Aliens Under the Influence

Posted on March 4th, 2015 by

Regular readers of my blog posts have already figured out that I am something of a geek – board games, Presidential trivia, 19th century letters and Japanese Studies, but my ultimate geek credential is my passion for science fiction.

 Leonard Nimoy at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Leonard Nimoy at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

So it won’t surprise you to learn that I spent some time this last weekend sifting through dozens of final tributes to the actor Leonard Nimoy.  I was trying to answer the question – what made me feel such a profound sense of loss at this actors passing.

It occurred to me that two people died last Friday – Nimoy and Mr. Spock, the half-Vulcan/half-human character he inhabited.  As it turns out, many of us had already witnessed Spock’s death decades ago – but we also saw his resurrection.  With all respect to Zachary Quinto, this time, though, the real Spock is not coming back.

Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from the television program Star Trek, 1968. Courtesy of NBC Television.

Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from the television program Star Trek, 1968. Courtesy of NBC Television.

For me, the character of Spock was a figure of profound hope and a projection of Jewish values into a distant future.  By Jewish values, I don’t just refer to the Cohain blessing gesture that Nimoy conveyed to Spock.  It runs much deeper – many of the obituaries called it the “dignity” that Nimoy brought to the character, making him much more than an actor with pointy ears.  Like a distinguished rabbi, Spock speaks with a level of gravitas unavailable to his compatriots.   He is consistently the voice for thoughtfulness and respect for other cultures in a universe still populated by humans and other creatures whose “shoot first” approach is the norm.

Most importantly, Spock is the only alien (at least half-alien) on the original Enterprise and this is where I sense that Spock and Nimoy, the child of “aliens” from Iziaslav, Ukraine, actually meet.  So much of Spock’s story is about overcoming racial and cultural prejudice to become an accepted member of the crew.   It is hard not to see at least a piece of the Jewish experience played out in the development of Spock

Spock was of course, not the only alien under Jewish influence.  Even on Star Trek, Jewish motifs are introduced when we meet the Rozhenkos from Minsk, adoptive parents of the Klingon, Worf and of Worf’s son, Alexander Rozhenko.  Worf is perhaps more a Maccabi than a melamed, but his familial relationships as both son and parent have at least a touch of Jewish resonance.

Worf and his son Alexander on the Enterprise. Via flickr user bootsartemis.

Worf and his son Alexander on the Enterprise. Via flickr user bootsartemis.

Armin Shimerman, who plays the Ferengi, Quark in Star Trek Deep Space 9, is another actor whose Jewish roots are evident in his portrayal of a complex character.  I am trying to be very careful in what I say here, because there is a lot of strong opinion on the Internet that Ferengi culture trades in negative stereotypes of Jewish merchants (not quite as much anger as over the character Watto in Star Wars, but still a fair amount of invective).  I would only note that in the series, Quark is another example of an alien torn between the norms of his own culture and a “hyuman” culture he believes is hypocritical.  Shimerman is the cynical alien – forcing his friends on the station (and the Trekkers watching) to question whether the Trek future is living up to its values.

Armin Shimerman at the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in 2008. Photo by Beth Madison.

Armin Shimerman at the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in 2008. Photo by Beth Madison.

I can’t let this brief review of aliens with Jewish origins end without some mention of Mandy Patinkin’s role as Sam Francisco in the movie Alien Nation.  For those of you who may have missed this classic, Francisco comes from an alien race of former slaves who take refuge near Los Angeles after they are marooned on their space ship.  Patinkin’s character is one of the first Newcomer policemen and he is paired with a hard-boiled human cop, played by James Caan, to solve a murder mystery.  Francisco’s dilemma – wanting to assimilate, yet not wanting to lose his cultural roots is really a classic immigrant story grafted into a sci-fi environment.  Again, it seems as though Patinkin, beneath his alien make-up, is channeling the experience of our grandparents as they struggled to find a place in this new world.

Poster for Alien Nation.

Poster for Alien Nation.

So yes I will miss both Nimoy, the actor and Spock, the character, but I also know that this is not the end of our exploration of alien worlds.

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Museum Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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Once Upon a Time…06.24.2014

Posted on March 3rd, 2015 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

 

1994112006030Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  June 24, 2014

PastPerfect Accession #:  1994.112.006.030

Status:  Partially Identified – do you know anyone in this choir who performed at Rose Greenberg’s retirement party, 1974? Front row, left to right: 1.Bernice Packer, 2. Unidentified. Middle row, left to right: 3. Unidentified, 4. Sue Waldman, 5. Unidentified. Back row, left to right: 6.Unidentified, 7. Unidentified

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The Perfect Purim Gift for Someone Special!

Posted on February 27th, 2015 by

The perfect gift!

The perfect gift!

What better way to deliver your shalach manot than in our A-Mazing Mendes Mug? Only $10.99 at the Museum gift shop and perfect for filling with candy, hot cocoa mix, homemade treats or anything else you can think of! The gift shop is open 10am – 5pm Sunday through Thursday, so stop in and pick up a mug (or 2) for a special someone – or even yourself.

Shop Manager Esther Weiner will be thrilled to sell you a mug - she can even gift wrap it for you!

Shop Manager Esther Weiner will be thrilled to sell you a mug – she can even gift wrap it for you!

Abby laughing

Look how perfect this mug is for enjoying this long winter!

Joanna mug

Help keep your friends and family warm in the snow – with a steaming mug of tea, coffee or cocoa in this signature mug!

Programs Associate Carolyn Bevans

Anyone can use this mug – try it as a hand warmer in the office!

Rachel with Mug

And sometimes you just want to get a little silly. Thanks to all my “mug models” for helping showcase our A-Mazing Mug!

 

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