April 19, 2019

Top 5 Jewish moments in ‘Trek’

Star Trek,” the new film directed by J.J. Abrams, has been with us in one form or another since the original TV series hit the air in 1966. After the show was cancelled in 1969, there was “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” the film franchise as well as the spin-offs: “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: Enterprise.” This is to say nothing of the hundreds of novels that have been written, or the fan-generated episodes and stories.

Jewish themes abound in such “Trek” novels as “Well of Souls,” “The Wounded Sky” and “Spock’s World.” Biblical figures like Moses and David are mentioned explicitly while Jewish themes are intimated in the movie franchise and the various television series. But despite Jewish writers (David Gerrold, Harlan Ellison to name a few) and numerous Jewish stars (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, Brent Spiner, Armin Shimerman) Jewish imagery and mentions of Jews as a people tend to be fleeting or covered up in “Trek” films and shows. 

Finding individual Jewish moments in a 43-year-old goyishe sci-fi series is no easy task. But we aim to please, so without further ado here are The Top 5 Jewish Moments in “Trek”:

5. Chasids in Space
A pair of Orthodox Jews pass by a newspaper stand just before the opening credits of the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” episode “Far Beyond the Stars,” which features the Prophets showing Capt. Benjamin Sisko a vision of 1950s New York. In the same episode, the show’s Armin Shimerman (Quark) gets to ditch his Ferengi makeup to play a left-wing Jewish writer who works at a sci-fi magazine.

4. An Unearthly Shoah
In the “Star Trek” episode “Patterns of Force,” Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner (two of the original series’ three Jewish actors) dress up like Nazis to infiltrate the planet Ekos, which has adopted National Socialism as a way of bringing order to their society. The crew finds that the Ekosians have implement a Final Solution to rid their world of the neighboring Zeons. Oy!

3. Worf’s Jewish Parents
In the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode “Family,” Jewish actors Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown play the kvelling adoptive parents of Klingon security officer Worf. Watch about three-quarters into this YouTube clip and you tell me Sergey and Helena Rozhenko aren’t Jews…

2. Einstein—Card Shark
In “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the android Data plays poker with several famous physicists, including Einstein (who’s won quite a tidy sum) and the real Stephen Hawking.

1. The Vulcan Salute
Leonard Nimoy had to come up with a greeting for Mr. Spock’s fellow Vulcans, so he recalled a time when he peeked during the blessing by the Kohanim. According to Rabbi Yonassan Gershom, of TrekJews.com,“The actual blessing is done with both arms held horizontally in front, at shoulder level, with hands touching, to form the Hebrew letter ‘shin.’ This stands for the Hebrew word for ‘Shaddai,’ meaning ‘Almighty [God].’ Nimoy modified this gesture into one hand held upright, making it more like a salute. So, technically, the Vulcan greeting is not the same thing as the ceremonial Jewish blessing. Still, the resemblance is close enough to evoke instant recognition among knowledgeable Jews.”

And as a bonus … one of my favorite Jewish Trek moments on “Frasier.” Frasier reads what he thinks is a transliterated Hebrew prayer at his son’s bar mitzvah. Instead, his Jewish Trekker co-worker has accidentally written it in phonetic Klingon: