November 16, 2018

Jewish Actor Joshua Rush Plays Disney Channel’s First Gay, Jewish Teen

The kid-friendly Disney Channel series “Andi Mack” made history last October, when the character Cyrus Goodman revealed that he’s gay. In the show’s latest episode, Cyrus marks another significant event: his bar mitzvah.

Reciting part of his own torah portion that he’d relearned and wearing the tallit—a gift from his grandparents—that he wore at his real-life bar mitzvah, actor Joshua Rush celebrates Disney Channel’s first Jewish rite of passage.

“There are a lot of kids who have never been to a bar mitzvah and to them it’s shrouded in mystery,” Rush told the Journal. “Now they can watch it and understand our culture a little bit.”

To prepare for the scene, Rush worked with the rabbi at Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, where “Andi Mack” is filmed. Although it was his idea to use his own haftorah, which was about the commandment of Shabbat, “I definitely needed a refresher,” he said.

He did well enough to get the thumbs up from his Los Angeles synagogue’s rabbi, who sent him a congratulatory note after the episode’s premiere. But he didn’t completely pass muster with an Israeli cousin who pointed out an incorrectly pronounced vowel in the reading.

“There are a lot of kids who have never been to a bar mitzvah and to them it’s shrouded in mystery. Now they can watch it and understand our culture a little bit.”

While an extravagant party with a carnival theme follows Cyrus’ ceremony, Rush had small bar mitzvah at Kibbutz Gezer in Israel, streamed live on the Internet so friends at home could see it. While preparing for it, he “really felt connected to my Judaism in a lot of different ways,” he said. “It’s become a much more important part of my life since then.”

Born in Houston, Tex., Rush was raised in a Reform Jewish family with roots in Poland and Lithuania. His mother, a corporate video producer, and father, and artist and therapist, told him, “Being Jewish is part of our identity and it can be part of your identity if you want it to be,” he said.

Rush is currently learning conversational Hebrew and will soon make his fifth trip to Israel. His maternal grandfather was born there and he has relatives all over the country. “I love the Dead Sea and walking around the markets in Jerusalem’s Old City,” he said. “There’s so much history on every street, in every cobblestone.”

As a Jew, he’s proud to portray that part of Cyrus, and feels “empowered” to represent the gay aspect of the character. “He’s got so much depth to him, and he’s not afraid to be who he is,” Rush said. “‘Andi Mack’ has such a great message about loving yourself, loving your family and being loyal to your friends. I want to see Cyrus keep asking hard questions and figuring out who he is over the rest of this season and in season three.”

He pays no attention to the few people who’ve made negative comments about Cyrus because the response from young fans and parents has been overwhelmingly positive. One mother thanked him “for everything you’ve been doing with this character. If some of my friends had had that character [as a role model] when they were growing up, they would have been a lot better off,” she told him.

Rush, now 16, began his career as a baby model at 10 months old, and relocated to L.A. with his parents 10 years ago to pursue acting roles. He’s not sure what lies ahead for him, but he plans to attend college, likely to study political science. He stars in a self-produced current affairs series on Instagram called “News in a Rush.” “His next minute-long episode will cover the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Might a career in politics be in his future?  “[Show] business is fickle, so who knows,” he said. “I’ll take it as it comes and live every day for the moment.”

“Cyrus’ Bash Mitzvah!” is airing through March and April on Disney Channel and its digital platforms.