Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Leonard Nimoy’s Judaism Informs Photography and Life

July 10, 2013 11:01 am 1 comment

Leonard Nimoy. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

JNS.org – Leonard Nimoy says there is a “strong strain of Judaism” in everything he does—including his famous on-screen hand gestures.

Best known for his character Mr. Spock in the “Star Trek” television show and movies, most recently in his cameo as Spock Prime in this year’s blockbuster “Star Trek Into Darkness,” Nimoy’s Vulcan hand gesture comes from an experience he had at synagogue when he was 8 years old.

Nimoy’s father told him not to look as worshippers averted their eyes during blessings recited by the kohanim.

“The men were chanting, shouting and praying in an Orthodox service,” Nimoy, 82, says in an interview with JNS.org. “It was very passionate, very theatrical. I was chilled by the whole thing.”

Years later, while on the set of the “Star Trek” television show, Nimoy suggested to the director that Vulcans like Spock should offer some gesture in greeting other Vulcans.

“The director asked me what I had in mind and I suggested the gesture used by the kohanim,” Nimoy says. The gesture went on to be accompanied by the expression “live long and prosper.”

Nimoy, born in Boston, recalls that he grew up “in a very Jewish environment and was bar mitzvahed appropriately when I was 13.”

“The neighborhood I grew up in had several synagogues, and I sang in the choirs for the High Holidays,” he tells JNS.org. “There is a strong strain of Judaism in everything I do. It is a presence that I do not deny and do not want to deny. It is a valuable resource for me and a valuable part of my consciousness.”

Born to Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jews from Ukraine, Nimoy narrated the documentary “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America” in 1997, about the various sects of Hassidic Jews. In October 2002, Nimoy published “The Shekhina Project,“ a photographic study inspired by Kabbalah. exploring the feminine aspect of God’s presence.

According to Rich Michelson, owner of the Northampton, Mass.-based R. Michelson Galleries, the best art often opens up a societal debate—and Michelson believes Nimoy’s religiously controversial “Shekhina Project” certainly did so when it was published and shown to the public in 2002.

A feminine word in Hebrew, Shekhina is the Talmudic term for the dwelling or settling of God’s divine presence on Earth. Over time, the concept of Shekhina evolved in more progressive Jewish circles into a softer, empathetic feminine counterpart to God who could argue for humanity’s sake, comfort the poor and sick, and stand as the mother of Israel.

“[Nimoy’s] depiction of women—some wearing tefillin and nothing else—as the essence of the feminine manifestation of God struck some as revolutionary and others as salacious,” Michelson tells JNS.org. “The response in our gallery was overwhelmingly positive, as it was in most venues where we toured the exhibit. There were some synagogues that refused to show the work, and others that canceled Mr. Nimoy’s speaking engagements, but in almost all cases, another synagogue was happy to step in and host the exhibit.”

Nimoy has a long list of activities he has participated in that have to do with his Judaism.

“I surprised a lot of people by playing Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in 1971 on an eight-week eastern tour that was very successful,” he says.

Barbara Gellman-Danley presented Nimoy with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Antioch University in a ceremony at his home in California. A former graduate of Antioch with an M.A. in bilingual education, the honorary degree was awarded in great part due to Nimoy’s activism in Holocaust remembrance.

Nimoy produced and starred, with Dabney Coleman and Blythe Danner, in a television movie called “Never Forget.” Written by Ronald Rubin, the 1991 film is a dramatization of a Holocaust survivor who confronted a Holocaust denial organization’s lies in court. Nimoy met the survivor, Mel Mermelstein.

“Mermelstein’s family was taken into Auschwitz during the second World War,” Nimoy says. “His siblings and parents were killed. He won his lawsuit, but more importantly, the subject of the Holocaust went into American law for the first time in 1979. It became a legal fact.”

Gellman-Danley says Nimoy’s fame never got in the way of his commitment to social justice causes.

“Indeed, he worked in key symbolism of his own faith into his character as Mr. Spock,” Gellman-Danley tells JNS.org. “I recall he was very committed to organizations, museums and affiliated projects that reflected his own value system. He is a consummate artist—both performing, writing and through beautiful photography. I found Mr. Nimoy to be a very caring, deep and committed man who is leading a measurably purposeful life.”

Nimoy’s portrayal of Mr. Spock in “Star Trek” earned him iconic status as well as three Emmy nominations. But aside from his numerous credits as an actor and director, Nimoy is also a successful recording artist and author, having published two autobiographies as well as several volumes of poetry, two of which also feature his photographs. His photographs are in the collections of many major museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Judah L. Magnes Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum of New York, the New Orleans Museum of Fine Art, and the Hammer Museum.

“I just produced a collection called ‘Eye Contact’ of 25 fine art prints,” Nimoy says. “The concept is that there is no eye contact with the models in the photographs. It has to do with the issues of privacy, neutrality, modesty and voyeurism.”

At Michelson’s website (www.Rmichelson.com), viewers can see Nimoy’s work and note his rising stature as a major contemporary American photographer.

“There is no doubt that Nimoy will always be identified foremost with Mr. Spock,” Michelson says. “But he is no dilettante with the camera.”

Yet, Mr. Spock remains the most enduring aspect of Nimoy’s fame. First airing in 1966, the character would become an icon over the years as “Star Trek” branched off into syndication and later onto the big screen as a series of six feature films. Being identified with one of the most recognizable characters in television history is intriguing to Nimoy, and it is something he embraces.

“I admire Spock, and if I had to choose any character ever portrayed in television or film, I would choose Spock because I enjoy being identified with this very interesting character,” Nimoy says.

“Spock claims to be other than human but he’s a terribly human character,” he adds. “That’s what makes him so attractive. People understand him and identify with him. His dilemma is a human dilemma. Particularly for young people. Teenagers really understand what Spock is dealing with, which is finding the proper balance between logic and emotion.”

1 Comment

  • HE IS WORSE THEN A HERETIC.
    He tookjudaism holy tephilin,the articles Jews use daily in prayer wrapping it around a nude model and snapped pictures for his hobby.

    G-Ds name is written in it, flaunting this on a totally nude model and this author calls him a rightous jew.

    The level of journalism has fell to the depths close to gehinom..or should I add that the level of Judaism has fell as low.
    OR SHOULD I SAY THAT THIS NEWS SITE HAS FELL TO THAT DEPTH…..

    ITS DISGUSTING THAT ALGEMEINER SEEMS TO FIND MANY OFF THE WALL SICK PEOPLE POSING AS REPRESENTATIVES OF TORAH AND G-D.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →