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G.I. Jew

A new line of IDF action figures honors the ‘heroes of Israel’

Roy Schwartz
May 31, 2024
‘Meital the Border Guardian’

Courtesy Giborey Israel

‘Meital the Border Guardian’

Courtesy Giborey Israel

Toys based on IDF soldiers aren’t new. Model kits have included IDF editions for years, and 3D-printed figurines can be found online. There are also high-end figures for adult collectors, though these usually run about $300 apiece. And G.I. Joe’s Foreign Soldiers Collection included an IDF paratrooper once—back in 2000.

But there were no mass-produced toys designed for children to actually play with.

In May, seven months into the war in Gaza, a new kind of toy soldier hit the market. Giborey Israel, meaning “Heroes of Israel,” is the first Israeli-made line of action figures aimed at kids. And unlike toys based on comic book superheroes, these figures are based on real-life heroes: IDF soldiers and other Israeli security and rescue forces. They’re like G.I. Joes, but with Israeli names and features. They’re G.I. Jews.

Giborey Israel is the brainchild of Israeli brothers Yarden and Elad Stefansky, both independent creative directors and, in Yarden’s case, an avid comics and action-figure fan. “After Oct. 7, we were called to the army and left everything behind, like many others,” Yarden told me in an email interview. “As creative guys, we thought how we can boost the nation’s morale, and that’s where the idea came from.”

Yarden, like many Israelis and Jews around the world, found himself in shock, consumed with existential dread. But the effect on his children is what pained him the most. “They were afraid to sleep alone and to leave the house, and began suffering daily anxiety attacks,” he explained on the company’s website.

When Yarden saw the massive mobilization of Israeli conscripts, reservists, and rescue workers who unhesitatingly went to fight to defend their country, he was inspired to create a toy honoring Israel’s “real life superheroes.” His brother Elad jumped at the idea. They gave it the tagline “There’s someone protecting you.”

That they took inspiration from superheroes and G.I. Joe is apt. Superheroes were created by American Jews as propaganda figures against Nazis. G.I. Joe is also a Jewish invention, produced by originally Jewish-owned toymaker Hasbro (Hasselfeld Brothers), and the 1980s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon was inspired by showrunner Ron Friedman’s childhood bullying by antisemites. (Friedman, in turn, was inspired by Superman, another Jewish creation.) In a way, Giborey Israel is coming full circle.

The first wave of figures is an “Operation Swords of Iron” special edition. It includes seven 6-inch figures, all with accurate Israeli likeness and uniforms, including: Tomer Tal, an Ashkenazi special forces operator; Shir Edmon, a Mizrahi infantrywoman from a southern kibbutz; Ryan Salman, an Arab paratrooper from a northern Druze village; and Tshagar Atchnafa, an Ethiopian reconnaissance ranger.

‘Tomer the Guardian of Justice’
‘Tomer the Guardian of Justice’

Courtesy Giborey Israel

Accessories include tactical helmets, an Israeli-made Tavor rifle, a surveillance drone, a dog named Chetz (Arrow), and an Israeli flag. The packaging also includes schmaltzy messages, like, “When the heart and mind unite, you are invincible,” and “We are a small part of something big, but even the small can do great things.”

The figures are available in stores in Israel and online. An Amazon store is in the works. U.S. buyers can order them directly from the company’s website, though shipping is expensive (about $40 to New York, for example), and they already cost $60 (individual action figures in the U.S. generally range between $8 and $35).

“The first series is a bit pricey because it’s the first. We are learning on the go in order to improve the prices,” Yarden told me. But while the world hurls accusations of war crimes, genocide, and other blood libels at Israel, recognition of the Israeli forces’ heroism, courage, and sacrifice goes a long way to support them. A portion of the proceeds is also donated to reservist associations.

IDF action figures may be new, but they’re not a sensitive topic; Israel is, for better or worse, a militarized culture. American and other Jews may be more uneasy, however, especially since Oct. 7. But according to the brothers, reception has been largely positive. “It’s like in real life,” Yarden said. “We got a warm welcome in Israel and in Jewish communities, and also many antisemitic comments from the other side.” All in all, though, they’ve sold over 6,000 figures so far, with more in presale.

“There are air force figures coming soon, as well as a tank vehicle. The police also asked us to make their own series,” Yarden said. “We have plans to make figures of all types of Israeli and Jewish heroes, from culture to history.” A Simon bar Kokhba action figure would be a hoot, no doubt.

There’s also a forthcoming Giborey Israel comic book. “It’s going to be a comics reflection of this real-life war between good and evil,” Yarden said. It’s important for them not just to make Israeli children feel safe and proud, but Jewish children around the world. “We send strength to our Jewish brothers all over the world. You are not alone.”

Roy Schwartz is a pop culture historian and critic. His work has appeared in CNN, New York Daily News, The Forward, and Jerusalem Post, among others. His latest book is the Diagram Prize-winning Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero. Follow him on TwitterInstagram and Facebook @RealRoySchwartz.