Connect with us
Israel Bonds RRSP


25 years ago, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ presented a rare portrait of a Jewish soldier in film

(JTA) — According to the Jewish Virtual Library, 550,000 Jews served in the United States armed forces during World War II. There were 38,338 Jewish casualties, while 26,000 Jewish soldiers “received citations for valor and merit.”

But in high-profile TV and film, identifiably Jewish soldiers have been a rare sight.

One exception came 25 years ago this week, when Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” hit theaters.

The movie is perhaps best known for its opening sequence, for which Spielberg brutally recreated the invasion of Normandy. From there, the film follows a unit led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) searching through Nazi-occupied France to rescue Private James Francis Ryan (a very young Matt Damon), whose three brothers were all killed in combat.

The characters are played by the likes of Barry Pepper, Jeremy Davies, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore and Giovanni Ribisi; the Jew of the group is Stanley “Fish” Mellish, a witty wisecracker implicitly from New York played by Adam Goldberg. 

“Every WWII combat squad seems to have been issued a statistically precise percentage of American types — Irish guy, Italian guy, Jewish guy, farm boy, city boy, old guy, young guy etc — but that trope [in WWII films] was very important in teaching the lessons of teamwork and tolerance,” Prof. Thomas Doherty of Brandeis University, author of the book “Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II,” told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“It had resonance because so many of the combat squads really were made up of a diverse collection of American types, working shoulder to shoulder and encountering each [other] for the first time,” he added. 

Doherty said that his own father, an Irish-American World War II veteran, “didn’t really know any Jews until he served with some” during the war. 

Mellish is a proud Jew, as his dialogue makes clear. “Your father was circumcised by my rabbi,” he yells at Nazis in the middle of a gun battle. In one famous scene, Mellish brandishes his Jewish star necklace and taunts German prisoners by saying: “I’m Juden. You know, Juden.” 

In an interview with JTA earlier this year, Goldberg said that the horrors of Nazi antisemitism seemed like a distant part of history when “Private Ryan” was made in the 1990s (just five years after Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”). But more recent events have disabused him of that notion. 

“What’s interesting about that, is that… I don’t know how moved I was by that at the time,” Goldberg said of the “Juden” scene while promoting an episode of his CBS procedural “The Equalizer,” in which his character deals with a wave of antisemitic hate crimes. “If you’re doing a good job, and you’re there and you’re present, and it’s 1944… but the truth of it was, it was 1997. And it wouldn’t be until a couple of years later, when I found my name on a white supremacist website, which consisted at that time of a single page… I had no idea how bad shit was, until the internet. And how bad it’s gotten IRL.”

During the years that Donald Trump was president, when Jews on social media received a steep uptick in online antisemitism, Goldberg became known online for tangling with Jew-hating trolls. He told JTA he keeps a folder called “Nazis” on his phone of screenshots of Twitter and other messages from people expressing “an incredible amount of hate” towards him.

Goldberg, who went on to star in the schlocky comedy “The Hebrew Hammer,” said that he is often asked about his turn in “Saving Private Ryan,” which was released when he was 28 years old. 

Near the end of the film, Mellish dies, stabbed by a German after a protracted knife fight. Goldberg told JTA that mechanics of his death scene came about from “my facility with a bayonet,” as established during a boot camp training period. 

Spielberg, in hat and shown on the set, won the Oscar for best director in 1999. (Paramount Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Images)

While Spielberg hasn’t spoken much over the years about the specifics of the Mellish character, actor Jeremy Davies told the Los Angeles Times five years ago that Spielberg had determined on the day the scene was shot how exactly Mellish’s death would be presented (which includes Davies’ character of Private Upham freezing up as his friend is slowly killed). 

The depiction of the Mellish character wasn’t universally loved. The famed critic Andrew Sarris, writing in the New York Observer, argued that no war movies at the time “even bothered to suggest that the war against Hitler was connected to his persecution of the Jews.” He thought the film implied that soldiers like Mellish, in 1944, wouldn’t have known about the death camps at that time. 

In terms of other World War II movies that touched on the Jewish experience of the war, Doherty mentioned “The Young Lions” (1958), “The Pride of the Marines” (1945) and “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947), in which John Garfield “plays a Jewish combat vet subjected to antisemitism.”

Goldberg looked fondly upon his experience making the film. 

