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Mr. Nimoy speaks about his Jewish identity and more in Israel
By Boaz Trinker

Boaz Trinker is drama student in Nissan Nativ's actors studio in Tel-Aviv, and publishes in Hebrew in "Tochnia – The Israeli Theatre
Heritage Website" (Hebrew) Web : www.tochnia.co.il  e-mail : boaz@tochnia.co.il
 

I could tell many stories about the important role Star Trek had in my childhood, but what's relevant is that it started my interest in the world of acting and entertainment. It took the joy I had received as a young boy from putting on puppet shows and planning short horror and adventure movies with my Elementary school friends, and gave it shape. Alongside the Starfleet uniform, the two dozen Starship models, the posters and etc I had a special interest in "Behind the Scenes" material, and so I collected various books - old paperbacks from the 1970s about the making of the original series and newer ones about the technology, the makeup, the writing and the production of the newer series - "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine". I also collected episode guides, and got to know every single actor by name - not only the regular casts, but also the guest stars. And then once in a while I delved into the career of this actor or another, watching films and reading biographies.

Even though there has been considerable Star Trek fan activity in Israel since the establishment of Starbase972 the Israeli Star Trek Fan Club, back in 1996, it has never attracted any of the show's stars. All that changed this week when Actor, Director and Photographer Leonard Nimoy landed in Israel, thanks to the The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (John Fishel, president and Harriet Hochman, chair of the board) .Tel-Aviv Los-Angeles Partnership headed in Israel  by Mr. Miki Yerushalmi ,an organization which seeks to foster and create relationships and dialogue between the citizens and institutions of Tel Aviv and Los Angeles for the benefit of both communities.

Meeting Mr. Nimoy was a prospect not to be missed, so I took a day off from my studies (we only get one day off a year) and headed to the Tel-Aviv Cinematheque  Prior to attending the press conference and lecture at the cinematheque, Mr. Nimoy spent his time in Israel visiting the Herzeliya Museum of Modern Art, teaching a master-class at the Beit Zvi Academy of Performing Arts  and having dinner with Israeli stage and film veteran Gila Almagor and her husband Yaakov Agmon, until recently CEO of Habima, the National Theatre. They met last year  while Habima was visiting New-York with “Kaddish Le’Neomi”, and their performance  took place in the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre 

Mrs. Almagor accompanied Mr. Nimoy to the cinematheque and presented his long list of credits to the audience, an impressive list which includes theatre roles in "Fiddler on the Roof", "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "Twelve Night", and also a one-man touring stage show, "Vincent" which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in as Theo van Gogh, brother of the artist. Also somewhat less known are his directing credits, after having been invited by Paramount pictures executives to direct the third Star Trek motion picture and also supply the story and direct the fourth, the same executives who later moved to the Disney company got him to direct the hit film "Three Men and a Baby". He then went on to direct several other movies such as "The Good Mother" and "Funny about love".

The man who walked into the room, sans makeup and costume, was warm and smiling, obviously well-versed in situations like this, and oh so human. The most I got from this meeting with him was not when he spoke about Star Trek (and how could he not, having two autobiographies, one entitled "I am not Spock" and another, published twenty years later, entitled "I am Spock"), because lets face it, I knew all of that information by heart, but when he spoke about the work he has done in the last twenty or so years, mainly as a director and photographer.

Mr. Nimoy recollects from his childhood, “I grew up in a Jewish-Italian neighborhood in Boston, which spanned a few blocks. My family lived in a two-room apartment, my father worked as a barber. All of the shopkeepers in the area spoke either Yiddish or Italian – the grownups’ secret language when they didn’t want us to understand what they said was Russian. We had two synagogues in the area; we started at one and then moved to the other probably because of some conflict I was never told about… Through these places I became interested in Judaism and the Jewish culture”.

When he was eight he got his first role on stage in a local community center, in “Hansel and Grettle”. He marks his first dramatic role at the age of 16 in Clifford Odet’s “Awake and Sing”, at the same community center. Several years later at the age of 20 he left to Hollywood, taking acting classes and earning his living doing odd-jobs. It took almost ten years of these odd-jobs before he got his mythological role as “Spock” on the experimental Science Fiction TV show Star Trek.

Mr. Nimoy speaks about his Jewish identity with much pride and determination, “Many years ago, on my first trip to a Star Trek convention in Germany, I had a difficult time. I refused to go back there for a while, but then I was invited by my colleagues from Trek to a convention in Bonn. I hesitated, so I turned to my wife’s Rabbi for advice. He asked me if the people attending this convention knew I was Jewish, and offered that I should talk about this fact so that they know this man whom they admire is Jewish. I took his advice and found this as a welcome exposure. I told them my life story and it turned out to be a very meaningful experience for me”.

I recent years Mr. Nimoy has turned to photography , “It’s self-contained work, I can do it myself, I don’t have to wait for a studio or turn to anyone else for cooperation”. A couple of years ago he published a collection called “Shekhina”, combining images from the world of Judaism and female nudes, “exploring the feminine side of God”, as he described it himself. This book spawned some controversy, and he was reportedly banned from several places in the US. Most recently he finished working on a collection entitled “Maximum Beauty”, a photographic study of large women.

Mr. Nimoy went on to an interview with Yoram Mendel, chief content developer in the Israeli company JCS productions, about his directing work. Mr. Nimoy presented scenes from two of his films, “Three Men and a Baby and “The Good Mother”, and broke down the process of storytelling and his experience as a director on those films – fascinating insight into the man’s work, which is often overshadowed by his role as Mr. Spock. But Nimoy is not frustrated from being typecast, “I think that the fear of being typecast is more of a myth than a reality. Typecasting could be the key to a career. I only know that ever since I got the role of Spock I never had to look for a job again. As far as getting my opportunities, I am content”.


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  • Boaz Trinker

    Leonard Nimoy in Tel Aviv

    As Mr. Spock

    Leonard Nimoy next to his wife and Israeli actress Gila Almagor

    "Three Men and a Baby"

    "The Good Mother"

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