Jews in the News: Sam Firstenberg, Tal Zaks and Scott Gottlieb

The Boogaloo Bois, a violent right-wing group, was again in the news when 14 persons were arrested (Oct. 8) for plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Two of the group’s ringleaders had previously identified themselves as Boogaloo Bois. Like many people, I first became aware of the group last May. Boogaloo member Steve Carillo, an active duty Air Force military police sergeant, used the cover of George Floyd street demonstrations to shoot and kill a federal protective services officer in Oakland, California (where I live). It was a planned assassination. He killed to further the group’s crazy aim of creating a civil war. 

 On June 6, Carrillo tossed explosives at Santa Cruz County (CA) deputy sheriffs who came to arrest him. He used a machine gun to kill one deputy and he wounded another deputy. He carjacked a vehicle to get away, but neighbors caught up with him and held him for police. Robert Justus, who drove the van that Carrillo sat in as he took aim at the federal officer, turned himself in shortly after Carrillo’s arrest.

 The Boogaloo Bois took their name from the 1984 film “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo.” The film’s Israeli-born director, SAM FIRSTENBERG, 70, spoke to the “Hollywood Reporter” last July about being shocked that his film’s title had morphed into the name of a hate group.

 “The Reporter” explained how that “morphing” happened. The following text is all from “The Reporter” article: “Until only recently, ‘Electric Boogaloo’ was a lighthearted meme. ‘In the last 10 years or so,” Firstenberg says, ‘it became equal with the word 'sequel'. (A Twitter hashtag game to name book sequels, for example, resulted in responses like ’Lord of the Flies 2: Electric Boogaloo.’) Firstenberg loved the trend, which seemed to revive interest in the campy breakdancing flick. [Firstenberg told us] ‘It's screened at festivals the past few years’…But after two brutal killings the fun once associated with the word is no longer.  ‘It's impossible to wrap my mind around’, Firstenberg says. ‘From a movie like this about dancing children and neighborhood unity — something like this has evolved.’ “

 A number of readers have asked me if any of the physicians who are developing vaccines for Covid-19, and/or frequently appear on news programs to discuss Covid-19, are Jewish. Here is a list I have been able to compile from public sources. This list is still growing. A second, shorter list will be in a near-future column. 

 (1) Dr. TAL ZAKS, 54, is an Israel-born and trained oncologist who has been the chief medical officer for Moderna Therapeutics since 2015. He is the “point guy” on Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine development. Four companies have reached “phase 3” vaccine trials, but two have paused their development. Moderna’s vaccine is still on track. Last month, Zaks told the Jerusalem Post: “The pressure is coming from within…This vaccine is personal; we are all affected by it”. He added that he wants his 80-year old mother to be vaccinated so “her life can return to normal. I take this responsibility deeply and personally.” (2) Dr. PETER HOTEZ, 62, is the director of the Texas Center for Vaccine Development. He frequently appears on MSNBC and CNN to discuss the pandemic. He has vaccines in clinical trials for several tropical diseases. He has been working with India on a Covid-19 vaccine. In 2017, he received the Distinguished Achievement Award from B’nai Brith International. (3) Dr. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, 48, an internist, served as FDA commissioner from 2017-2019. He frequently appears on news programs discussing the pandemic. (4) Dr. IRWIN REDLENER, 76, is a pediatrician who is the head of the Earth Institute for Disaster Preparedness, headquartered at Columbia University. He, too, frequently appears on news programs; and (5) Dr. STEVEN ATLAS, 65, a radiologist, joined the White House’s Covid-19 task force in August. His apparent embrace of “herd immunity” and his disparagement of masks and social distancing have caused a firestorm of controversy. On-line family history records and on-line obituary notices establish that his parents were Jewish. His only sibling, Dr. BARRY ATLAS, 69, is a Virginia eye doctor and he’s listed as a donor to Jewish Family Services.


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