Ear­li­er this week, Richard Michel­son wrote about fol­low­ing his own advice for aspir­ing authors and the encour­age­ment he received in pen­ning Fas­ci­nat­ing, a children’s biog­ra­phy of Leonard Nimoy — which comes out this week! Richard is guest blog­ging for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek char­ac­ter, Mr. Spock, became a cul­tur­al icon — as did Leonard Nimoy, him­self — but even his most ardent fans do not ful­ly under­stand the impor­tant role that Judaism played in both the Star Trek series and Leonard’s life. (William Shat­ner, who played Cap­tain Kirk, is also Jew­ish, though less direct­ly con­nect­ed to his faith.)

Leonard was born into a Yid­dish-speak­ing, kosher — and I mean three-sets-of-dish­es-kosher — Ortho­dox Jew­ish house­hold on Cham­bers Street in Boston. He shared his small apart­ment with his old­er broth­er, his par­ents, and his Bubbe and Zayde. Three gen­er­a­tions, four rooms.

When he brought his dad lunch and the Forverts at the fam­i­ly bar­ber­shop, he only had to walk three blocks. The shul was at the end of his street. Lat­er the fam­i­ly attend­ed a dif­fer­ent syn­a­gogue, and although Leonard nev­er dis­cov­ered the dis­pute that led to the change, he loved to tell the joke about the Jew who was saved from a desert island, and proud­ly showed his res­cuers the two shuls he’d built: one to attend and one he wouldn’t enter for a mil­lion bucks.

One Rosh Hashanah, when Leonard was eight years old, he accom­pa­nied his father to ser­vices. He was fas­ci­nat­ed as a bunch of men went to the bima, orpul­pit, and start­ed chant­i­ng and swaying.

He was instruct­ed, as tra­di­tion dic­tates, to cov­er his eyes dur­ing the Priest­ly Blessing. 

But Leonard was an eight-year-old boy, and he couldn’t help peek­ing. He watched the men pull their prayer shawls over their heads, as their chants got loud­er. He watched them bless the con­gre­ga­tion as they raised both arms in the air and held out their hands as if they were shoot­ing a two-hand­ed jump shot. What were they doing with their fingers?”

At age sev­en­teen, Leonard fell in love with the­ater when he was asked to be in a local pro­duc­tion of Awake and Sing by the play­wright Clif­ford Odets. It was about three gen­er­a­tions of a poor Jew­ish fam­i­ly who lived togeth­er in one small apart­ment, and the direc­tor need­ed some­one to play the part of the teenage son who yearned for a bet­ter life. Lenny read the play,” I describe in my new children’s biog­ra­phy, Fas­ci­nat­ing: The Life of Leonard Nimoy. Could the author have known the Nimoys? How did Mr. Odets under­stand what Lenny was think­ing — thoughts he hadn’t shared with anyone?”

When he start­ed out as a pro­fes­sion­al actor, Leonard played in a pro­duc­tion of Sholom Ale­ichems It’s Hard to Be a Jew at Hol­ly­wood’s Civic The­atre, with the great Yid­dish actor and direc­tor Mau­rice Schwartz. Leonard would lat­er go on to tour the coun­try as Tevye in Fid­dler on the Roof, as well as play­ing Gol­da Meir’s hus­band in A Woman Name Gol­da and Holo­caust sur­vivor Mel Mer­mel­stein in Nev­er For­get.

As estab­lished a thes­pi­an as he already was at the time, it was in Star Treks sec­ond sea­son, when the Enter­prise vis­it­ed the plan­et Vul­can for the first time, that Leonard’s most last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to Amer­i­can cul­ture occurred. The script told Spock to shake hands with the Vul­can queen, but Leonard want­ed to have a spe­cial greet­ing. Asians bow when they meet,” he told the direc­tor, and mil­i­tary men salute.”

And how do Vul­cans greet each oth­er?” he was asked.

Leonard thought for a while, and then he remem­bered that awe­some moment dur­ing High Hol­i­day ser­vices when he was eight years old. He held up his hand in the ancient Hebra­ic ges­ture and blessed his fel­low actors. 

✷Live Long and Prosper.✷

Richard Michel­son is the author of many acclaimed books for adults and chil­dren. His work has earned a Syd­ney Tay­lor Gold Medal and Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award recog­ni­tion. Richard lives with his wife in Amherst, Mass­a­chu­setts, and is the pro­pri­etor of R. Michel­son Galleries.

Relat­ed Content:

Richard Michelson’s many books for chil­dren and adults have received many awards and acco­lades, includ­ing a Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award and the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award. Michel­son hosts Northamp­ton Poet­ry Radio and served as Poet Lau­re­ate of Northamp­ton, MA. In addi­tion to being an author Michel­son is a speak­er and rep­re­sent­ed the US at the Bratisla­va Bien­ni­al in Slovakia.