September 18, 2019

Guided by Strong Jewish Values

Frederick Cushnir, 18
High School: Hamilton High School
Going to: Brown University

Participating in Jewish life is in Freddy Cushnir’s blood. The Hamilton High School senior is the son of Andrew Cushnir, the executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and Sharon Spira-Cushnir, the executive director and chief operating officer at Stephen Wise Temple. 

“We’re definitely a very Jewish family,” Cushnir said in a phone interview. “We do Shabbat every Friday night, we keep kosher. Tzedakah, helping other people — we try live by Jewish values as much as we can and treat others the way we want to be treated.”

Cushnir is the president of the Hamilton chapter of the Jewish Student Union, run by the Orthodox Union. The organization attempts to bring Jewish culture to public schools across the U.S.

Cushnir said having a more centrist political viewpoint at his school is challenging, particularly at a time when most students his age are liberal.

“I am center-left, which, in today’s world, living in West L.A., means I am slightly to the right of people, even though I consider myself liberal,” he said.

Cushnir is involved with AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby that is widely considered conservative, but when he has visited Israel he has taken the time to interact with Eritrean refugees, Palestinian teenagers and Israeli kids with social issues living on a farm.

“I am center-left, which, living in West L.A., means I am slightly to the right of people, even though I consider myself liberal.”

Aside from his Jewish-engagement work, Cushnir, who is his school’s valedictorian, has made gun-control advocacy and public policy part of his high school years. He is the founding president of Hamilton’s Brady Teen Anti-Gun Violence Club, and he participated for four years in the YMCA California Youth & Government program, which he said taught him the invaluable skill of public speaking. He recently gave a two-minute address on health care in front of 3,000 of his peers in the program.

“In my speech, I talked about health care and how the prices are way too high and there should be controls on them,” he said.

Recently, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament while playing on Hamilton’s varsity basketball team. The incident provided him with a greater appreciation for having health insurance. 

“If we didn’t have insurance, I wouldn’t have been able to get physical therapy and get better and be healthy again,” he said. “[President Donald Trump] trying to take it away from people who can’t afford it — I think it’s terrible.”

At Brown University, Cushnir hopes to study economics and maybe politics, which he said is the “best way to improve people’s lives on a big scale. The same with economics,” he added, “it governs the way everything works, so going into political economics is a great way to change peoples lives at the base level.”

Before he begins college, Cushnir plans to be a counselor at Camp Alonim, marking his 11th summer at the Simi Valley camp.

“I love working with kids,” he said. “It is so rewarding seeing how happy you can make them, becoming so close to them. I look forward to it every year. Being a counselor and giving kids experiences I had is something I am excited for.”