Veteran journalist Jack Katzenell dies at 80

Katzenell made aliyah from Scotland in 1965 and became best known as a popular broadcaster for Kol Yisrael’s English News and later a reporter and editor for the Associated Press’s Jerusalem bureau.

August 22, 2019 03:18
4 minute read.
journalist Jack Katzenell.

Journalist Jack Katzenell.. (photo credit: COURTESY OF FAMILY)

Glasgow-born Jack Katzenell, one of Israel’s most prominent English-language journalists, died in Herzliya on Tuesday at the age of 80.

An old-school newsman known for his sharp intellect and wit, Katzenell made aliyah from Scotland in 1965 and became best known as a popular broadcaster for Kol Yisrael’s English News, and later a reporter and editor for the Associated Press’s Jerusalem bureau.

“He had a tremendous, encyclopedic knowledge, and was a veritable well of information,” said former English News head Zvi Pantanowitz. “He knew everything from history and language to music and the arts. He was also quite pedantic, but always gentle and kind in his manner and his approach to people and journalism.”

“I was privileged to work with Jack both at Kol Yisrael and AP,” added journalist Mark Lavie. “He was always pleasant to be around, and a fountain of knowledge.”

Another former colleague, David Essing, said he would never forget Katzenell’s special brand of Scottish humor.

“One of the joys of working in the English News at Kol Yisrael was the opportunity to meet young Jews from around the world,” said Essing. “We each, for his or her own reason, had come to Israel to make a new home and start a new life. Jack from Glasgow, with his thick Scottish accent, was one of them.

“He always had a ready smile – ready to regale us with a funny story or burst out laughing at someone else’s. At the same time, he was a first-rate journalist dedicated to our mission of being a relevant and respected ‘Voice of Israel’ both at home and around the world.”

His Israeli-born wife, Avigail, said Katzenell immigrated to Israel after studying history at university and doing a range of jobs. They were married on April 2, 1968.

“After our wedding, he spent most of his career working in journalism,” she said. “After serving in the IDF, he did reserve duty until the age of 52 and wrote for the military journal, Bamahane.”

Before becoming a journalist, Katzenell – who also spoke fluent French and Hebrew – translated Israel’s first president Chaim Weizmann’s letters, worked for the Government Press Office and wrote entries for the Encyclopedia Judaica. He also served as a foreign correspondent for several British newspapers, and became a regular commentator for BBC Scotland’s World Service.

JOURNALIST ARIEH O’Sullivan said he had first met Katzenell when he was a young reporter starting off with Kol Yisrael in 1987.

“I had to listen very carefully to fully understand him through his thick Scottish brogue,” O’Sullivan recalled. “I had heard it before – as a soldier in the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon War, I listened to Kol Israel and was curious to meet the face behind that distinctive accent and delivery. I recall his jolly nature, always ready with a story. I’d always laugh when attending a press conference and he would take his microphone attached to a stick. He didn’t have a proper wind sponge to cover the head so he used old socks.

“I’d crack up when he would stick it in front of a visiting foreign minister or other VIP and they would raise an eyebrow before speaking into the sock-covered microphone.

“Later I worked with Jack at the Associated Press when he made his transition from radio to print journalism. I’d listen to him on the phone conducting interviews, but unlike the rest of us, he never typed notes, just nodded and asked more questions.

“‘Jack,’ I once asked him. ‘How do you do that? You know we type down what people say so we quote them accurately.’

“‘Ah, that’s no problem – I remember everything they say,’ he retorted.

“He did indeed have a remarkable memory, and was able to recall full conversations as if he’d just played them back from a tape recorder hidden in his head.”

Katzenell is survived by his wife, three children – Udi, Einat and Nadav – and eight grandchildren. He was buried in Netanya on Wednesday evening.

“His pride and joy was his family – his wonderful wife, Avigail, his children and grandchildren,” said Essing. “They were the pinnacle of the life he so successfully built in Israel and of whom he was so justly proud. Jack will also be greatly missed by his friends and former colleagues.”

In his eulogy, his son, Udi, recalled asking him why he had chosen to leave the comforts of Britain for the fledgling Jewish state. “He answered, ‘I wanted to belong to my own religious minority when it came to my identity, and first and foremost I wanted to marry a Jewish woman.’

“‘But you could have married a Jew in Britain,’ I said.

“‘Yes, but in Israel, there was a greater choice,’ he quipped.”

It was quintessential Katzenell.

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