Each week, we select the most interesting Jewish obituary. This week, it’s that of Robert Hegyes, who died last week at age 60. Now, Hegyes himself was not Jewish: He was half-Italian, half-Hungarian (hence the ambiguous surname). But as an actor he achieved greatest fame playing “Epstein,” Juan Epstein, the half-Puerto Rican half-Jewish (mother’s side!) kid in Welcome Back, Kotter. I guess what I didn’t realize is just how Jewish Welcome Back, Kotter, the 1970s sitcom, was (it’s certainly due for an Arbiter column). Gabe Kotter returns to the old neighborhood, which is Bensonhurst, to teach? There’s a Barbarino (Italian, Travolta); Washington (black); Horshack (Polish, presumably bused in from Greenpoint); and an Epstein? Kotter is played by Gabe Kaplan? And they thought Seinfeld was “too Jewish, too New York”? Wow!
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