Logical. Unemotional. Alien. As Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek television series, Leonard Nimoy found himself trying to bring depth and detail to a character that hadn’t yet been fully fleshed out; it was up to Nimoy to contribute much of what made Spock who he was—including the famous “Vulcan salute.”
Nimoy said that one day on the set, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry asked him to come up with a greeting to use when meeting the Vulcan matriarch, and into his head popped an image of the chazan in his childhood shul giving the “priestly benediction.” And with that, this ancient Jewish hand gesture was introduced to the world.
It’s the blessing by which Aaron blessed the people, the blessing that kohanim still say over worshippers in synagogues today, and it’s the blessing that my wife says over our children every Shabbat (and yes, she does the thing with her hands). “May God bless you and keep you,” she recites. “May God deal kindly with you, and be gracious to you. May God’s face shine upon you, and grant you peace.”
I’ve always connected to the Vulcan salute and the words that accompany it (“Live Long and Prosper”). Perhaps it’s because it seemed so obviously (to me) Jewish, and yet slipped under the radar of my non-Jewish friends. Whatever the reason, I used it to structure my papercut, “Live Long and Prosper,” which I made with cut-up Star Trek comic books.
Yeah, cut-up comic books. For those of you who missed my last post, that’s what I do: I incorporate cut-up comic books into my work, drawing parallels between comic book mythologies and religious traditions. So within the delicate cutaway panels of my “Live Long and Prosper” papercut can be found images of Nimoy as Spock giving the Vulcan salute, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and the beauty of comic book outer space. I also included parts of a chumash that had been headed for the g’nizah for ritual burial: words of the priestly blessing in Hebrew and English, side-by-side with the Spock and his crewmates.
The image is a representation of blessing and strength, and I’ve made it the starting point for the Paper T’filah Visual T’filah I designed for the CCAR. It’s my intention to anchor this visual liturgy in an image both immediately familiar, for multiple reasons–a mix of reverence and amusement, and a statement of intent: this service will boldly go where no one has gone before … and I hope you’ll go there with me.
My wife and I have made “Paper T’filah” an element of the “Paper Midrash” residencies that we lead around the country: worship and study and papercutting workshops that bring together contemporary art, pop culture, and scholarship. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and I couldn’t be more proud to have brought something new to their worship experience.
Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik is a Jewish artist living in Southern California. He cuts up comic books and reassembles them into work made of clean lines and patterns, sinuous shapes and sharp edges, large fields of color and small intimate spaces.
Click here to view a sample of Paper T’filah by Visual T’filah. It is now available for purchase on the CCAR Press website. For more information on how you can bring Paper Midrash to your community, email Isaac or visit his website.