What happens when you put a National Jewish Book Award laureate in charge of a Star Trek television series?
You get a lot of Jewish, you should pardon the expression, Easter eggs.
In 2016, Michael Chabon received the Modern Jewish Literary Achievement Award from the Jewish Book Council for such books as “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.”
Now he is the lead writer on “Star Trek: Picard,” which catches up with Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the Enterprise in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which aired back in the 20th century. In the new series, Picard has quit Starfleet after the Federation turned its back on Romulan refugees. The Federation had been spooked by a terror attack on Mars.
Fans watching the weekly series streaming on CBS Direct Access have noted that Chabon seems to have imparted a Jewier touch to the show.
First came what seems to be Trek’s first Jewish doctor, Dr. Moritz Benayoun, introduced as Picard’s long-time physician and friend since before his Enterprise days. Although he’s not specifically labeled as Jewish, Benayoun is a Jewish name. Yossi Benayoun was one of Israel’s leading soccer players, competing in Israel and in England, until he announced his retirement last April. So if you know, you know.
Then came Planet Vashti, home to a group of Romulan refugee nuns. If you think the name of the Purim character is a coincidence, check out the triangular shape of the baked goods they eat there.
And then there were the Wallenberg-class starships used to evacuate Romulans before Federation’s xenophobia set in. It’s an apparent reference to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.
Which is not to say that “Star Trek” didn’t have Jewish writerly connections from the very beginning. Plenty of screenwriters and actors were Jewish, and the prize for the most Jewish name on the original Star Trek goes to writer S. Bar David, the pseudonym for Shimon Wincelberg, who wrote two of the original episodes featuring Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
And while Chabon is famous for his alternate history detective novel, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” set in a world where the Jewish state is Alaska, the closest an actual Yiddish writer seems to have gotten to “Star Trek” is the actor David Opatoshu, who had a “Star Trek” role in 1967. David, the son of noted Yiddish novelist Joseph Opatoshu, began his career in the Yiddish theater and appeared in both “Exodus” and “Raid on Entebbe.”