Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’


The Hebrew word shalom means “hello,” “goodbye” and “peace.” It comes from shalem, which means wholeness. When we feel whole, we experience shalom—peace. When we don’t, our inner conflicts can have grave consequences for ourselves and those around us. This theme ran through the four movies Carolyn and I recently saw at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco.

A Tale of Love and Darkness by the Israeli-born American actress Natalie Portman is based on the autobiographical novel by Amos Oz (nee Klausner; Oz means strength in Hebrew). Oz’s parents came separately to Israel from Eastern Europe in the 1930s and met in Jerusalem. His mother, well educated and from a once-wealthy family, could not cope with the challenging life in Israel before and after independence. She became increasingly depressed and committed suicide. Interestingly, Jerusalem is equated with the biblical city of Shalem along with the Canaanite priest Melchizedek—about whom I write in God’s Others—mentioned in Genesis 14:18. In 1967, Jerusalem was reunited by the Israeli military. Yet it remains culturally divided between West (Jews) and East (Arabs).

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You focuses on the hit TV shows Lear created from the the late 1960s through the ‘80s. The controversial but highly rated “All in the Family” featured Carroll O’Connor as the right-wing, irascible Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton as his beleaguered but loving wife Edith. Hunkered down in his Queens home, Archie resists the whirlwind of social and cultural changes in America. He feels lost in a time warp, hence the title music “Those Were the Days” with its brilliant line, “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.” Which we could not. Yes, Archie is a racist and a misogynist. Still, there’s something lovable about him because he cannot conceal his basic humanity.

The Writer is an Israeli TV series created by Sayed Kashua. Its protagonist Kateb (Yousef Sweid) mirrors Sayed as the creator of the actual Israeli hit show Arab Labor. Kateb reveals Sayed’s feeling of dislocation—an Israeli Arab sympathetic to the Palestinians but a thoroughly modern resident of Jewish West Jerusalem. Ultimately, Kateb takes a teaching position in the United States. Kashua has been at the University of Illinois for two years and is applying for his green card.

For the Love of Spock tracks the development of the character Dr. Spock in the famed “Star Trek” TV series and movies. It also profiles Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought Spock to life. Spock—whose famed hand salute is the sign of the priestly blessing given by descendants of the kohanim (priests) during Yom Kippur and observed by the young Nimoy in his Boston synagogue—is half-Vulcan, half-human. Spock’s cold logic typifies his Vulcan self, but echoing Archie Bunker, he periodically reveals his human emotions. Nimoy himself suffered a dichotomy. Most Trekkies saw him only as Spock and didn’t know about his other acting work or concede that Nimoy was a person in his own right.

The Jewish Film Festival runs through this weekend in San Rafael and Berkeley. It’s worth attending. It’s also worth looking at any of the films through the lens of human beings torn between worlds. To a great extent, this represents the human condition—as does the search for shalem.

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From time to time, the leader of a Torah study session or Shabbat services will ask the group to come up with an Eleventh Commandment. (The Ten Commandments Moses received on Mount Sinai are well known but often misunderstood.) One of the earliest of these Eleventh Commandments was Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim’s instruction to survive as Jews and not give Hitler a posthumous victory. I have my own favorite Eleventh Commandment. It doesn’t seem as awesome, but I think it offers all of us some meaningful opportunities to make the world a better place.

Asked for such a commandment several years ago, I answered, “You shall cut each other some slack.” People laughed. Some may have considered it a goofball response. Granted, I’m quite capable of that. Not long after, I repeated my Eleventh Commandment at Friday-night services. More laughter greeted me. (Afterwards, a woman who has studied and taken classes with me provided a minority report that I really had something.) I suspect that on both occasions, those who heard my pronouncement thought it too humble—too simple—in regard to weightier subjects like avoiding idolatry, honoring parents, and not murdering, kidnapping and coveting one’s neighbor’s wife. On the other hand, my Eleventh Commandment may have made people uncomfortable. Human nature too often seems to resist cutting slack for others.

Case in point: My youngest son, Aaron, married Jeremy Kueffner last Friday in Stowe, Vermont. Aaron and Jeremy had been partners for several years. When Aaron broke the glass at the end of the ceremony—conducted by a justice of the peace—to maintain a link with Jewish tradition, a real marriage had taken place. Two people who love and complement each other had been joined as one.

My oldest son, Seth, put it best. (My middle son, Yosi, perhaps aping me, read from a children’s book with a very deep message about two people who love each other.) I can only give you the gist of Seth’s wedding comments, the most eloquent and moving I’ve ever heard. They went roughly like this: The U.S. just landed a new Mars Rover. It reminded Seth—a sci-buff—of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s position that creation contained many sentient life forms and our highest duty was to respect and protect each, to live in harmony within a great whole. Trust me, Seth put it better.

Of course, the families and friends gathered had no brief against the wedding of two men. But my Eleventh Commandment revealed itself in a somewhat unexpected but delightful way. My brother-in-law Michael is a small-town Texas conservative. He’s a practicing Catholic, too. But he came to the wedding. And he told me something as meaningful as anything Seth said. “I don’t approve of gay marriage. But I came here to support my nephew.”

Imagine how much better our world would be if everyone—in spite of disagreements—cut each other some slack. It’s not all that difficult. Because in doing so, we don’t have to accept each other’s beliefs. All we have to do is acknowledge them. As I wrote in God’s Others, different isn’t bad. It’s simply different.

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