Israel AIDS Task Force Head Dead in Apparent Suicide

The head of the Israel AIDS Task Force, Dr. Gideon Hirsch, was found dead Friday in his Jaffa apartment, apparently after committing suicide by overdosing on pills.

No funeral arrangements had been announced at press time.

News of Hirsch's death came as a shock to family, friends and colleagues. Hirsch, 48, had been HIV-positive for 20 years, and had served for four years as CEO of the Israel AIDS Task Force.

He is survived by a younger brother, Arnon, who found his body.

This is the third tragedy to strike the Hirsch family: Gideon's mother Hannah committed suicide in 1994, as did his father Shaul in 2002.

"I did not know of any change in his medical status," Arnon Hirsch told Haaretz yesterday. "This is a total surprise. The last time I talked to him was on Thursday evening and there was no sign," he added.

Members of the AIDS Task Force gathered Friday evening at the home of Yonatan Karni, a close friend of Hirsch who had been his right-hand man for the past two years.

"We lost a dear man who was a father and a guide to us. There are not enough words to describe his charismatic personality, his wisdom and the courage that made him a leader. He fought with determination for the things he believed in. His fight for the rights of people living with HIV, along with his great contribution to increasing awareness of the illness, generated a major change in public understanding of the subject in Israel," Karni said.

Hirsch received a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford University in the United States. He later returned to Israel and studied medicine, becoming the country's first HIV-positive medical student. After completing his degree five years ago he began a psychiatry residency, which he left to head of the Israel AIDS Task Force, which was about to close due to a budgetary deficit. He rehabilitated the organization, launched its Web site and started its public education initiatives.

In a May 2007 interview with Haaretz he said: "I would be glad to die in a room full of friends, to say good-bye with a hug and go to the bedroom to take some medication or drug and go. I am not afraid of death. The question is how much we put off death and what quality of life we have until then. I want to choose the day I die."