Fan-favorite Shalva Band faces Eurovision Shabbat conundrum

The group of musicians with disabilities may be forced to back out of competition to represent Israel over requirement to rehearse on Shabbat.

The eight-member Shalva Band (photo credit: KESHET)
The eight-member Shalva Band
(photo credit: KESHET)
The talented and inspirational Shalva Band is considered a top contender to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv this year. But the group of musicians – made up of young adults with disabilities – is considering backing out of Hakochav Haba, the competition show that selects Israel’s Eurovision contestant.
Why? Because of Shabbat.
If the Shalva Band wins in the live finale of Hakochav Haba in two weeks, it will be slated to represent Israel during the Eurovision finale on Saturday night, May 18. And that includes a commitment to take part in rehearsals over Shabbat. But several members of the band are religiously observant, and are not willing to commit to working on Friday night or Saturday.
Sources close to Shalva told The Jerusalem Post that if the band is not allowed to record its rehearsal before Shabbat, it will simply not be able to participate at all.
A source close to the show’s production said that since the Eurovision preaches diversity and acceptance, it would be a shame for the group to be ruled out over religious observance.
“We really, really want it to all work itself out,” the source said Tuesday. “What does it say about the Eurovision, if there’s an opportunity for a band like this to go as far as possible, but they’re not able to take part, because of their religion? It really saddens us.”
The source said Keshet, the network that airs Hakochav Haba, is still waiting to hear from the European Broadcasting Union whether a compromise is possible.
A source closely involved with the Eurovision production pointed out to the Post on Wednesday that there is much more than just a rehearsal at stake. The Friday evening dress rehearsal serves two additional purposes: It is what the jury members from all participating countries view before casting their votes, and it is recorded to be used in case of any technical difficulties or problems during the live Saturday night broadcast. And with 42 countries participating in the weeklong event, timing and scheduling is of the utmost importance, and flexibility is almost nonexistent.
A spokesman for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organizes the Eurovision, reiterated the issues involved.
“All broadcasters commit to abide by the contest rules when agreeing to participate.... These rules include the obligation of attendance across all rehearsals and live shows, for delegation members and contestants,” he told the Post on Wednesday. The spokesman said that any request for special treatment “is to be put to the ESC Reference Group [the contest’s governing body].” The EBU said the group will decide “at its discretion” whether it can make an exception, and will not rule on any “hypothetical situation.”
A source close to the Eurovision production said that exceptions like this are very rare for the EBU, and it is unlikely it would allow a change to its tight schedule. Earlier this month, pop singer Omer Adam turned down an opportunity to perform at the Eurovision over the same issue.
Neither Shalva nor Keshet would publicly comment on the situation.
A spokeswoman for the KAN public broadcaster, which is organizing the competition, said the selection of Israel’s contestant is solely the domain of Keshet and the production company behind Hakochav Haba. She said KAN becomes involved only once the contestant has been selected by the show.
WITH THE live finale of Hakochav Haba just two weeks away, how likely is a Shalva Band victory?
The eight band members have easily won over the hearts and minds of the show’s panel of judges – and of a wide swath of the Israeli public. The group, which came together through its connection to the Shalva National Children’s Center in Jerusalem, has consistently received top scores from the judges and the studio audience for its performances.
“That was an inspiring performance,” said Static, one of the judges, after the group sang “Here Comes the Sun” in its first audition. “Everyone has limitations, and there is no more resounding proof than you guys that if you want something, it’s possible. And you guys can really pull it off.”
After its second performance, singing the Jane Bordeaux song “Eich Efshar Shelo” (“How Can It Not Be”), the band received an unheard-of 100% approval from the judges and audience.
“You’re amazing, it’s such a joy to listen to you,” said judge Assaf Amdursky. And fellow judge Shiri Maimon added: “You guys have it all. You’re moving, you’re inspiring, and you’re so talented. It’s perfect for the Eurovision. We would be so proud if you represented us.”
Each one of the band members has shown viewers that their limitations have no effect on their musical talents.
Deena, an immigrant from India, and Annael, an immigrant from France – the band’s lead singers – are both blind. Yosef has Williams syndrome, Yair and Tal have Down syndrome, and Guy is visually impaired. They’re joined on stage by Shai, the band’s manager, who helped found the group after a long recovery from a serious injury during his IDF service, and Sarah, the daughter of Kalman and Malki Samuels, the founders of the Shalva Center.
On Monday evening’s episode, the band performed its first-ever original song on the show, titled “Ani Roah Bach Mashehu Tov” (“I See Something Good in You”), which Tal interpreted into sign language live onstage.
“There are days that I don’t find answers/ When I think about who I am/ And who I dreamed of being,” sang Annael. “When I look you in the eyes/ I see an ocean of hope/ Now you don’t believe me/ But remember, you’re not alone.”