Born in 1931 to Ukrainian immigrants, Leonard Nimoy was raised Jewish. Speaking with the National Yiddish Book Center in 2013, he described his experience of being taken to an Orthodox synagogue in Boston when he was a young boy. As the Kohanim chanted the Shekhina blessing, Nimoy and the rest of the attendees were told to avert their gaze. Nimoy, evidently a curious child, couldn’t force himself to look away. 

“I thought, ‘Something major is happening here,'” he said. “So I peeked.” What Nimoy saw was the men’s hands raised into the sign of “shin,” one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, formed by placing the fingers together and then separating the ring and middle fingers. “I had no idea what was going on, but the sound of it and the look of it was magical.”

Years later, while filming the “Star Trek” episode “Amok Time,” Nimoy had the idea to use the gesture as a way for Vulcans to greet each other. “Boy, that just took off. It just touched a magic chord.” Nimoy’s Jewish upbringing influenced his portrayal of Spock in other ways, including the character’s outsider status. He also published a book of his photography dedicated to exploring Shekhina, which is understood as God’s feminine essence. It contains a handful of photos that are clearly of the “shin” hand gesture. Nimoy was also, in his later years, a proponent of the preservation and revival of the Yiddish language. In fact, the first half of the interview with the National Yiddish Book Center is conducted in the language. Nimoy was fluent.

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