A lot is awry at the moment: political violence in America, white nationalists in the streets, and a general feeling of unease as 5783 kicks off with a renewed sense of dread and antisemitism. A recap of October.
022: Jews in Space, Spock, and The Moon
Nimoy’s contributions, a Jewess astronaut, and the Moon landing as a spiritual experience
Halloween felt especially strange this year. I’m already trying on so many new masks, costumes, and ideas. I usually come up empty on ideas and it’s always a last minute affair. [More on that here]
It’s also the time of year to bundle up and binge good new TV! The weather dropped fast in LA, nights got really chilly, and I’ve been watching a few relevant things including the alt-history Man in the High Castle, final season; the new series For All Mankind (Apple TV+) about a history where Russia lands on the moon first; the relevant doc Apollo 11, with incredible digitized footage of the actual thing, and The Crown season 3. That first one is about actual Nazis, the rest about space, and in the case of The Crown, the moon landing episode is excellent.
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After finally watching Fiddler on the Roof I recently learned that Leonard Nimoy played Tevye on Broadway, which gives me a great joy. I love Nimoy. I’ve never been a big Trekkie, I was definitely more an X-Files and new Battlestar guy. (Aside: Star Wars is trash. Fight me. But I do like the merch).
My congregation Nefesh recently met at an actual synagogue instead of the usual JCC and I noted the eternal flame in front was framed with a Shin, the Hebrew letter for “Sh” and “S”. It’s also the marker for the mezuzah, the boxes Jews place on doorframes, and Shin is the first letter of Shaddai in this case, one of the names for G-d. As is “HaShem“, “The Name”, the name of G-d (“ha” means “the” and Shem means “name”).
Reading about this I also discovered Nimoy had crafted Spock’s trademarks with Judaism in mind: Live Long and Prosper is inspired by a Jewish blessing, and his accompanying hand sign is the Hebrew letter Shin. Wow!
Jews have been in space since the 60s in this fictional sense, and just a month ago the first Jewish woman walked in space, too. The new show For All Mankind depicts Russia beating us to the moon and very quickly we one-up by training women astronauts, putting the first American women on the moon in the early 70s. Now for our reality to catch up to fiction!
I’ve had the moon on my mind since summer, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Watching First Man earlier this year was really gripping for me with these long, frenetic scenes of the technical aspects of landing and just how harrowing and fragile it all was. The calm voices of the 3 men—farther away from anyone else ever in all history—betray just how difficult, stressful, and magical it all was.
So it was fitting that in the same month as that 50th anniversary I learned of the importance of the moon in the Hebrew calendar, how the first of every month falls on a full moon. We lost touch of that marker, and now the lunar cycle floats through the month landing at all random times. What a metaphor for modern life.
In The Crown episode, Moondust, Prince Phillip, husband of the Queen, has a spiritual experience watching the moon landing. He’s a pilot and felt for decades the stifling expectations of his role, so when the astronauts visit he doesn’t hold back telling them of his jealousy of their achievement. The episode tells the story, too of the new Dean of the Church of England, the Queen’s personal priest, starting a house on the estate for disaffected clergy to gather and guide each other through various midlife crises. Some, like Phillip’s, are crises of identity and faith, and well, I’ve written a few things of that. Watching men land on the actual freakin’ moon makes me wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life, too, and I don’t live in a palace.
The words on the side of the lunar lander, “We came in peace for all mankind,” were especially telling in 1969 after such an extended period of social turmoil. King, JFK, and Bobby Kennedy assassinated, the civl rights movement violently suppressed, and the Vietnam War just starting to languish. We’re in a similar time, now too, where those in power only want to represent one view, one race, and one religion, and write off or destroy the rest of us.
“All Mankind” means just that. All of us. The priests in Moondust, the Crown episode, lament that 500 million people had a shared spiritual experience glued to their grayscale television sets, watching human beings first step on an alien surface. We used to get that awe in religion, they say. What happened?
What happened, especially in America, is many of those clergy turned on all mankind. Evangelical Christianity became about representing white folks and opposing equality. We’re witnessing its death rattle, I hope. While we fight for that to come to pass, we look skyward, to science, to G-d, to something to unite us again instead of dividing us.
Jews in Space, Spock, and The Moon:
- Washington Post: The Jewish Roots of Leonard Nimoy and Live Long and Prosper
- Live Long and Prosper: Words of “Star Trek” and Torah for Jewish Leaders
- This is Why we ‘Live Long and Prosper’
- Man in the High Castle (and Nazi schadenfreude this last season)
- For All Mankind on Apple TV+
- Apollo 11 documentary, Amazon Prime
- The Crown: Moondust episode recap at Vulture
- More white supremacist alt-history with HBO’s The Watchmen [Salon]