Mon., May 02, 2005 Nisan 23, 5765

How Arik Sinai changed my life

By Yehoshua Saguy

Impresario David Azoulay (right) with a client, singer Shlomo Artzi.

SAN FRANCISCO - David Azoulay saw his future in the field of computers. He studied electronics and computer engineering at the ORT school in Acre and after his military service he returned to the school to be an instructor there. When his brother opened a company in the United States where he developed a program for sorting mail, Azoulay joined him and worked as a project manager. But one evening in 1992 his life changed entirely.

That evening he went to a performance by Israeli singer Arik Sinai in Washington, D.C. The organization of the evening was catastrophic. The impresario who represented Sinai in America asked Azoulay whether he knew anyone who could organize an artistic performance in a more professional way. "I told him that I'd only been in the States for half a year but this field interested me and I was prepared to try."

Thirteen years after that evening Azoulay is the No. 1 Israeli impresario in America. He was born in 1968 at the maternity hospital in Nahariya, the son of a family that immigrated to Israel from Morocco in the 1950s. The extended family had been sent to a transit camp in Acre, and even though it was suggested to his father that he live with his family in Kibbutz Afikim, they did not want to be kibbutzniks and moved to Acre. The brother who invited Azoulay to America, 16 years his elder, is Eli Argon, who had been a singer in the Artillery Corps entertainment troupe and a reporter at Army Radio.

Azoulay focuses on Israeli artists, but he also organized a number of major balls in the series of inaugural balls for President George W. Bush and other projects. "In 1993 I brought Dudu Dotan here for appearances in America," says Azoulay. "I was a rookie. This was my first experience. Dudu was very enthusiastic and he said to me: `I've already appeared abroad many times, but I've never been greeted as well and so professionally.' We formed an excellent connection and Dotan said to me: `Any Israeli artist you want, I'll help you get in touch with him.' At that time he was chairman of EMI and had a lot of power."

In his first productions he paid high tuition costs. "I lost a lot of money and I was cheated. There are a lot of fishy people in this business. I organized performances that were artistic successes but when we counted up the money, the catastrophe became clear. I went to my brother and took a loan from him of more than half a million dollars and I learned that it is better to do everything yourself than to get help from certain types."

His own man

The decision to do everything himself worked perfectly. Two years ago Azoulay organized a four-performance tour in large halls for Rita and Rami Kleinstein. The tickets were snapped up but American Embassy officials, who were suspicious after the collapse of the Twin Towers, refused to issue a work permit for Rita, who was born in Iran.

Azoulay received word of this at his home in Washington. He contacted Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised to help, and the American ambassador in Israel, who said his hands were tied, and finally the bureau of President Moshe Katsav, who was also born in Iran. The president contacted the ambassador and was told the new regulations even applied to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, and therefore nothing could be done.

Azoulay was already imagining the crash.

Only a few days remained before the first performance, nearly all the tickets had been sold, and Rita was still unable to come. "There's appropriate insurance against such situations, but I hadn't taken it out," relates Azoulay. The newspapers in Israel reported that Rita had not received a visa to the United States, and the people who had bought tickets demanded their money back.

Azoulay decided on a final rescue move: He looked for a line to Tom Ridge, who as head of Homeland Security was in charge of security and visas. He recalled that at one of the events he had organized he had seen the rabbi of the Chabad branch in Washington, Shem-Tov Levy, embracing and engaging in a friendly conversation with White House spokesmen Ari Fleischer. Azoulay contacted the Chabadnik and asked him to use his connection with Fleischer who would in turn talk to Ridge. The rabbi promised to try, Fleischer also promised and three hours later Azoulay heard: Ridge had arranged everything. Rita could go to the embassy and receive a visa.

Our conversation took place last week in the theater auditorium of Foothill College in Silicon Valley. Outside the audience was waiting, and Rita was on the stage making the final adjustments with the sound and lighting people. Azoulay, unlike the rest of those present, looked calm and relaxed.

"The proprietors of the auditorium forgot to tell us that it was undergoing renovations and that all the roads leading to it were blocked. When the trucks came with the equipment, we were in shock. Very quickly I found an approach path, but it doesn't reach the auditorium. We rushed out to the intersection, we brought a group of Mexican day workers and all morning we worked as porters in order to get the stage and the vast amount of equipment ready. It was only an hour and a half ago that I managed to pop over to the hotel to shower and change my clothes."

Throughout the conversation Azoulay doesn't say a bad word about anyone - a very un-Israeli characteristic. All the artists who have appeared with him are marvelous, all his colleagues win compliments.

Azoulay smiles and says: "I believe that in order to succeed you don't need to say that everyone else is unsuccessful."

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