind’s blown. “I didn’t know Jews could sing like that!” he declares. Wheeler, ever the teacher, continues: “Back then they couldn’t, that’s why they had to wear makeup.” Now that Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan and Eli Roth wear their Semitic identities on their sleeves, KISS’s crypto Jewishness feels like an anachronism.

84. For Your Consideration (2006)

Most remain unaware of Christopher Guest’s status as an incognito Jew, but how many of Hollywood’s “out” tribespeople have attempted anything as audacious as For Your Consideration? A mockumentary about the making-of a period-piece drama (Home for Purim), For Your Consideration is the only metafiction to capture Parker Posey and Catherine O’Hara spinning groggers. How can you not respect that?

83. Witness (1985)

Amish kid Samuel Lapp (Lukas Haas) pulls a “reverse Frisco Kid” when he mistakes an Hasidic Jew for a fellow Amish. Watch his friendly little smile slowly crumple when, upon closer inspection, he realizes, Hey, this bearded black hat is even stranger than we are.

82. Lolita (1962)

Lolita Peter Sellers Clare Quilty Heeb 100 Greatest Jew Movie Moments

There’s a dissertation just waiting to be written on the fascinating and prescient ways Peter Sellers signified Jewishness. As Clare Quilty, he pretends to be Jewish émigré/Freudian psychiatrist “Doctor Zempf.” Even Humbert Humbert (James Mason), Lolita’s stepfather/molester, is surprised when “Zempf” argues for her involvement in the school play. (Of course, it’s all part of a complex plot to steal Lo.) “Vee Amerikans, vee are progressive and modern,” he proclaims. “Vee believe that it is equally important to prepare the pupils for the mutually satisfactory mating and the successful child rearing. That is vhat we believe.”

81. A Stranger Among Us (1992)

No scene on our list is more mystifying than this one. Watch the rebbe dance around a shabbos table with his never-explained guests: a guy dressed all in white and the black guy in the kente cloth. Kabbalist and Ethiopian Jew? Assyrian patriarch and African prince? Milkman and a street-corner DVD peddler? The scene’s a watershed for encapsulating all that’s problematic and infuriating about Jewishness on the silver screen. How did the same man who made The Pawnbroker make this stink bomb?

80. Spaceballs (1987)

Spaceballs Mel Brooks Yogurt may the Schwartz be with you Heeb Greatest Jewish Movie Moments

As if Yoda wasn’t Jewish enough. Mel Brooks dons greenface to teach the universe about the merits of muychandising. Don’t forget: Trust “the power of the Schwartz.”

[#100] [#99 – 90] [#89 – 80] [#79 – 70] [#69 – 60] [#59 – 50] [#49 – 40] [#39 – 30] [#29 – 20] [#19 – 11] [#10 – 1]

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About The Author

Josh became an editor-at-large after accruing exorbitant legal fees as the publisher of Heeb in his efforts to trademark the word "irreverent." Follow him on Twitter @joshuaneuman.

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