Jewish Book Festival gets under way

William Shatner told an enthusiastic Jewish Book Festival audience that “there is a lot of Captain James Kirk in me, and a lot of me in Captain Kirk.” Shatner, longtime star of the wildly popular Star Trek TV and movie series, and currently appearing as Denny Crane in Boston Legal, reflected on his half-century of acting, singing, writing and advocating for charitable causes.

Nearly every seat in the cavernous gym of the Jewish Community Center was filled with Trekkies, Boston Legal fans and Jewish Book Festival regulars to enjoy Shatner’s keynote of the 28th annual offering of presentations by dozens of national and local authors.

Jewish Book Festival co-chairs Lenore Pepper and Pam Sherman welcomed the large audience, with Pepper describing the large turnout as “awesome,” and Sherman describing a unique program in Israel developed by Shatner, which involves therapeutic horsemanship for physically challenged children.

Facing the large audience, Shatner, who attended a Jewish day school in Canada as a youth, quipped, “I feel like I am back at my bar mitzvah, but in a gymnasium!” He added, “This is your 28th annual Jewish Book Festival, a long time, but not in my lifetime.” Shatner is a very vigorous and energetic 75-year-old, who when he had difficulty adjusting the microphone joked, “I’m not even a mechanic, much less a real space captain. I have also not saved the universe like Captain Kirk, nor have I fought crime like attorney Denny Crane from The Practice and Boston Legal. I am certainly not a prominent attorney with mad cow disease.

“But I have played all of those roles, and that means I am an entertainer,” Shatner continued. “I have acted on TV and in movies, directed, made videos, recording albums, written books, and will soon host a game show on ABC TV. But my book writing is why I am here.”

Of the more than two dozen books he has written or co-authored are six original Star Trek novels, including the latest, Star Trek: Captain’s Glory, with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. His novel series TekWar was turned into a TV series for the Sci-Fi Network.

“I am often asked, why do I write,” Shatner said. “One could also ask why do we read — to be informed by new ideas, to be entertained, to be engaged. The same is true for writing, but it is different; it is very hard work. But it is also fun, and more and more I am finding that when I write about Captain Kirk, I am writing about me. Of course I know that Anthony Hopkins is not a cannibalistic serial killer in real life, but a real portrait of Captain Kirk has emerged over the past 40 years.

“First Kirk appeared as a brash, young and handsome captain and commander of the Starship Enterprise. He has gone through every possible human experience, even dying in one episode. Like me, he has lost friends, loved ones. He has come to appreciate the complexities of life as much as I have. We are both not as young and as brash, but we are both still handsome,” Shatner said to laughter.

In his remarks, Shatner read several dedications to his various books, which he said reflected different aspects of his life. Among them were “two characters who are long deceased, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, who appear in a work of fiction.” He also dedicated other books to his late wife, to his fans, to his fellow actors on Star Trek as well as the support staff, and especially to Leonard Nimoy, who appears as Mister Spock on Star Trek, called “my best friend” by Shatner.

Shatner has long had a love of horses and horsemanship, which culminated in the establishment of the William and Elizabeth Shatner Foundation in Israel under the administration of the Jewish National Fund.

“The idea came to me on a photographic safari we were taking, while driving in the Negev, and we came across a Bedouin Arab boy who beckoned to us. After our terrific Israeli guide, Amir and the boy had a confrontation over the boy’s offer to show us his camels for a dollar, it occurred to me that there should be a way to bridge the gap among the different peoples in the Middle East.”

With the help of a Los Angeles friend, Marvin Markowitz of Beverly Hills, Shatner started the foundation with his wife Elizabeth, also a lover of horses, which provides a therapeutic riding program in Israel that benefits Beouin, Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli children. “The program brings kids from this war-torn area together to encourage peace through the incredible healing power the energy of the horses provides to kids with severe physical challenges.

“We hope that this program will serve as a model of how we can come together despite differences for healing and hopefully for peace,” Shatner said.

Following his remarks, Shatner signed hundreds of copies of his latest books for the large number of veteran and new fans who attended his keynote presentation. The 2006 Greater St. Louis Jewish Book Festival runs through Nov. l5. For information call 314-442-3299.