When you think of Israeli celebrities, Gal Gadot is probably one of the first who comes to mind. Best known for her iconic portrayal of “Wonder Woman,” she has become a household name and a representative of Israel in Hollywood.
Here’s what we know about her Jewish and Israeli identity.
Gal Gadot-Varsano was born on April 30, 1985 in Petah Tikva, Israel, to Jewish parents Michael Gadot, an engineer and sixth generation sabra, and Irit Weiss, a physical education teacher.
Gadot’s maternal grandparents, born in Europe during the early 20th century, both survived the Holocaust. Her grandfather survived Auschwitz, and her grandmother was able to escape Europe before the outbreak of the World War II.
The 38-year-old actress and model grew up in Rosh HaAyin, Israel. In her words, her upbringing was in a “very Jewish, Israeli family environment.” She has a younger sister named Dana. She revealed to The Times of Israel that her childhood in Rosh HaAyin was “very sheltered…There was no TV-watching.”
From a young age, Gadot danced jazz and hip-hop and played volleyball, tennis and basketball. She considered a career in choreography, confessing in a 2016 interview, “I never planned on being an actress. Life just happened that way.”
In an unexpected twist, at 18, Gadot found herself in the spotlight after winning the Miss Israel 2004 beauty pageant, a feat she did not anticipate. This victory paved the way for her participation in the Miss Universe pageant, although she didn’t aspire to win, considering it a tremendous responsibility for someone her age.
This unexpected pageant success marked a pivotal moment in Gadot’s life, kick-starting her modeling career and setting her on the path to international fame. She graced campaigns for brands like Gucci, Vine Vera, Jaguar Cars, and Castro, turning her into a recognizable face worldwide.
Following her successful stint in modeling, Gadot transitioned to acting, landing a role in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. Yet, her breakthrough moment came in 2016 when she portrayed Wonder Woman in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Gadot’s performance as the beloved superheroine was widely acclaimed, earning her a spot among Time’s 100 most influential people in 2018.
Since then, she has continued her prolific career with roles in films like “Red Notice” and “Death on the Nile.” As of 2020, she was the third highest-paid actress in the world, according to Forbes.
Gadot visited Poland and learned about her grandfather’s experience in the Holocaust
During her sophomore year at Begin High School in Rosh HaAyin, Gadot took part in a class trip to Holocaust memorial sites in Poland.
While on the trip, she visited Majdanek and Auschwitz, the infamous camp where her grandfather was imprisoned as a teenager.
Gadot’s grandfather lost his entire family in Auschwitz. She described him as a “damaged bird, but…always hopeful and positive and full of love.”
Gadot said visiting the camps had a profound impact on her — the experience made her more mature and linked her directly to her grandfather’s childhood.
Her family’s experience also further deepened her connection to her role as Wonder Woman, a character grounded in the period of World War I. She told The Times of Israel that her grandfather’s courage and bravery as a Holocaust survivor helped her to embody her superhero persona.
Gadot served in the IDF as a combat fitness instructor, shaping her role as “Wonder Woman”
At the age of 20, Gadot enlisted in the IDF as part of her mandatory military service, where she served as a combat fitness instructor for two years.
In various conversations about her time in service, Gadot emphasized that her role was primarily fitness-oriented. She spent the majority of her service in the gym, focusing on training soldiers and maintaining their physical health.
Interestingly, Gadot’s military background played a pivotal role in securing her some key acting roles. For instance, she landed the role of an ex-Mossad agent in the 2009 film “Fast & Furious” — she attributes this opportunity to the director’s fascination with her military experience. Notably, she performed all her own stunts in this action-packed movie.
Her military experience also helped land her the role as Wonder Woman in the 2017 film. The star has said her role as a fitness instructor in the IDF helped her maintain her physique and remain fit.
Incredibly, not only did Gadot perform all of her own stunts as Wonder Woman, but she even did so while pregnant! She revealed that she even re-filmed some scenes for the action-packed movie while five months pregnant with her second daughter, Maya.
Gadot’s films have been banned due to her IDF service and Israeli identity
Gadot’s past service in the IDF sparked controversy regarding her 2022 film, “Death on the Nile.” Lebanon and Kuwait banned the film due to their ongoing political issues with Israel.
This was not an isolated incident — Lebanon previously blocked Gadot’s “Wonder Woman” and its sequel “because an Israeli actress plays the lead role.”
Gadot’s connection with the IDF also led to criticism surrounding the release of the National Geographic short-form documentary series “IMPACT with Gal Gadot” in 2021. The series tells the stories of six women making significant impacts on their communities worldwide.
In an interview with The Jakarta Post, Gadot addressed the criticism, saying, “I think much of it comes from ignorance and people not understanding what most people do in the army in Israel, or what I did in the army during my service in the military.”
“The whole idea of the show started when I just wanted to use my reach that I have to the audience and the fans and do something good with it,” she explained.
Gadot voices her support of her country during conflicts
In 2014, amid the conflict between Israel and Hamas — sparked by the capture of three Israeli teenage boys by Hamas terrorists — Gadot used her platform to voice support for her country.
Posting a heartfelt message on her official Facebook page in July 2014, Gadot shared a picture of herself and her daughter praying, with the caption:
“I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens. Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children…We shall overcome!!! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance #loveidf”
Her statement was a vehement condemnation of the Hamas terror group and a gesture of solidarity with the IDF. However, her stance drew criticism and backlash, particularly from pro-Palestinian groups on social media.
Gadot’s response to the backlash was to disable comments on her controversial Tweet– she has yet to outright respond to any backlash she has received for her pro-Israel social media posts.
The actress has faced backlash for calling for peace during conflicts
The situation repeated itself in May 2021, when a new outbreak of conflict flared in Israel. On May 12, Gadot issued a statement on social media expressing her distress and hope for a peaceful resolution:
Intended as a plea for peace, the tweet instead sparked a firestorm of criticism, leading Gadot to turn off comments after a barrage of negative reactions.
Opinions were divided on her post, with some users accusing it of being propaganda for Israel, while others defended Gadot’s call for peace. Some fans argued that the backlash against Gadot was motivated by antisemitism.
Gadot’s enduring connection to Israel
Despite spending the majority of her time with her family in their Hollywood Hills residence, Gadot and her husband continue to maintain their home in Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv, demonstrating her ongoing connection to her homeland.
Back in 2008, Gadot showcased her multifaceted talents by participating in Festigal, the top-grossing Israeli musical show for children held annually during Hanukkah. Featured among other Israeli celebrities, Gadot sang, acted, and danced, captivating audiences in a mermaid costume.
In a more recent event on May 17, 2023, Gadot made a surprise appearance as a guest and honoree at the official Israel Independence Day celebration in Los Angeles. The event was held at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, where Gadot received the prestigious Los Angeles Israel Award for Entertainment.
In her acceptance speech, Gadot expressed heartfelt sentiments to her audience and viewers, referring to them as “the most important audience” to her.
Reflecting on Israel’s 75th anniversary, she spoke with admiration about the Jewish State’s remarkable achievements in its relatively short history, stating, “Israel is where — ha’lev sha’li v’habai sha’li — Israel is my heart, and my home. We all here are deeply proud of our Jewish homeland.”
The actress also underscored the significance of fostering stronger connections between the United States and Israel, emphasizing the importance of “building bridges” between the two nations.
Advocating for the reinforcement of “historic bonds” between the U.S. and Israel, she concluded her heartfelt speech by expressing her gratitude in her native language, Hebrew: “Todah Rabah — thank you very much.”
Originally Published Jul 2, 2023 03:38PM EDT