Although greatly admired as an actor and director, the role of his Jewish background in his work isn't always appreciated. In the book “Stars of David” by Abigail Pogrebin, Nimoy talks about his experiences dealing with anti-Semitism growing up in Boston. “Jews were always to keep a low profile,” he explains, “so as not to become targets.”
Fortunately, Nimoy learned to incorporate his Jewishness into his career. One of his first parts was in a play that featured a Jewish family. “I was seventeen years old...playing this Jewish kid in this Jewish family just like mine; it was amazing.” That role led to several performances in Yiddish-language theatre. Yes, Nimoy was fluent at a young age because his grandmother only spoke Yiddish.
His portrayal of Spock, an alien, has always moved me because of the depth with which he played the part. To a large degree, he used his background as a Jewish-American to create a character that both wants to fit in and retain its own cultural identity.
As an adult, he’s continued to explore his Judaism and the Jewish-American experience. After a discussion with a rabbi cousin of his on the feminine presence of G-d, he decided to explore the subject in pictures. In October 2002, Nimoy published “Shekhina”, a photographic study of women, which provoked some controversy because of his use of nude models wearing traditionally male Jewish garments.
Recently, he’s joined forces with the Milken Archive, (which I mentioned in a previous post) as the host of American Jewish Music from the Milken Archive with Leonard Nimoy. The online series covers a wide-range of Jewish music from religious works to songs of Yiddish stage and film. Information on streaming the series is available here.
Incidentally, the Milken Archive website contains all sorts of current and never-before-released content and information on Jewish music and culture in America. It’s well worth checking out.