Leonard Nimoy died in February, but the memorials continue. Nimoy embraced and celebrated his Jewish heritage publically, especially in his later years. Here are some of his most Jewish contributions to popular culture:
The Vulcan greeting was developed by Nimoy for his iconic role as Mr. Spock on the seminal Star Trek series. He based it on the gesture used by kohanim to bless Jewish congregations. It represents the Hebrew letter shin.
This is Nimoy’s first book of art photographs. The subjects are Jewish women interacting with Jewish objects such as a tallit, tefillin and mikvah. Some would find it controversial to see women wearing these items, let alone that they are wearing little else.
American Jewish Music
This was a 13-episode, nationally broadcast radio series Nimoy narrated. It was produced by the Milken Archive, a library of Jewish musical recordings, many rare or unique. The series, initially produced with WFMT, included works by Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein, film scores, operas, cantorials, klezmer melodies, symphonies based on Jewish themes, Sephardi music, and songs from Yiddish theater.
Portrayals of Jews
Nimoy read the words of one of the greatest Torah commentators in the documentary Rashi: A Light After the Dark Ages. He played Samuel the Prophet in a TV movie about King David. He played Mel Mermelstein, a Holocaust survivor who took Holocaust deniers to court and won in Never Forget. He read the words of Israel’s third leader, Levi Eshkol, in a documentary about Israel’s prime ministers. And he even played Morris Meyerson, aka Mr. Golda Meir, in A Woman Called Golda, opposite Ingrid Bergman.
Narrations of Jewish documentaries
Nimoy was a go-to voice-over actor and interview subject for Jewish topics, including American Hasidism, American synagogues, Chinese congregations and even “Hava Negila.”
Nimoy hosted the 1977-1982 show In Search Of…, which later inspired the History Channel’s less-than-historical focus. The show delved into such topics as aliens, ghosts and Bigfoot.
Nimoy’s co-stars and directors were often Jewish. On Star Trek, there were William “Kirk” Shatner and Walter “Chekov” Koenig. Fringe was created by J.J. Abrams, who later directed the Star Trek reboot films. The Transformers movies (for which Nimoy voiced different robots) were directed by Michael Bay. He appeared with Don Adams in the Mel Brooks show Get Smart, and on the Western show Bonanza with Lorne Greene and Michael Landon. He directed Steve Guttenberg in Three Men and a Baby. And Nimoy was a friend of Suzanna Hoffs’ family, which is how he ended up in a video for her ’80s band, The Bangles. Nimoy even took over as star of Mission: Impossible for Martin Landau… the man who was originally offered the role of Spock!
A sense of humor
In a Simpsons episode, Krusty the Klown— born Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski— almost leaps to his death from a speeding monorail. Leonard Nimoy (or, more accurately, his cartoon self) grabs Krusty and pulls him to safety, declaring: “No! The world needs laughter!” Nimoy’s non-cartoon self agreed, roasting William Shatner and being interviewed by one of the Muppets’ Pigs in Space, Dr. Strangepork. He also spoofed his Spock character on Futurama and The Big Bang Theory. Most recently, he starred in a rather self-effacing video to Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song.”
Along with Barbara Streisand, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Jackie Mason, Neil Diamond, Woody Allen, and a precious few others of his generation, Leonard Nimoy was one of the most proudly open and openly proud Jews in entertainment.
As they say in Vulcan, “kol hakavod!”