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A Giant of the Jewish Community Passes

January 4th 2012

Jewish Topics - Newt Becker
Newt Becker

A giant of the Jewish community, Newt Becker, has passed away at age 83. His passing leaves an empty space that will probably never be filled by any single man. Known globally for his pivotal support of Jewish and Israeli causes, as well as his commitment to peace in the Mideast, the Los Angeles-based solar innovator, accounting pioneer, and philathropist passed today after a long illness. He is survived by his wife Rochelle, and his son David.

Called “the Father” of solar thermal electric generation, Becker became in 1980, the founding investor and Chairman of the Board of Luz International. Luz became the largest solar company in the world, building solar electric generating power plants featuring those iconic rows of mirrrors. An industry note states, “From 1984 to 1991, Luz built and sold nine plants with 350 MW of capacity, enough to supply the residential needs of 540,000 people in the Los Angeles area.”

Becker also funded and served as chairman of “Electric Fuel” during its start-up period 1993-95. Electric Fuel made Zinc Air Batteries for Electric Vehicles (about 400 miles for the EV1 and about 250 miles for a Mercedes Van) and could be refueled with new zinc plates in about 10 minutes. Diverse if anything, Becker also inaugurated a CPA review course for the staff of Price Waterhouse. That course quickly became the pre-eminent CPA review course in America. Today, the Becker CPA Review Course is available in more than 400 cities throughout the country and the world, with some 400,000 CPA alumni--constituting almost one-half of all CPA's in America.

Becker received his BS in Business Administration from Kent State University. He earned an MBA from Case Western Reserve University, and later received an honorary Doctorate from Kent State University in l984.

Beyond his professional and engineering accomplishments, Becker was known internationally for his support of many Jewish and Mideast peace causes. These include the Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Zionst Organization of American, American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy on Middle East Reporting in America), the Zionist Organization of America, MEMRI, which translates Mideast media into English, and the campus-based group StandWithUs. There were dozens of other projects that spanned the realms of history, academics, and religious tolerance.

Known simply as “Newt,” he never asked for any public acknowledgment or honors for his extensive philanthropy. He often funded quietly. Not infrequently, his name never even appeared as a key backer. Newt lived modestly, always exhibiting vim and intellectual vigor to those who visited him in his home near Los Angeles. “He shifted the paradigm of pro-Israel activism,” said StandWithUs’s Richard Rothstein. “Without him, the pro-Israel community would not be as strong and effective as it is today.” Abraham H. Foxman, national director the Anti-Defamation League, commented, "Newt has left a legacy of creative activism on behalf of Israel and the Jewish community that will be difficult to emulate." Morton Klein, executive director the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) issued a statement that his organization “deeply mourns the passing of Newt Becker, a member of ZOA’s National Board, and a brilliant visionary in promoting his beloved Israel and the Jewish people.” Klein recalled, “As he always would tell me, ‘First, I am a teacher.’ And a teacher he was.”

This writer knew Becker and communicated with him often. He always picked up his own cell phone—no matter where he was—and never hesitated to help any worthy cause. He was devoted to cause of energy innovation, peace in the Middle East, and historical truth. A major force has left the Jewish community and it will take many to even begin to duplicate the impact of this one man.

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