A Television That No Longer Exists

TV personality Moti Kirschenbaum had been a frequent guest in Israeli homes. The widespread sorrow over his death is also mourning for the loss of a type of television that has vanished.

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Moti Kirschenbaum, September 11, 2015.
Moti Kirschenbaum, September 11, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

News of broadcast journalist Moti Kirschenbaum’s sudden death on Friday has reverberated throughout Israel, prompting expressions of sorrow and mourning, perhaps to an even greater extent than anyone could have expected. Most of those expressing regret, notably on social media, didn’t know Kirschenbaum personally. But, nonetheless, he had been a frequent guest in their homes. He wasn’t the host of entertainment shows masquerading as current events programs, or the presenter of a song or food competition. Instead, he was a quality journalist, a witty satirist, a talented manager and editor, and a documentary filmmaker of the highest order – not exactly the prevailing style on commercial television. Even so, the expressions of sadness ran deep and wide.

Thirteen years on “London and Kirschenbaum” (his current events show with Yaron London), his exemplary nature films, and many years of creative and managerial work in television made Kirschenbaum one of the most beloved and respected television figures in Israel. He was one of the architects of Israeli satire as creator and producer of the 1970s show “Nikui Rosh,” for which he won the Israel Prize. He was a prominent documentary pioneer as editor and director of many reports and films, including “El Borot Hamayim” (“To the Water”) – on the cease-fire line in 1973’s Yom Kippur War. He was also one of the mainstays of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, where he fought for freedom of expression and creativity, and for independence from the dictates of the establishment.

As director of programming at Channel One, he was behind the 1978 broadcast of the drama “Khirbet Khizeh,” based on the S. Yizhar story and directed by Ram Loevy: Politicians sought to keep the film off the air because it dared, for the first and last time, to bring the Palestinian “Nakba” narrative (about the formation of the State of Israel during the War of Independence) to prime time – and on the only Israeli channel that was broadcasting at the time.

The Channel 10 show he presented with London was nearly the last refuge in recent years for viewers looking for intelligent, wide-ranging journalism on television. It was also one of the last talk shows on television in which it was still possible to develop an idea, present a position or recount a story in some detail and relative depth.

Although the program didn’t meet the shallow standards of commercial television, it still became a commercial and ratings success. It proved that there is still a market in Israel for intelligent and open debate; that there is also demand for conversations with scientists, philosophers, poets or artists; and that every point of view can still be expressed.

The widespread sorrow over Kirschenbaum’s death is also mourning for the loss of a voice that has fallen silent, that has no successors of the same stature. It is mourning the loss of a type of television that has simply vanished from our lives.