March 5, 2015

Leonard Nimoy’s Legacy of Jewish Science Fiction and Dual Identity

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism, Pop Culture at 7:28 pm by chavalah

Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and William Shatner (Kirk) in the original Star Trek

Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and William Shatner (Kirk) in the original Star Trek

One of the first entries I posted to this blog centered on J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie, and the complex ethnicity of Mr. Spock. It reminded me so much of my own identity, two parents of different religions/ cultures/ ethnicities…one foot in each world.

Perhaps for Leonard Nimoy, may his memory be a blessing, this might have served as more of a metaphor. Spock’s human heritage could stand for Nimoy’s acceptance into the broader American, Hollywood (or UFP, as it were,) culture, where his Vulcan side, with the salute based off of the Priestly Blessing, signified his parents, Ashkenazi Jewish shtetl immigrants.

I admit, when I first started getting into scifi and fantasy, I didn’t really consider Star Trek and its Jewish lens, although at the time I wasn’t considering anything for a Jewish lens. My gateway drug to this genre was Star Wars, and in the accepted and small minded way, I took sides. I was taken in by Lucas’s space opera, and the struggle of a protagonist who hones his identity and power against a familial legacy. Star Trek, to me, seemed like one of those “day at the office” shows, if your office was a spaceship and your job was either to make sure it ran properly or investigate various aliens. (I’m sorry, Trekkies. Please don’t vaporize me! Is that a thing? *hides*)

What’s worse, as a dummy teen, I was blithely unaware of the fact that some of my favorite new tv shows, like Space Cases and Farscape, were directly inspired by Star Trek. But instead, it was these stories, rather than the original, which made me realize that a crew can be like a family, and alien encounters can shape that one’s trajectory as much as the Force.

I’ve never gotten around to watching any original Star Trek, or any of the franchise before the J.J. Abrams movies. It’s something I’m thinking I should change, now that I’m more aware of creator Gene Rodenberry’s vision to project a future for diversity in humans as well as aliens. Nimoy, who is practically incongruous with his character Spock at this point, is testament to that. More to the point, he could find a seat at the table without giving up his ethnic identity, whether it be Vulcan or Jewish.

In another blog post, I may have to focus on my quest for Jewish fiction from the viewpoint of the children of interfaith marriage (a small sidenote—is the story of Esther, commemorated last night at Purim holiday megillah readings, our first major depiction of an interfaith union? :P); I’m assuming Spock doesn’t ruminate too much on his dual heritage. But science fiction continues to provide a creative avenue into progressive, empathetic thinking—where we can meet new people, or species, from different walks of life, and realize that they’re not so alien after all.

Live long and prosper (LLAP).

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