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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.