Friday, February 27, 2015

Remembering the day I was contacted by Mr. Spock

Live long and prosper: Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock
Most everyone knows the story of Mr. Spock, aka Leonard Nimoy, coming up with the Vulcan greeting based on what he recalled seeing as a youngster attending High Holiday services with his grandfather.

Years later, it was that memory, he said, that led to his developing the iconic gesture – hand held out in front of his face, the middle and ring fingers spread apart in what is now a very familiar pose.

The four-word greeting, almost always uttered by Mr. Spock in his oh-so emotionless manner, also nicely echoes the Priestly Blessing – “Live long and prosper.”

Lenoard Nimoy managed to do both. He died Thursday from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 83.

About all I have to add is a bit of shameless name dropping.

Several years ago, when I was still working for the place with the printing press, I wrote a news brief about a little controversy brewing in the local Jewish community. Apparently some rabbis were upset with a new art exhibit at the Jewish community center, featuring nude photos of women draped in religious garb – tallis, tefillin – and not much else.

The exhibit was drawn from a book of photography, Shekhina, created by, you guessed it, Leonard Nimoy. Some critics found the photos revolutionary, others salacious. Most in the Orthodox community were outraged and demanding that the JCC shut down the exhibit and, if possible, beam Mr. Spock far, far away.

The following morning, when I checked my e-mail, I had a note from an LNimoy asking if I was interested in hearing the real story of the Shekhina. In utter amazement I realized that, well, Mr. Spock was trying to reach me.

After jumping over a few minor logistical hurdles, I eventually hooked up with the Vulcan on the Left Coast and had a delightful conversation that became the focus of an expansive feature story about his life, art and the genesis of the Vulcan greeting. I recall Mr. Nimoy telling me in detail how he sat next to his grandfather as a child, enthralled by the pageantry of the High Holiday services, especially the moment when the Kohanim blessed the congregation.

The rest, as they say, has become boob-tube history and Trekkie lore! On a personal note, it was also pretty cool talking to an actor I first spotted on the small screen as Spock in the late 1960s in the TV room of my frat house in Athens.

A footnote. After much give and take, the executive director of the local JCC announced at the time that he had spoken with all interested members of the Jewish community and would be taking their views into account as he decided the future of the Shekhina exhibit. Apparently he was still trying to figure out how best to handle the issue when the show finished its scheduled run six weeks later.

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