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Jewish Jingle Belles?

December 21, 2006 By:
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Lighting up for Chanukah are Ron Rifkin and Kerris Lilla Dorsey.
Now this is a Chanukah miracle; turn on the TV and hit the lights, menorah and otherwise: The Flying Nun is Jewish!

Well ... sort of. Sally Field, who had the habit in hand of playing the soaring supplicant in the late '60s series about a Sister with the wind beneath her wings, is now the mother superior in "Brothers & Sisters," airing Sunday nights after "Desperate Housewives" on 6ABC.

Desperate dreidels?

Apparently, because the former Sister-cum-Mother Earth figure around whom the wayward Walker family runs has been revealed to be Jewish, although why her brother Saul (Ron Rifkin) was obviously a Jew -- and she not -- has always been one of the sibling revelries that makes this sensational soaper so bubbly.

Holy Jewish jingle belle? Nun of the above: Turns out, revealed Field's Nora Holden, that she's been holding on to her Jewishness inside while married to a gentle gentile (Tom Skerritt), who skidded into the pool and drowned after a heart attack in the first episode.

More frighteningly, this makes Ally McBeal Jewish, too. (Calista Flockhart of McBeal fame now fulminates as her daughter, Kitty, in the hit series.)

All was revealed just two Sundays ago.

Why was this night different from all other nights? It was the "Brothers & Sisters" version of the Christmas/Chanukah conflict, just in time for the holidays, overlapping as they often do this year.

Merry Chrismukkah, and to all a good fight!

A Santa Clause?
Indeed, it was as if Santa had come in donning a kipah on his kup instead of a cap. But then, should it be that surprising that this Chanukah (am)bush would have happened given the series creators' own holiday history?

Ken Olin, exec producer/director -- and proud Penn alumnus -- provided a steady hand as Michael Steadman, the Jewish half of a boomer marriage that made "thirtysomething" something else in the late '80s/early '90s, as it annually analyzed the mixed blessings of a mixed marriage at holiday time. (Is it coincidence that Cliff Olin -- son of the Jewish Ken Olin and gentile Patricia Wettig, star of this show and "thirtysomething" -- co-wrote this episode of "Light the Lights"?)

And Jewishly oriented Jon Robin Baitz, creator/executive producer, is probably better know as a playwright whose works often delve into the Jewish genre.

But perhaps the keenest of connections in "Brothers & Sisters" is that of father-figure/son, played on/off-camera by Rifkin and Baitz, whose words are baited with banter that reflect a musical muse relationship.

Mythical mishpochah? Rifkin, a reformed Orthodox Jew who's still very observant, and Baitz, a terrific playwright albeit a TV tyro, have teamed together early and often on stage and in film, notably in the writer's "The Substance of Fire," in which a Jewish family of publishers promulgates a hapless life bookended by half-truths and whole deceptions.

Such is the substance of their fired-up rapport: "Ron and Robbie [Baitz] have a long history of collaboration in the theater," notes Olin. "So I think the thing that's really special is that when you have relationships that actually can migrate, it's a privilege."

Honored to be honored, say Baitz and Rifkin, whose non-Robbie roles include scene-stealing turns in Broadway's "Cabaret" and "L.A. Confidential."

Confident confidantes these two, who also collaborated on the not-so-Jewish "Alias."

Could their own professional relationship be an alias for something else?

You don't need to know the location of Rambaldi to know where their theatrical hearts lie.

"To my horror," says the fearfully talented Baitz, "someone sent me a doctoral dissertation, and it wasn't about American drama. It was a psychiatric doctoral dissertation about the overidentification between Ron Rifkin and Jon Robin Baitz."

A frisson of Freud fills the room; you would have to be an idiot not to see the id games played here. Musing on the muse issue, Baitz bets on Yiddish to showcase their yin-yang yoke: "We're sort of kvetchy and elegant. That's about as far as it goes," he says of his "dear, dear friend."

"I see great life in him, and we've done all these shows together, and it just seemed like there was no way out."

Maybe somewhere out there is a future episode that will fuse the friends' talents once more.

Will next spring herald the halo of a hamantashen-inspired holiday episode for "Brothers & Sisters," too?

Too bad; "Home for Purim" is already taken.


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