The cast of the Disney Channel’s Andi Mack included, left to right: Asher Angel as Jonah Beck, Peyton Elizabeth Lee as Andi Mack, Joshua Rush as Cyrus Goodman and Sofia Wylie as Buffy Driscoll. (photo by Disney Channel/Mitch Haaseth)
Before it was canceled two weeks ago, after three seasons, the Disney Channel’s Andi Mack covered new ground. The tween coming-of-age show not only had a Jewish character, Cyrus Goodman, but he was the first openly gay character on the channel. The coming-out storyline, which aired earlier this year, received high praise for the way it was handled. The show’s inclusivity is one reason fans are still fighting – via social media – to keep the show on the air. New episodes will run through the end of summer.
Joshua Rush, who played Cyrus, is Jewish himself. On the ABC TV show Good Morning America, Rush, who is 17, said that the response was overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve really gotten to see the myriad ways that both this new coming-out scene for Cyrus, and this Jewish representation of his family, has affected the fans,” Rush said.
The scene in which Cyrus comes out to his friends is set in front of a buffet spread of traditional Jewish food at his grandmother Bubbe Rose’s shivah. While explaining the foods, such as kugel, classic bagels and lox and gefilte fish, he blurts out that he is gay. The episode, called “Once in a Minyan,” was written by Jonathan Hurwitz, whose credits include The Daily Show. Hurwitz shared in a guest post for GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) that he was driven from personal experience to write this episode as “someone who’s Jewish, has dealt with long-term anxiety and has come out to his friends and family.”
Cyrus’s Judaism allowed the writers and show’s creative team to incorporate Jewish traditions and rituals. In one episode, Cyrus has a bar mitzvah – and, in it, Rush recites the same Torah portion from his own bar mitzvah. Another example is the shivah scene, where the writers included Jewish bereavement rituals like covering mirrors and the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish; there is also a yahrzeit candle on display.
Prior to the announcement of the show’s cancelation, the Jewish Independent spoke with Rush, who was born in Houston, Tex., but now resides in Los Angeles.
JI: Did you have any input in the character being Jewish?
JR: Our show’s creator, Terri Minsky, is Jewish, and so am I. From the beginning, there had been discussions of the character being Jewish, but actually acting on it in the context of the bar mitzvah and shivah episodes came later, after the character was more fleshed out. The storylines themselves were all Terri’s though.
JI: Did you suggest the bar mitzvah storyline, since you had recently had one?
JR: After learning of the character’s Judaism and being more comfortable with Terri and the writing staff, I was immediately very excited at the idea of giving Cyrus a bar mitzvah. I loved mine but, because I celebrated mine in Israel, I didn’t get all the accoutrements of an American bar mitzvah, so I really enjoyed the massive party we had for the “bash mitzvah”!
JI: What kind of feedback have you gotten from family, friends and fans about your character being gay? Being Jewish?
JR: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I think, a lot of the time, the media, and especially kids shows, display Jewish characters in side plots. See Chanukah being “Jewish Christmas,” Pesach being “Jewish Easter,” etc. With this great representation of the religion in the cast and writer’s room, we were able to show a Jewish character who is a main character, who has his own life, his own story, and being Jewish is just a part of that. Not being the butt of jokes as a result of his faith has given me a lot pride.
JI: What messages do you hope viewers will get from your storylines?
JR: I think something that’s really special about Cyrus is that he knows that he doesn’t know everything about the world and about himself. But he’s never afraid to ask the tough questions about who he might be and what that means for his life. That’s an incredibly honourable thing, and I think we can all learn from that.
JI: On a personal note, does your family celebrate Jewish holidays?
JR: We celebrate most holidays and being Jewish is a big part of our household. The show was very flexible with allowing us to celebrate Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and we even cooked traditional Jewish foods for Chanukah every winter, much to the delight of the crew. (My dad makes the best matzah balls on planet earth!)
Alice Burdick Schweiger is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.