“It was a very deeply collaborative experience,” he said. “Steven I think had really made a point of hiring people who he knew were going to give him a lot of feedback, improvisation… there’s a whole scene that was cut from the movie… where we improvised an entire scene in character where we talk about death.”

“It was an experience like no other, and it was a history lesson that I could not have had in any other way,” he added.

The post 25 years ago, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ presented a rare portrait of a Jewish soldier in film appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply


Comedian Who Orchestrated ‘Antisemitic Rally’ is Banned by Top London Theater

The Soho Theater in London’s West End. Photo: Ewan Monro/Creative Commons

A leading London theater has banned the comedian whose show last weekend caused a furor after it turned into what some members of the audience likened to an “antisemitic rally.”

In a statement on Monday, the Soho Theater said that the comedian, Paul Currie, would not be “invited back to perform at our venue.”

During his show last Saturday night, Jewish members of the audience were hounded out of the auditorium by a baying crowd led by Currie — whose mimed show purposefully includes music but no verbal communication with the audience — after one Jewish man, who is an Israeli citizen, refused to stand in tribute to the Palestinian flag which Currie brought on stage.

After the round of applause was over, Currie pointed to the man and quizzed him over why he had remained seated.

The unnamed Israeli man replied, “I enjoyed your show until you brought out the Palestinian flag.” An infuriated Currie began screaming, “Leave my show now! Get out of my f—-ing show!” in response.

As the man and his partner rose to leave, accompanied by a handful of other shocked audience members, the assembled crowd began chanting “Get out” and “Free Palestine.”

In a written complaint to the theater over his treatment, the man wrote: “Shaken and feeling threatened by the growing antagonism, we exited and tried to complain/get some support from the front-of-house team at the theatre, who were not very sympathetic but did give us an email address to make a complaint. By this time, the show had ended and the audience started exiting, a number of whom were glaring at us aggressively and in a very threatening way. We all left the scene.”

He added: “Our friends later received a message from someone they knew who had also been at the show, saying that after we left, the situation became even more inflamed. What had been intended to be an evening of comedy turned out to be what felt like an antisemitic rally.”

In its statement disavowing Currie, the Soho Theater noted that “following the end of Paul Currie’s show, ‘Shtoom,’ Jewish members of the audience were subjected to verbal abuse and the performer aggressively demanding they leave the theater.”

It continued: “Such appalling actions are unacceptable and have no place on our stages, now or ever. We will not be inviting Paul Currie back to perform at our venue.”

The theater said that it had met with representatives of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which has been providing support and advice to the affected audience members, as well as with the police.

In a separate statement, the CAA expressed appreciation for the theater’s decision, confirming that it was still examining legal action against Currie under British anti-discrimination laws.

It said that the theater “has engaged with us positively and swiftly. It is clear that the venue was caught by surprise. The show was supposed to be non-verbal, and had been on previous evenings. Soho Theatre has clearly condemned Paul Currie and confirmed that he will never again perform on their stage. The theatre is cooperating with the police investigation. We will be arranging for senior representatives of the theatre to meet with Jewish members of the audience to talk about what happened.”

The CAA emphasized that it was “continuing to review legal options in respect of Mr Currie and are discussing the matter with members of the audience.”

The post Comedian Who Orchestrated ‘Antisemitic Rally’ is Banned by Top London Theater first appeared on

Continue Reading


Jewish Man Stabbed Six Times During Antisemitic Assault in Paris

ILLUSTRATIVE Nearly 200,000 people took to the streets of Paris to protest rising antisemitism on Nov. 2023. Photo: Reuters/Claire Serie

Police in Paris have arrested a man over the stabbing of a Jewish man on Monday night by a former friend of the victim who is said to have become “obsessed” with Jews.

According to an eyewitness, the 35-year-old victim, who has not been named, was walking with his partner in the 14th arrondissement of the French capital when they were confronted by the assailant, who was armed with a knife. The assailant was reported to have uttered antisemitic invective before stabbing the man in the back six times.

Police said that the victim was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. Journalists who visited the site of the attack on Tuesday reported that blood stains still remained on the sidewalk outside the launderette where the stabbing took place.

