Fifty years ago, in the wake of Israeli’s lightning victory in the Six-Day War, a poster circulated in the Jewish community showing a putative chasid in a telephone booth, outfitted in a Supermanish costume.
Today, the most celebrated Israeli in this country is also a superhero.
And she’s a real Sabra.
Gal Gadot, one-time Miss Israel, supermodel, high school basketball player, IDF combat instructor and law student, is the star of Warner Brothers’ “Wonder Woman” film, which opened last weekend to warm reviews (“a runaway hit with critics,” wrote The New York Times) and huge box office (No. 1, with more than $100 million in ticket sales).
Now, the 32-year-old native of Rosh HaAyin, already a household name on the shores of the Mediterranean, is quickly gaining an international reputation.
“She has become a symbol” of Israel’s success in the arts, said Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University who is now on sabbatical in Israel. “She kind of leaped to the top” of Israelis known outside of the political-military realm.
“She has gotten tremendous attention here in Israel,” Sarna said of Gadot, who is an outspoken defender of her homeland, where the film’s premiere last week drew large crowds. “Wonder Woman” tells the story of a princess, trained to be an unconquerable warrior, who leaves her home to use her superpowers, fighting alongside men, to stop a massive conflict that is raging in the outside world.
In Tel Aviv, the Azrieli Towers were lit up with the message, “We are proud of you Gal Gadot, our Wonder Woman!”
A Sabra’s success on the world stage is a statement that “we can now compete with the big guys,” Sarna said. “The timing,” in this 50th anniversary year of Jerusalem’s reunification, “couldn’t be better — a reminder [of a time when] Israel was so frequently compared to Superman.”
Israel, the Los Angeles Times reported this week, has been reacting to the new fame of its native daughter “with the endearing, if persistent, solicitousness of a boy who can’t stop telling you how proud he is to be invited to his big brother’s high-school basketball championship.”
“It’s hard for everybody here to understand that Gal is not ours anymore,” said Dorit Ishay, vice president of theatrical distribution for Globusmax, which is handling the movie’s release in Israel. “She is the world’s.”
Gadot, granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, is an emerging Israeli star, with a detectable Israeli accent, who often posts in Hebrew on social media.
She said in a 2011 interview that her IDF background probably helped her land the role of Gisele Yashar in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. “I think … [director] Justin Lin liked that I was in the military, and he wanted to use my knowledge of weapons.”
Gadot’s success has predictably attracted some hostility in BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) circles.
Lebanon’s Interior Ministry announced last week that “Wonder Woman” cannot be shown in Lebanese theaters. The Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel-Lebanon bragged on Facebook that “The israeli soldier film #WonderWoman has been banned in #Lebanon.”
No other Middle East country has banned “Wonder Woman” — so far.
The film also has initiated minimal buzz in Israel’s charedi neighborhoods, where going to movies is frowned upon. “Wonder Woman” posters, in which Gadot appears in a skimpy costume judged immodest by strict Orthodox standards, are not to be found in those neighborhoods, Variety reports.
Gadot’s fame — or notoriety — is sure to spread this year. She’ll reprise her “Wonder Woman” role in the ensemble “Justice League” film, which is scheduled for release in November.