Skip To Content

New, bizarre (and sometimes gross) ‘Data’ about the Jewishness of ‘Star Trek’

Fan Fiction

A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events

By Brent Spiner

St. Martin’s Press, 256page, $27.99

What is it with “Star Trek and the Jews?” Leonard Nimoy imbued Mr. Spock with Jewishness from his Orthodox upbringing and William Shatner went to Jewish summer camp. Some people, wrongly, think that Gene Roddenberry, creator of “Star Trek,” was also Jewish, but his two initial co-writers, Bob Justman and Herb Solow, were.

Bizarrely, Jewish actors have embodied three different stereotypes on the franchise. First, Russians — Commander Worf’s adoptive parents the Rozhenkos were played by Georgia Brown (née Lilian Klot) and the legendary Theodore Bikel while Walter Koenig and the late, lamented Anton Yelchin, played two generations of Pavel “Mr.” Chekhov.

Second — more worryingly because of the similarity to enduring antisemitic stereotypes — Jewish actors Armin Shimerman, Aron Eisenberg and Max Grodénchik played the greedy über-capitalist Ferengi characters Quark, Nog and Rom, respectively, on “Star Trek: Deep Space 9.” Shimerman himself played three separate Ferengi on three separate series, as well as DS9, he played Quark on “Star Trek: Voyager” and, before that, played Letek and then DaiMon Bractor in separate episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Finally, as I just learned from reading “Fan Fiction” — the new sort-of autobiographical novel by Brent Spiner — both hyperlogical pillars of “Star Trek” — Mr. Spock and Data — were played by members of the tribe.

The hero of Spiner’s novel is an actor called Brent Spiner who is in the midst of filming the third series of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1989 when a dangerous stalking fan sends him a bloody pig penis in the mail.

The protagonist, like the author, was close friends with Donald “Trey” Yearnsley Wilson III who tragically died in the middle of that year. Both real and fictional Spiners are from Houston and Jewish enough that their heritage is mentioned on multiple occasions in the novel. The treyfness of the disgusting fanmail isn’t addressed directly, but it adds piquancy to the story.

Shortly after the arrival of the first of a number of threatening letters and odd, “Star Trek”-adjacent events, Spiner is getting into his makeup next to Michael Dorn – who stars as Worf.

The “great artist Michael Westmore,” Spiner writes. “proceeds to pack a pound of phosphorescent powder onto my punim… I doubt it’s much of a thrill for him to turn a Texas Jew into an android from Omicron Theta, but I get goose bumps every day just being part of his history.”

Later on, inspired by a TV movie and high on Percodan (matzo ball soup did end up curing the kidney stone, though prescription medication helped out with the pain), Spiner faces up to his stalker and the memories of his bullying stepfather. He imagines ghosts of Christmas arriving, including Patrick Stewart, his friend from “The Next Generation,” as the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Stewart teaches Spiner about empathy and they get into a discussion:

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

”That’s from First Corinthians, isn’t it? You know I’m Jewish, don’t you?”

”Then let me put it another way. Grow some ‘beytsim,’ as they say in Yiddish.”

So, though the extent of the gap between the fictional and the historical Spiner is unclear, Spiner joins Kinky Friedman and David Wilensky in my top three living Jewish Texans, when he recounts how he lost his virginity by engaging the services of a prostitute called “Little Tinker Toy.”

“[She] looked me right in the eyes and said ‘Kid, if you’ve got 10 dollars, I’ve got the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” Spiner writes.

Although he notes that “if memory serves… [she] bore an uncanny resemblance to Ed McMahon” he pays for an evening (“in and out the door in 15 minutes”) of love. “Since I had the rest of my bar mitzvah money in my pocket, I went another couple of rounds in the Tinker Toy School of Love. She was amazing.”

As well as an introduction to carnal pleasures — the “kingdom of heaven” — Tinker Toy gave Spiner a hint as to his future profession. “Star Trek” may not have handed him the whole kingdom, but it certainly gave him the keys to the heavens.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.