In 2022, it’s a tough time to be a Jew, and that may be why some Jewish celebrities have stayed silent. But MJF isn’t one of them.
By David Meyers, The Algemeiner
At a time of rising antisemitism, one might not expect a pro wrestler to be a leading advocate for the Jewish people.
But Maxwell Jacob Friedman is no ordinary wrestler.
At just 26 years old, MJF (as he’s commonly known) is already one of the biggest stars in All Elite Wrestling (AEW). And he’s the first mainstream wrestling star to openly embrace his faith and make it a central part of his character.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Friedman explained that he didn’t set out to become a prominent defender of Jews, but that it “happened organically — because that’s just something I’ve dealt with my whole life.”
In a gripping promo on the Feb. 23 edition of “AEW Dynamite” on TBS, Friedman told the story of the antisemitic abuse he suffered as a young athlete, having quarters violently thrown at him and being called “Jewboy.”
Friedman still experiences that antisemitism today, whether at the U.S. border, in restaurants, or from fellow wrestlers. But rather than back down, he’s taken the fight to the haters — both publicly and privately, while using his growing online and TV presence to talk about the dangers facing American Jews today.
“Isn’t it strange that no one’s talking about it?” Friedman asked, referring to incidents like deadly synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and California, the hostage-taking in Colleyville, Texas, and violent attacks on Jews in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.
According to the FBI, although comprising only 2% of the U.S. population, Jews are by far the number one victims of religious hate crimes in America.
“It’s not the cool thing to talk about, cause we’re not the cool minority,” Friedman said, but “I’m going to keep bringing it up because I think it’s bulls***.”
‘I am a minority’
Friedman recounted his days on the independent wrestling circuit, when a fellow pro wrestler — left unnamed, though someone “from Ohio … if you want to narrow it down” — once called him a “kike” and keyed his car.
He’s also pushed back against efforts to erase his Jewish identity and to portray him as merely another “white, male” wrestler.
“Did [the wrestler who keyed my car] think I was white, or did he think I was a Jew?” Friedman asked. “I am a minority. Because millions of my people were viciously murdered simply because of our religious beliefs.”
In another incident, Friedman posted a photo of himself “working hard at the gym. I’m a 5’9″ guy but I weigh 226, and that was through hard work and determination, and so many hours at the gym. And for someone to tweet at me — ‘you’re only in the position you’re in because you’re a straight white male, where’s the diversity’ — that made me really mad.”
“Was I a straight, white male when all the kids put gum on my locker and drew a swastika so I wouldn’t be able to get to my football uniform? Or was I a Jew?” Friedman said.
‘My mom told me Jews have horns’
Indeed, Jewish pro wrestlers may be one of the most underrepresented groups in the industry. Although Friedman is proud to note he hasn’t faced any antisemitism since joining All Elite Wrestling, he said he faced a “ton” while on the independent circuit, blaming much of the abuse on jealousy.
“When I was 19 and 20, and I was getting booked in the biggest promotions that you could on the independent circuit, there were much older guys who were livid,” he said. They tried to belittle Friedman by “saying antisemitic slurs, or by talking down to me because I’m Jewish,” he added.
By becoming one of AEW’s biggest stars, Friedman has gotten the last laugh — while changing audiences’ preconceived notions about Jews in the process.
Although Friedman hails from Long Island, AEW is popular in parts of the country with little or no Jewish presence. Some people feel an aversion toward Jews because they don’t know them personally, or simply believe the worst lies and stereotypes spread about them.
As a case in point, Friedman related a story from his father, who went off to college and had a roommate who had “never met a Jew before.”
“And [my dad] wakes up in the middle of the night, and his roommate is rummaging through his hair, and my dad shoves him off, and [asks] ‘what are you doing?’” Friedman recounted. “And the guy goes, ‘well, my mom told me Jews have horns.’”
Unlike previous Jewish wrestlers who largely ignored their Jewish identity, or even played into negative stereotypes, MJF has introduced audiences to a different image of Jews: strong, athletic, charismatic, and proud.
“I get to showcase to people that there’s more than one archetype of being a Jew,” he said, upending stereotypes of Jews as weak, nerdy, and submissive.
Whether or not he intended to be a Jewish role model, Friedman has clearly become one, with Jews of all ages reaching out to say that he’s inspired them.
“I think I’m the best wrestler in the world, and I just so happen to be Jewish — and I just so happen to be very proud of it,” he said.
In 2022, it’s a tough time to be a Jew, and that may be why some Jewish celebrities have stayed silent.
But MJF isn’t one of them. He says that he has every intention of continuing to speak out in defense of Judaism and Jews. And unlikely as it may be, this Jewish wrestling star might be exactly the hero we need.