Grieving for a Music Maker: Uzi Hitman, 1952-2004

'How much strength I have lost because of you / How many blows I have taken because of you/ How many flowers have I watered / When the graves covered your land,' wrote Uzi Hitman in the song 'How Many Tears.'

"How much strength I have lost because of you / How many blows I have taken because of you/ How many flowers have I watered / When the graves covered your land," wrote Uzi Hitman in the song "How Many Tears," the first song on his eighth album, whose recording he was supposed to have been completing now. The song was broadcast yesterday on the radio, a few hours after Hitman, 52, died suddenly of a heart attack at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. He was laid to rest yesterday at the Yarkon Cemetery. Hitman, a singer, composer and lyricist, left a wife, Aya, and three sons, Ido, Oded and Yoav.

For 33 years Hitman, one of the most popular artists in Israel, wrote many successful songs that have made their mark on Hebrew vocal music and were influenced by varied musical styles - Mediterranean, Jewish, pop and children's songs. At ACUM (the Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Music in Israel), there are 658 songs registered for which he wrote music and lyrics, many of which have become hits and anthems, among them a version of Adon Olam, "Who Knew It Would Be Like This," "I Wanted You to Know," "We Are Staying in This Country," "Like a Gypsy," "Yet Another Love Story" and "Everyone Has." In January, 2002, he won the ACUM lifetime achievement award for composers.

Hitman's death is "a great loss for the world of musical creativity in Israel," the director-general of ACUM, Yorik Ben David, said yesterday. "Uzi was a very prolific artist and his uniqueness was in his control of a number of musical genres. He composed and wrote the words for children's songs and for Mediterranean vocal music, he translated songs from Greek and more. When he won the ACUM lifetime achievement award for composers, he was asked what the most beautiful song is that he had written. `It's the song I haven't written yet,' he replied."

For the past three years, Hitman had been working on his latest album, which was supposed to have been released in about six months. It is not clear when it will be marketed. His office, Ya'ad Productions, noted that the last song he wrote is "It Isn't Working."

Last week Hitman sent a song to the Israel Song Festival, a song contest in the style of the legendary Hebrew song festivals, which will be held in December in a production by Channel 2 franchisee Keshet. "I admire this man, who succeeded in plucking so many strings for me and touched so many people," said his nephew, musician Ohad Hitman. "I am finding that beyond my personal mourning, he touched many children and people, beginning with his children's songs and ending with his eternal songs like `Adon Olam.'

"I once appeared before a Jewish audience in Belgium, which is not familiar with Israeli music. But when I began to sing `Adon Olam,' to my surprise everyone knew the song. It turned out that this was one of the only two Jewish songs that the audience knew (the other was `Halleluliah'). I got the impact of his music."

Uzi, says his friend Yigal Bashan, is part of the Israeli experience. `I had the great privilege of writing songs with him, appearing with him in hundreds of performances and calling him a friend. Uzi was the archetype of the salt of the earth. He had a divine gift and an endless fount of melodies, and he knew how to knead the Hebrew language wonderfully. For me, Uzi is an eternal child. He has left me many beautiful memories.

"I have been angry since this morning; I had imagined us together in an old-age home, laughing, because he had a rare sense of humor. He loved people at eye level, and therefore people loved him."

Hitman was born in 1952 in Givat Shmuel, and lived all his life in Ramat Gan. His parents, Holocaust survivors, followed a traditional lifestyle and at the same time, his father, who served as a cantor, sent his children to secular schools and at home they played the songs of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Enrico Macias and opera along with liturgical and religious songs. When he was 11, his parents gave Hitman his first guitar, and he taught himself to play it. When he turned 17, he received a piano from his grandmother. From 1971 to 1973 he served in the Central Command military entertainment troupe, along with Shem Tov Levy, Shlomo Bar-Aba Dorit Reuveni and others.

In 1971 he wrote his first song, "The Neighborhood's Melody," which was performed by Izhar Cohen in 1974. In 1973 he wrote the song "Who Knew It Would Be Like This," which was performed by Boaz Sharabi during the Yom Kippur War. Following the success of this song, Hitman acquired a reputation as a songwriter and composer. He participated in a number of musical productions, including "An Evening of the Songs of Theodorakis" in 1973. That same year he founded the Popolim group and issued his first album with them. In 1976 there was a breakthrough in Hitman's career. He composed music for the words of the traditional hymn "Adon Olam" and sang it at the Hasidic Song Festival. His rendition won success in Israel and abroad. That same year he also began to work together with Shimi Tavori, for whom he wrote the hits "A Starless Night" and "At Midnight."

At the Children's Song Festival in 1978 he sang his song "I Wanted You to Know" ("My God"). In 1979 his second album, "I Was Born for Peace" (Noladiti lashalom) came out, which included the theme song that Hitman wrote and composed for the birth of his first-born son. The song was performed by the Sexta group and was dedicated to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during his visit to Israel. Hitman wrote many songs for Mizrahi (Jews of Middle Eastern origin) singers, among them the hits "Marlene," "Until When, My God" and "Like a Drunk" for Zohar Argov.

From the end of the 1970s his warm connection to the world of children was prominent. He participated in "Parpar Nehmad (Nice Butterfly) and other television shows for children and also put out a book and a video recording for children.

In 1991 Hitman wrote the song "Here" (Kan) for Orna and Moshe Datz, which took third place in the Eurovision. Yankele Mendel, the chairman of EMI (the Israel Artists Association) and a friend of Hitman's since he was 18, said yesterday: "I've been crying since this morning. Uzi and I breathed together, we did reserve duty together, we had all our celebrations together, birthdays together, everything together. On Thursday we were at a performance at Camelot in Herzliya. We always told each other jokes when we met. At EMI he was on the discipline committee, and this is a sign that his morality was immeasurable. He was a man of integrity and fairness, a wonderful family man and a real friend."