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Dovid Hill z”l was sick for half his life, but the young chassidic boy with the wise eyes and sublime voice learned early on to channel his fears and prayers into eternal songs of hope and inspiration
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
A fter 120 years, baalei chesed leave behind their good name, scholars hand down their glosses, and philanthropists bequeath their endowments. But a life cut short in youth by tragedy or illness leaves its mark as well, and fortunate are parents who have a lasting, concrete record of their child’s sojourn in This World.
Yonason and Leah Hill are grateful that they have such a tangible reminder of their son Dovid’s noble spirit. It permeates the walls of their home every time they hit the play button.
Dovid Hill’s wise, angelic face and sublime voice became familiar to many five years ago, after a video clip captured the 13-year-old in his wheelchair, pressing a finger on his trach tube as he sang one of his original compositions during a Melaveh Malkah for seriously ill patients and their families. Dovid, who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just seven, spent the next seven years in and out of hospitals, until his petirah in June 2012, just five days after his 14th birthday.
But during those difficult years, the young chassid from Jerusalem never let his spirit flag. Not only did he make sure to stay astride his class in the Skverer cheder with round-the-clock chavrusas, he also composed ten niggunim. Listen to those niggunim though, and you’d be hard-pressed to believe they were written by a child in between chemo treatments. Hear him singing those songs and you’d think you stumbled on a concert in Heaven.
Dovid, the ninth of 13 children, was born into a musical family where niggun was always a natural mode of expression. His father, Reb Yonason Hill — a son of venerated Torah-observant TV and film actor Steven Hill z”l, who passed away last summer at the age of 94 — is a professional guitarist and trombone player who has contributed both instrumentals and vocals on several albums, including one of his own. Reb Yonason knew his son’s special voice and sincere tunes deserved to be preserved, and so, with his access to studios and technicians, was able — during the times when Dovid was out of the hospital and feeling stronger — to record his son singing five of those compositions as he himself played guitar in the background. Those recordings, made before Dovid’s final difficult two years, are at the core of an upcoming CD whose release date will hopefully coincide with Dovid’s fifth yahrtzeit this June.
In a way that eerily blurs the lines between past and future, This World and Next, the music of the demo disc — now in its final stages of production and mixing — fills the living room of the Hills’ apartment in Jerusalem’s Sanhedria neighborhood with Dovid’s presence as his voice bounces off the walls with words of hope, joy, beseeching, and faith.
“Throughout the years Dovid was sick, whenever he was home and had the energy, we would record him singing, because we knew his music was so special,” says Reb Yonason. “This wasn’t about preserving his memory with advanced planning, because we always hoped and prayed that he would survive. Had he lived we would also have created the disc. This is holy music, music from the depths of the soul, from a little boy wise beyond his years who understood that Hashem was holding his life in the balance. Why shouldn’t everyone benefit from it?”
While five of the songs are arranged over Dovid’s own voice, the harmonies and the rest of his compositions are sung by his 22-year-old brother Ari, who, in the family spirit of neginah, is a sought-after vocalist on the Israeli simchah circuit. For Ari, singing his brother’s songs is more than just keeping the voices in the family — it’s a sacred mission.
“For me this is so much more than a disc,” says Ari. “This is Dovid’s life. His legacy. And it’s like I’m representing him, becoming his voice to the world. It’s a strange thing with all this technology — on one hand I’m doing a voice-over and it feels like he’s singing right here with me, and on the other hand it’s like an illusion of his presence that keeps us from fully separating. But maybe that’s the point — maybe there’s really no separation after all.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 655)
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