Jews in the News: Floyd Harold Kushner, Aya Cash and Josh Alexander

Veterans’ Day Notes

It was hard for me to watch the 10-part PBS series, “The Vietnam War,” and by the time I did, half the episodes were behind a new paywall, called “PBS Passport.” But, I learned, a mere $5 a month automatic contribution to your local PBS affiliate opens that paywall and you can stream the Vietnam series, and tons of month-old-- or older-- PBS series episodes--to a computer, smart phone, or your TV (if it’s a smart TV or you have a device like Roku).

(Col.) FLOYD HAROLD “Hal” KUSHNER, 76, an ophthalmologist, is extensively interviewed starting with “Vietnam War” episode 6.  Dr. Kushner was born in Honolulu. His father, an Army Air Corps doctor, was stationed at Hickam Field, right near Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 7, 1941, six months after Hal Kushner’s birth, Hickam Field was the subject of repeated deadly attacks by the Japanese. Fortunately, the Kushner family was not injured. Hal Kushner grew-up in Virginia.

I thought Dr. Kushner might be Jewish.  It took some time, but I found an obscure 1972 article from the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) in which Dr. Kushner’s then-wife, VALERIE, was interviewed. Valerie said that she and Dr. Kushner belonged to a Danville, Virginia synagogue. Apparently, Dr. Kushner has deep Southern roots. The JTA article said that he was the great-nephew of JUDAH P. BENJAMIN (1811-1884), a Louisiana U.S. senator who became the Sec. of War and the Sec. of State of the Confederacy.

In the series, Kushner recounts how he went to Vietnam “to save lives.” In 1967, he was on a fairly routine night flight when his combat helicopter crashed into a mountain. He was severely injured, but managed to walk into a nearby village, where he was helped. However, the Viet Cong soon captured him. He was held in horrible conditions in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. Beatings and lack of food were constants. Kushner says it was agonizing to watch other POWs die that he could have saved if he’d been provided with drugs, bandages, etc.  Still, he saved some lives and relieved suffering. He was released in 1973 and retired in 1977. He’s still a practicing physician in Daytona Beach, Florida.  His Silver Star citation describes how he saved, without equipment, the life of a POW who had a heart attack.

The Orlando Sentinel recently interviewed Dr. Kushner. You can read it here.

Halloween Surprise

I’ve really enjoyed watching the FXX cable series “You’re the Worst” since it premiered in 2014. This sharply written comedy/drama, which concludes its fourth season on Nov. 17, has garnered uniformly great reviews. The series follows Jimmy (Chris Geere), a self-involved writer, and Gretchen (AYA CASH, 35), a self-destructive Los Angeles PR executive, through the minefields of their relationship.

I didn’t think there was a Jew in the cast before Aya Cash appeared with Seth Meyers on Halloween night and called herself a “Jewish kid.”  I was a bit confused about this.  I knew, from a check done years ago, that her mother is Kim Addonizio, a well-respected (non-Jewish) novelist and poet and that Kim’s late mother was Pauline Betz, a great tennis player who won the U.S. Open championship four times and Wimbledon once. Well, Cash quickly cleared-up my confusion. She said that Betz didn’t like to be called “grandma” and preferred to be called “Champy.” Her other set of grandparents, she added, wanted to be called “Bubbe and Zaidye”.


Obviously, Cash’s father, EUGENE CASH, is her Jewish parent. Other recent video interviews gave a fuller picture of Aya and her arty family.  Her parents, she said, were “real hippies.” Her father was a street actor and “world music” musician before becoming a Buddhist teacher, which he is now. In a 2016 AOL interview, Aya again described herself as Jewish, but noted her mother is Catholic. In a 2016 Sirius interview, she called herself Jewish and explained that “Cash” was originally something like “CH-irsch”.  She added that she has a hawk tattooed on her back because she was told that Aya means “hawk” in Hebrew. However, when she visited Israel she was told that “Aya” is an archaic translation of “hawk.” (She regrets the tattoo).


Cash paid her dues before “Worst” put her on the map. She waited tables for years and appeared in mostly smallish roles. I suspect her decision to identify as Jewish has a lot to with her husband, producer/writer JOSH ALEXANDER, 42. They were together for ten years before marrying in 2012. His background is more conventional. His parents were university professors. His family belonged to a synagogue (where he had his bar mitzvah).


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