Jews in the News: Mark Bomback, Judy Blume and Dan Barouch

Upcoming “Jewish” Flicks; Doctors Baroush & Offit

You may recall “Wonder”, a 2017 film that starred Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as the supportive parents of Augie, a 10-year-old boy whose face is disfigured by a rare medical condition. It got great reviews and made mucho gelt. “Wonder” was based on a novel of the same name by RJ Palacio, 57, the daughter of Columbian immigrant parents.

 In the book, Augie has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Religion isn’t mentioned in the film. This cinematic “de-Jewing”, as a friend calls it, of original written source material, is incredibly common. This same friend told me a movie, based on Palacio’s novel, “White Bird: A Wonder Story”, is now filming in Europe.

 In a follow-up short story to “Wonder”, Palacio introduced a new character: Sara, Augie’s French Jewish paternal grandma. “White Bird” focuses on Sara when she was a girl and was hidden during the Nazi-occupation. Obviously, “they” can’t reasonably “de-Jew” a “White Bird” film.

 Gillian Anderson (Margaret Thatcher in “The Crown”) plays a Christian woman who hides Sara after much pleading by her son, a classmate of Sara, and Helen Mirren has a smallish role as the much-older Sara. The screenplay is by MARK BOMBACK, 49, a top writer of many hit films.

 In a 2019 “Kveller” interview, Palacio (first name Raquel), said she was close to her late Jewish mother-in-law (who lost a lot of family in the Holocaust). She added that the novel was written to function as an introduction to the Holocaust for younger readers.

 “Greenlighted” for film production is “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” It’s based on a mega-selling 1970 young adult novel by JUDY BLUME, 83. Margaret is an adolescent girl who frequently talks to God, even though she is being raised in no faith by her Jewish father and Christian mother. Kathy Bates will play Sylvia, Margaret’s beloved Jewish grandma. Sylvia gently tries to get Margaret to embrace Judaism. (This is the first time Blume has consented to have a film made from a book of hers. She says she “trusts the team” behind this film.)

I’ve previously written that Jewish physicians had a key role in the creation of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. When the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was FDA-approved last month, I looked into the background, as best I could, of Dr. DAN BAROUCH, 47, the “key doctor” in the creation of the “J&J” vaccine. He runs the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston).

Barouch, who leads a 60-person lab, has a Harvard undergrad bio-chemistry degree, a Ph.D. from Oxford in immunology, and a Harvard medical degree (all with honors). He switched from looking for an HIV vaccine to a Covid-19 vaccine when the pandemic hit.

 Barouch’s extended family is among the most diverse I’ve ever encountered. His wife, Dr. Fina Barouch, is an ophthalmologist of American Hispanic background. His father, EYTAN BAROUCH, 77, is a Boston Univ. engineering professor. I believe he was born in Israel, where he got his undergrad degree (1965). He got his doctorate from the State Univ. of New York. While a grad student, he met and married Winifred Yip, another student. Now 76, she is of ethnic Chinese background, is an immigrant, and was naturalized in 1963 or '64.

 Dan's only sibling, Dr. LILI AYALA BAROUCH, 49, is a cardiologist, and a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins Univ. medical school in Baltimore. A 2017 issue of the newsletter of a Baltimore-area Reconstructionist synagogue lists her as a synagogue board of trustees’ member. It’s also noted that she was sponsoring an Oneg Shabbat in honor of her mother and her teen daughter, ARIEL.

Dr. PAUL OFFIT, 68, a frequent media guest, showed a sense of humor while recently discussing the Pfizer/Moderna vaccines. 50%, he said, have some mild, short-term side effects after getting the second dose, and 50% don't have side effects. He said he had the usual side effects (fatigue, fever) and he “cured it by whining for two days”.

Offit is a vaccinology and pediatrics professor at the Univ. of Penn. medical school. He’s also a long-time major critic of the anti-vax groups (and has got many death threats). Offit, Fred Clark, and STANLEY PLOTKIN, 88, were co-inventors of a vaccine that took 25 years to bring to market (2006). They had to be super-cautious as they developed and tested a highly successful and safe vaccine that protects babies and children from a diarrhea-inducing virus that, worldwide, used to kill 600,000 annually.


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