Forget Your Yiddische Mama, Jewish Father Knows Best

To celebrate Father’s Day in the United States, here are six of the very best on-screen Jewish dads.

Nathan Abrams
Nathan Abrams
Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad in 'American Reunion' (2012).
Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad in 'American Reunion' (2012).Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Nathan Abrams
Nathan Abrams

Abraham set the benchmark. Sigmund Freud was obsessed with him. Franz Kafka was afraid of him. Since the Bible, Jewish literature is full of them, but they've long been overshadowed by the Yiddische mama, the baalebusteh and the Jewish-American mother. This Father’s Day, though, it’s time to take the Jewish dad out of the shadows and place him in the limelight – where he belongs!

Here are some of our favorite Jewish fathers on film and television, in no particular order.

* The Cantor in “The Jazz Singer” is the archetypal, domineering father who represents the Old World of the Pale, standing in the way of his American-born son’s assimilation into the New World. He is particularly oppressive and rigid; the stern, tyrannical but pious patriarch who rejects rather than embraces America. Although made and remade various times (1927, 1952, 1980), the most memorable for us is Laurence Oliver in the latter version.

* Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy) – he has no other name – in “the American Pie” quadrilogy (1999, 2001, 2003, 2012) is a model of the patient, understanding Jewish father. He nurtures his son through a number of unfortunate genital-related mishaps, never batting an eyelid. He remains cool, for example, when Jim superglues his hand to his own member.

* Bernie Focker, played by legendary Jewish icon Dustin Hoffman in “Meet the Fockers” (2004) and “Little Fockers” (2010), is a horny, liberal, quirky, stay-at-home dad who has prioritized parenting over his own legal career. Relaxed and tactile, he wears a Day–Glo pink shirt unbuttoned to the waist. Adamantly uncompetitive, he celebrates his son’s mediocrity, displaying his ninth- and 10th-place trophies and ribbons on a so-called “Wall of Gaylord.” He’s also very proud that his son lost his virginity to their Latina maid.

* Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) in “The O.C.” is a real mensch. Although he’s a lawyer, he’s not the Saul Goodman-type. A public defender, he refuses to take a higher paying job out of his moral and ethical principles. He adopts a ne’er-do-well. And to cap it off, he’s not only intelligent, he’s also good-looking with a fine head of hair.

* Manny Rubens (Eddie Marsan) in the British film “Sixty Six” (2006) is an OCD manic depressive riddled with neuroses and anxieties. He refuses to drive more than 30 miles per hour and hides his money in a box in the attic. In his favor, though, he is married to a character played by Helena Bonham-Carter and ultimately takes his son to see England win the World Cup on the day of his bar mitzvah in 1966.

* Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) in “Independence Day” (1996) is a hysterical, smothering Jewish mother stand-in. He constantly berates his son, David (Jeff Goldblum) for being a failure, and goads him about his marital status – single, of course. On the plus side, he helps his computer whiz-kid son save the world from alien invasion.

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