According to Le Parisien, a news outlet, the assailant fled down a nearby street after stabbing his victim. He was arrested several hours later at his home address. The paper said that the victim and the assailant had been friendly during childhood and had recently “reconnected,” only for the victim to discover that his former friend has developed an “obsession” with Jews. The victim had already filed a complaint with the police for antisemitic threats and malicious phone calls from the assailant.

Residents and traders in the area where the attack took place expressed their shock. “The world has gone crazy,” one fruit stall holder told Le Parisien. “Most of the time here, it’s quiet. Everybody knows each other.”

In a statement posted to X/Twitter, the Union of Jewish Students in France (UEJF) said it was “deeply shocked” by the attack.

“All our thoughts are with the victim, to whom we wish a speedy recovery,” the UEJF said.

Antisemitic incidents have skyrocketed in France since the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in Israel.

Last month, the French-Jewish umbrella organization Crif disclosed that 1676 antisemitic incidents had been recorded in 2023 — four times the number registered during the previous year and an unprecedented record.

While in past years the majority of the incidents involved vandalism of property, in 2023, 58 percent of the incidents recorded were directed against people, with 13 percent occurring in schools.

The Oct. 7 atrocities had “acted like a catalyst for hatred by activating latent antisemitism,” Crif president Yonathan Arfi said.

The post Jewish Man Stabbed Six Times During Antisemitic Assault in Paris first appeared on

Continue Reading


An Israeli Baseball Star Inspires Our Community, and Unites All Jews

Assaf Lowengart. Photo: Israel Baseball’s X account.

The Jewish sports world is abuzz after Assaf Lowengart signed with the New York Boulders of the independent Frontier League, making him the first Israeli-born position player to sign a professional baseball contract in the US. Lowengart signed on Feb. 9, and the local Jewish community of Rockland has already wholeheartedly embraced him.

JTA reports:

The support Lowengart has felt from the Jewish community is one reason he is looking forward to joining the Boulders, who play in a county where roughly a third of the residents are Jewish, many of them Orthodox … “Being able to come back there with the big Jewish community, it’s going to be pretty amazing,” Lowengart said. “I’ve been in many colleges, and the Jewish communities usually weren’t that big. So it’s going to be a pretty cool experience being connected to the Jewish community this time, having them behind me, having them support me and being able to contribute back to them.”

This “pretty amazing” support of the heavily Orthodox local community for the secular and nonobservant Lowengart is a masterclass of the Jewish unity — or achdut — that we need so desperately. We’ve seen such achdut, with Israel at war; secular and religious, left and right have connected on the basis of their shared Jewishness as opposed to harping on their differences.

Admittedly, the Boulders are not the Yankees or the Mets; Rockland’s Jewish community is excited to have Lowengart in their county not because he’s a celebrity, but because he’s their brother. That some of these fans may be of a different religious strata than Assaf is of no consequence here, proving the phrase from the Shabbat prayer yekum purkan is alive and well: “kol yisrael achehem” — “all Jews are brothers!”

Rockland’s Jews are continuing a tradition of achdut and baseball. Shtetl Jews who immigrated to America in the early 20th century were known to support Jewish ballplayers with fierce attachment. Some didn’t understand or even like baseball, but if a Jew was in the lineup, they would go to support him. This came to a head in 1923, when the New York Giants baseball team had a problem. The cross-town Bronx squad, the Yankees, had Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, whose towering home runs drew fans, ticket sales, and wins away from the Giants.

How to get fans and victory back to the Polo Grounds? Giants manager John McGraw explained: “We appreciate that many of the fans in New York are Jews, and we have been trying to land a prospect of Jewish blood.” They signed Mose Solomon, who set the minor league home run record that year, billed as “The Rabbi of Swat,” to compete with Ruth. And in his first week as a Giant, the plan was working as Mose batted .375 and drew tremendous crowds of Jews coming to see him. But that was it: one week, and Solomon was gone from the Majors forever, as his terrible fielding made him a liability. The Yankees went on to win their first World Series that year, have dominated the game ever since, and ran the Giants out of town to San Francisco.

But the Jews who came to watch Solomon in the two games he appeared in didn’t care that he was a clumsy outfielder. He was a fellow Jew. We wish Assaf Lowengart better luck on the field than Mose, and continued Jewish solidarity, love, and support.

Joshua Blustein is a student at the University of Chicago Law School.

The post An Israeli Baseball Star Inspires Our Community, and Unites All Jews first appeared on

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News