Boldly celebrating 50 years of Star Trek

Boldly celebrating 50 years of Star Trek

As the much-loved sci-fi saga Star Trek marks its 50th birthday, we set our laser to stun to reveal what makes the enduring space soap opera so Jewish...

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

FIFTY YEARS AGO, a courageous band of space-faring adventurers boldly went where no man (or television series) had gone before, thanks to the imagination of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

Even today, fans love watching the warp-speed exploits of Kirk, Spock, Scotty and McCoy and marvel at the shaky sets and clunky special effects. But who knew the hit sci-fi series, which first aired in 1967, was soooo Jewish….

Kvelling for Kirk!

James T Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise, was played by William Shatner. The Canadian actor, who was raised in a Conservative Jewish family, was born in 1931 to Anne and Joseph Shatner, a clothing manufacturer. All of his grandparents, who hailed from Austria, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine, were also Jewish.

“>Shalom Spock

Leonard Simon Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931, in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine. His mother, Dora (née Spinner), was a homemaker, and his father, Max Nimoy, owned a barbershop. Raised as an Orthodox Jew, Nimoy recounts that he regularly visited his local synagogue as a young child

Kirk, McCoy and Spock
Kirk, McCoy and Spock.

The Trekky Tribe

Aside from Shatner and Nimoy, Walter Koenig, who played USS Enterprise navigator Pavel Chekov, and Mark Lenard (who played Spock’s father, Sarek) were also Jewish. More recent series have featured Jewish actors Brent Spiner (android Lieutenant Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation), Armin Shimmerman (Ferengi bartender Quark in Deep Space Nine) and Wallace Shawn (Grand Nagus Zek in Deep Space Nine). Many of the original show’s producers, including Robert Justman, Herb Solow and Fred Freiberger also identify as Jewish. Anton Yelchin, who portrayed Pavel Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek series tragically died in an accident earlier this year, aged just 27.

Spock The Cohen

Drawing on his Orthodox Jewish roots, Nimoy suggested using a raised arm and splayed fingers, having seen this used by Kohanim in synagogue services for the priestly blessing to the congregation, as the formal greeting used between Vulcans. The new Vulcan salute was thereafter adopted by the series. In homage to Nimoy when he died last February, Nasa astronaut Terry E Virts posted a photo on his Twitter feed from the International Space Station showing the Vulcan salute, with the Earth in the background, as the ISS passed over Nimoy’s birthplace, Boston, Massachussetts. Similarly, the Vulcan greeting, “Live long and prosper” is taken from the translation of the Priestly Blessing recited in the synagogue: “May the Lord bless and keep you and may the Lord cause his countenance to shine upon you. May the Lord be gracious unto you and grant you peace.”

Trek to the Promised Land

As director of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Nimoy imagined Vulcan as a desert-like planet similar to the landscape of ancient Israel. Similarly, the costumes worn by Vulcan officials were based on Biblical descriptions of the clothing worn by high priests in the Temple.

On a Jewish note…

While the famous Star Trek theme tune was penned by Alexander Courage, the score for the first feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was written by the American- Jewish composer Jerry Goldsmith. He would later compose the scores for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis, as well as the themes to the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager.

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner in one of the first episodes in 1968
Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner in one of the first episodes in 1968

Interstellar Nazi-hunting

The original series made reference to Nazis and the Holocaust on a number of occasions. In the episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, Kirk and Spock travel back in time to stop Nazi Germany from winning the Second World War. In another episode, The Conscience of the King, Kirk and Spock must hunt down a former dictator responsible for the mass murder of innocents after escaping to a distant planet. The galactic pair even don Nazi-style uniforms in the episode, Patterns of Force, on a visit to the planet Ekons, which has embraced the idea of a Third Reich and installed a Fuhrer as their leader. There are even soldiers in brown shirts patrolling the streets.

The next Jewneration

Director and producer Jeffrey Jacob (“J J”) Abrams has firmly been at the helm of the USS Enterprise’s latest exploits since the release of the 2009 Star Trek film reboot, which features the main characters of the original series, as played by a new cast. Star Trek was a box office success, grossing more than £290million worldwide. It was followed by two sequels Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), which Abrams also directed and Star Trek Beyond (2016), which Abrams produced.

The original crew of the Star Ship Enterprise
The original crew of the Star Ship Enterprise

Genius idea

Star Trek introduced the idea of warp speed – the potential to zoom between galaxies within a short moment of time – with the StarFleet’s superfast USS Enterprise. It may seem like science fiction, but renowned German-Jewish physicist Albert Einstein, who first came up with his theory of relativity, allowed for the possibility of bending space and time. Some scientists today believe hyper-fast travel is getting closer to becoming reality.

With friends like these…

Famed science fiction writer and atheistic Jew Isaac Asimov developed a unique friendship with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Although initially critical of the series for its scientific accuracy, Asimov came to view the series as a fresh and innovative sci-fi show and later served as an adviser on a number of Star Trek projects.

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