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A Possible Mission

Shlomo Hill, since sixth grade you’ve been my inspiration. Yehei zichro baruch

Growing up as a young yeshivah boy on the West Side, there was a buzz around the school about a famous actor who was shomer Shabbos by the name of Steven Hill. It was a hot topic of discussion how such a phenomenon was actually possible. One day, when I brought up the topic at home, my father a”h told me that he knew the actor personally. Being a sixth grader, this fact amazed me, and I asked my father why he had never invited him over. He thought for a moment and replied, “You know, perhaps one day I will.”

A couple of months passed. One day, while I was playing hockey in the foyer (the living room was off-limits for hockey), the doorbell rang. I ran to answer the door, with the hockey stick still in my hand. Standing there was a fine-looking gentleman who asked me if my father was home. I told him he was, and who should I say is asking for him? He said his name was Shlomo Hill. Not thinking into it, I invited him in and returned to my hockey game.

It took a good 45 seconds for my 11-year-old brain to actually register the name and consider who might be sitting in my living room. Dropping my stick, I humbly peeked in, only to be greeted by two huge, welcoming smiles from my father and the mystery guest. I shyly approached him, offered my hand, and said, “You are the most famous person I have ever met.” He asked, “What makes me so famous?” I replied, “You’re a television actor!” He looked me straight in the eye and asked, “And what do you do?” I replied, “I do nothing. I go to yeshivah.”

I will never forget his response. He said, “Dovid Nachman, you’re in yeshivah. You do everything. You do even more than me.”

 

Fast forward about 20 years. When I was in the midst of recording an album called A Taste of Shabbos with Dov Levine, Suki and I decided that it would be a nice touch to have narration throughout the recording. I called up Rabbi Nosson Scherman of ArtScroll fame, and he wrote the most beautiful narration I could ever have hoped for. Then we had to decide who would actually narrate the album. My first choice, of course, was Steven Hill — and two days later, we were in the studio together.

At the time, I had no idea just how much the topic of Shabbos actually meant to him, and how much he sacrificed for it. One of the narrations dealt with Shabbos expenses, and although to the average person this would mean purchasing food for Shabbos, to him it meant so much more — how much he actually sacrificed for the honor of Shabbos, how many big-money contracts he forfeited in order to keep Shabbos.

Not only was Shlomo an amazing actor, but he was always involved in the script-writing as well. I was once doing a concert in Carnegie Hall for Shoroshim, an organization created to benefit Russian children in America. I called Mr. Hill to ask if he would be kind enough to speak and give over the importance of the organization. He agreed, so I prepared a script for him to read, with the theme that Shoroshim was a Mission: Impossible (the TV series that catapulted him to fame in the 1960s). The night of the event, he asked if it was okay if he changed a few words here and there. I said, “Sure, no problem at all.” The concert, it turned out, took place two days after Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated in November 1990. Mr. Hill took the podium and gave an emotional speech entitled, “Never Again” (Meir Kahane’s famous catchphrase).

 

There are so many stories of how Shlomo Hill — whose third yahrtzeit was last week — never strayed from the path once he became shomer mitzvos. It wasn’t only the mesirus nefesh of not working on Shabbos, but it was keeping kosher, being careful about modesty, and everything else we tend to take for granted in our workplaces. His son, Rebbe Hill, told me that when he was on the set of Mission: Impossible, he wanted to make a minyan to say Kaddish. It turned out that there were six people in the cast and crew that were Jewish. Then he remembered that in the studio next door, they were shooting a Star Trek episode. Knowing that both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were Jewish, he went over to their set and unabashedly collected another four Jews to complete the minyan. He was a walking kiddush Hashem.

Shlomo Hill, since sixth grade you’ve been my inspiration. Yehei zichro baruch.

 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 775)

 

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