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Bruce Weitz
Honoring 'Welcome Back, Kotter's' Robert Hegyes for being one of TV's first 'Tough Jews'
Honoring 'Welcome Back, Kotter's' Robert Hegyes for being one of TV's first 'Tough Jews'

As a young critic, I liked the ABC sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter." But I had a special spot in my heart for Juan Epstein, the character played with such energy and adventure by Robert Hegyes. I didn't really understand my affection for Hegyes and Epstein, though, until 2000 when I wrote "The Jews of Prime Time," a study of Jewish identity on network TV. (It's really a study in self-censorship by the Jewish founders and their lieutenants.) News of the actor's death at age 60 Thursday from a heart attack sent me back to the book, and this passage is the best appreciation and context I can offer for the TV career of Hegyes. I really do mourn his passing and...

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