Dare to Dream!

In the end, the Israeli final to get to Eurovision– broadcast on February 12 – was a close contest between Kobi Marimi, Maya Buskila, Shefita and Ketreyah Fouch.

Kobi Marimi (photo credit: RONEN AKERMAN/KESHET)
Kobi Marimi
(photo credit: RONEN AKERMAN/KESHET)
The Shalva Band, a group of talented musicians with disabilities, pulled out of the race to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest after refusing to perform on Shabbat. The band took its cue from Sandy Koufax, the great American baseball player remembered for refusing to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.
It informed Keshet, the Israeli network that aired “The Rising Star” – the TV contest for Israel’s representative – that it could not continue due to the Swiss-based European Broadcasting Union’s insistence that contestants rehearse and film over the Jewish Sabbath.
The Shalva Band had earned a spot in the final and was the favorite to win. After its withdrawal, KAN (the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation) cheered up disappointed fans by announcing that the band would make a special appearance at the Eurovision semi-finals in Tel Aviv on May 16. Israel is hosting Eurovision under the slogan, “Dare to Dream,” after Netta Barzilai won the contest last year with her song, “Toy.”
In the end, the Israeli final – broadcast on February 12 – was a close contest between Kobi Marimi, Maya Buskila, Shefita and Ketreyah Fouch. Marimi, a 27-year-old singer and actor raised in Ramat Gan who lives in Tel Aviv, serenaded the judges with his operatic voice and moustache reminiscent of Queen’s Freddie Mercury. After being ousted from the show at one stage, Marimi refused to give up and won his way back to the final with remarkable renditions of “Hallelujah” and “Let It Be.”
Still, the Shalva Band deserve respect for refusing to back down on the issue of Shabbat. The band members – Tal Kima, Dina Samteh, Yosef Ovadia, Anael Khalifa, Yair Pomburg, Guy Maman, and Naftali Weiss under the directorship of Shai Ben Shushan – are all marvelous musicians. What began as a musical therapy program at Shalva in 2005 has developed into a model for cultural inclusion.
The Shalva Band members are employed by Shalva, an impressive non-profit organization based in Jerusalem for people with disabilities founded in 1990 by Rabbi Kalman Samuels, an immigrant from Canada, and his wife, Malki, after their son Yossi – who was born healthy in 1977 but after receiving a faulty DPT vaccination, was rendered blind, deaf and hyperactive – achieved what they call “a Helen Keller breakthrough,” showing that he is intelligent and can communicate.
In their first performance of “Here Comes the Sun,” there was not a dry eye in the audience as the judges voted unanimously for them. Rabbi Samuels was seen wiping away tears from his eyes. “For me, there is nothing greater than this moment,” he said.
In another qualifying round, the band performed with one of the judges, pop star Harel Skaat, who represented Israel at Eurovision in 2010. He visited the Shalva National Center to practice the song, and his inspirational visit was shown on TV.
The band’s original song, “I See Something Good Within You,” written Anael, documents her journey with disability and acceptance of her blindness, describing how she “looks” in the mirror and sees something good and worth loving.
The band members of Shalva really are something good and worth loving – and will be honored with an appearance at Israel’s 71st Independence Day torchlighting ceremony.
Meantime, maybe Marimi – with his song, “Home” – can repeat Israel’s twice-in-a-row Eurovision victory 40 years ago (Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta in 1978 with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi,” and Milk and Honey in 1979 with “Hallelujah”). It would be Israel’s fifth win since its debut in 1973.
By some cosmic coincidence, Shalva means tranquility in Hebrew, and Israel’s unmanned spacecraft, Beresheet (Genesis) – launched on February 22 from Cape Canaveral – is set to land in the moon’s Sea of Tranquility on April 11, two days after the Israeli elections.
Steve Linde