Legendary Israeli journalist Moti Kirschenbaum dies at 76, one day after birthday

Kirschenbaum is survived by his partner and his four children.

Moti Kirschenbaum (photo credit: HANAY)
Moti Kirschenbaum
(photo credit: HANAY)
Veteran broadcaster, producer, director, filmmaker and Israel Prize laureate Moti Kirschenbaum died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Moshav Michmoret on Friday, a day after celebrating his 76th birthday on air on Channel 10.
For the past 13 years, he and fellow veteran broadcaster Yaron London presented their current affairs interview program, London and Kirschenbaum, on the channel.
He was discovered unconscious in the kitchen by Hani, his partner of the last two years, who immediately called Magen David Adom.
Paramedics spent an hour trying to revive him, but in vain. Kirschenbaum’s wife, Yona, died nine years ago and the couple had four children.
One of the founders of Israel Television – as it was known prior to becoming Channel 1 – he was also the brains behind the immortal satirical show Nikui Rosh (Head Cleaning), which brilliantly poked fun at Israeli politics and politicians.
One of the pillars of Israel’s broadcasting community, he loved to visit exotic places and to capture footage that was rarely seen on screen and narrate it in his authoritative voice.
Most Israelis who wanted to study film or television in those days went to the United States, England, or France. Kirschenbaum, following his discharge from the IDF, where he served as a paratrooper, opted for the University of California. He supported himself by working as a Hollywood correspondent for Yediot Aharonot.
Television in Israel actually started in 1966 with broadcasts on Educational Television. Two years later, on Israel Independence Day in May 1968, general public transmission of television was launched by the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Kirschenbaum was called back to Israel to help with the launch.
For many years, Israeli television was broadcast in black and white.
The government finally approved color television in November 1977, but Kirschenbaum began his television career in the black-and-white era.
He was the founding editor of the Mabat evening news show and later was appointed head of the program department. But he wanted more freedom to do his own thing and in the 1980s worked as an independent producer in theater as well as television.
In 1993, Shulamit Aloni, who was then communications minister, summoned him back to the IBA and appointed him director-general, a post that he held until 1997.
After joining Channel 10, Kirschenbaum continued to produce nature documentaries, which were his favorite theme.
Following the announcement of his death on Friday, radio stations and television channels, especially Channel 1, revised their schedules and quickly put together a series of memorial programs.
Among the many tributes to the multiple award-winning and iconic Kirschenbaum were those from President Reuven Rivlin, former president Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and many other people whose names are household words.
Rivlin expressed sorrow at Kirschenbaum’s passing, saying he was a great loss as a creative person, a manager and a leader in the field of Israeli communications. The president met him during his own early days as a member of Knesset and their association blossomed into what Rivlin termed “true friendship.”
Kirschenbaum had a talent for being able to speak to anyone at their own level said Rivlin, who praised his sharp tongue, his talent for argument, his satire, his humor and his love for sport.
Peres called Kirschenbaum “a journalist of the first order, with an amazing ability to present the uncompromising truth and with imagination that enriched the horizons of others.”
Netanyahu praised him as a tough but fair interviewer. He praised Kirschenbaum as a pioneer of Israeli television who had a “unique voice and rich language.” He said Kirschenbaum was an interviewer with “piercing questions” but who was “fair and had great intellectual curiosity. His voice will be missed.”
Lapid wrote that he had been generous in sharing his talents with others, and had the rare ability of enabling people around him to discover their own talents.
Haim Yavin, who worked with Kirschenbaum from the time of Channel 1’s first broadcast, praised his integrity and courage in standing up to the bosses of the Israel Broadcasting Authority for the journalistic values in which he believed – such as interviewing the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization so as to be able to present another side to the story.
Dan Shilon said that while Kirschenbaum was cynical and sarcastic, he simultaneously had a great warmth and empathy for humanity.
Eulogies on Channel 1 included comments to the effect of the sad coincidence that Kirschenbaum had died just as the IBA is in the process of being dismantled. In an archive interview screened on Friday and Saturday, Kirschenbaum said he regarded Channel 1 not as a studio, but as his second home – and even on occasion as his first home. He still watched Channel 1, he said, especially the Mabat news.
Kirschenbaum’s funeral will take place on Sunday at 10 a.m. at Michmoret. The president is expected to deliver a eulogy.