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Native Israeli arts advocate sparks changes at UApresents

Itzik Becher
Itzik Becher

Itzik Becher, the new development director of UApresents, started singing in Israel when he was 17. He’s been singing about the arts ever since. After arriving at the University of Arizona in January, Becher discovered that “in Tucson people look at the arts like any other necessity. The arts are on the same level as food.”

Becher grew up in Israel but has lived in the United States for the past 25 years. “I always knew I would study outside of Israel. I was drawn to big cities in the United States,” he says, adding that he served in the Israel Defense Forces during the ’67 Six Day War. While completing his master’s degree in communications at New York University in the early ’80s, Becher recorded two songs in Hebrew. “I started shopping them around in Israel. I was a bit of a pop star and even had a number one hit song in Israel,” he says.

While in Tel Aviv, Becher met his wife, Pnina, who was a young concert pianist. The couple settled in the United States in 1988. Becher enrolled in a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at Yeshiva University in 1993, but only stayed for a year. By that time he and his wife were starting a family, plus, he couldn’t stay away from the arts.

By 1994, Becher had launched Aviv Productions, named after his oldest daughter. He has since represented such big names as Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Chava Alberstein, an Israeli pop and folk star. “I was consulting, flying, booking and producing all over the world,” says Becher.

He and his family moved from Fair Lawn, N.J., to Scottsdale eight years ago. In 2011, he attended a booking conference in New York and met Chuck Tennes, the executive director of UApresents. “I was selling my artists to him,” says Becher, who told Tennes, “‘I’m in Scottsdale now. I’d be happy to help if you ever need it.’ He called me in December 2012. When I came and met him [in Tucson] it was obvious that it was beshert (fate). I needed a new challenge.” He started his new job the next month, commuting from Scottsdale while his youngest daughter finished high school.

UApresents hadn’t had a development director for three years, says Becher. “I came in cold turkey. One of my biggest surprises, to my delight, is that most of our biggest donors are Jewish. The way they received me was like a son coming home. It was amazing.”

Becher is the son of Holocaust survivors; his father’s first wife and children were killed by the Nazis and his mother’s first husband was also murdered. His parents got together, he says, as “it happens in the movies. They met on the border of Russia and Poland after the war. My father was the judge in a dance competition. My mother won.”

Becher learned from his parents, “if you are a Jew, one of our missions in the world is to help all people, being a light for all nations. I don’t see it as a privilege,” he says. “I see it as a responsibility.”

Becher aims to bring the arts to wider audiences around Tucson, expanding UApresents performances to more venues, including the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa and the Rialto Theatre.

Another new project at UApresents is teaching guitar to underprivileged children. “We have to start getting young people curious about the arts,” says Becher. “The guitar is a cool instrument. How do we get kids connected to something [that may be] so distant to them?”

UApresents is one of the top 13 university presenters in the United States, says Becher. “I don’t separate what I’m doing with presenting arts education for the young.”