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Friday, October 25, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Temple audience gives Nimoy enthusiastic welcome for talk

Seattle Times staff reporter

Leonard Nimoy finally achieved a mind-meld with a Seattle Jewish audience last night.

After getting bumped by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle over the provocative content of his new art-photography book, the former "Star Trek" actor enjoyed an enthusiastic welcome at Temple Beth Am in Wedgwood.

About 450 people turned out for Nimoy's presentation on "Shekhina" (Umbrage Editions, $39.95), a black-and-white volume that mixes female nudes with Jewish religious imagery — specifically the feminine presence of God in the Kabbalah, a mystical interpretation of Scripture. Many were synagogue members who had seen Nimoy's book and found it inoffensive, criticizing the Jewish Federation for dumping Nimoy. Others just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Walking inside with a copy under his arm, synagogue member Robert Rosenberg said its photos were "erotic but not offensive."

Mark Linsey said he had only seen the book's cover. "I'm here to learn what motivated him to do this collection," he said. The federation incident "smacks of censorship, and I wanted to support the fight against censorship."

"I've always been a 'Star Trek' fan," Dr. Mindy Blaski said, like a number of other attendees. But she was interested in Nimoy's experiences growing up Jewish, and added, "I wanted to support that he shouldn't have been disinvited. But I'm sure with a book like this, that there's some traditional Orthodox Jews that would find it sacrilegious."

Disinvited or dumped, the issue boiled down to this:

Nimoy had been scheduled to appear at a Jewish Federation fund-raiser on Wednesday. But after his presentation was canceled, federation director Barry Goren said the nudes in "Shekhina" could be offensive to prospective donors and that Nimoy had contracted to discuss his "Jewish journey." Nimoy said the federation knew about "Shekhina" from the outset and that the cancellation seemed like censorship.

The eyebrow-raising controversy made national headlines, peaking in a "Saturday Night Live" spoof in which "Weekend Update" anchor Tina Fey joked, "Your reign of tyranny is over, Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle! Thanks to Leonard Nimoy, Seattle and its surrounding suburbs will now walk free!" ( The federation, which replaced Nimoy with comedian Al Franken, helped reschedule him with Beth Am.)

Before his presentation yesterday, a relaxed Nimoy, 71, said of the sendup, "I thought it was hilarious. I couldn't stop laughing. My only previous controversy was involving Spock's ears." (Mr. Spock is the name of the character Nimoy played on "Star Trek.")

Nimoy wasn't surprised the cancellation multiplied the attention to his photography. "Is it crass to say it probably worked out for the best?"

But not just in sales. Nimoy, who is not an Orthodox Jew, said, "The book has awakened my own new interest in spirituality and given me a new pathway into it."

As for the controversy surrounding his images, Nimoy said, "The real issue is not religious iconography, it's not nudity, but the elevation of women in the hierarchy of the religion."

That remark drew applause when he repeated it during his slide show last night. "Tonight I'm going to boldly show you what I was not allowed to show you last night," he joked. The crowd — which ranged from teens to the elderly and included a few Christians — sat silently during the presentation and then applauded warmly.

Arleigh Stein said, "I love it. I think he's really caught something. It takes my breath."

Ivy Green, who isn't a member of the synagogue, said she attended because she has been a Nimoy fan since childhood and has an interest in the Kabbalah. While many were criticizing the Jewish Federation's action, Green said, "It's their right. But I think it's sad for Seattle to get a reputation for being so uptight about things."

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