The music won’t stop

We salute the Shalva Band for its inspirational performances in the run-up to the finals, which captured the hearts of millions of viewers, not just in Israel but throughout the world.

The eight-member Shalva Band (photo credit: KESHET)
The eight-member Shalva Band
(photo credit: KESHET)
After a long and public struggle, The Shalva Band – a group of musicians with disabilities – has decided to pull out of the race to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest because of the group’s Shabbat observance.
The band informed Keshet, the network that broadcasts Hakochav Haba (The Rising Star) – the TV contest that determines Israel’s next Eurovision representative – that it could not continue in the competition due to the Swiss-based European Broadcasting Union’s insistence that all contestants rehearse and film on Friday evening and Saturday.
The Shalva Band had earned a spot in the finals of the show, which will air on February 12. But the group’s members – including several who are religiously observant – decided to pull out after they realized that they could not perform at the Eurovision without violating Shabbat.
Several Israeli officials, including Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, appealed to the EBU to bend the rules so that the Shalva Band could perform. But it refused to do so, explaining that all contestants in the show are obligated to appear at all rehearsals and performances, which include the main rehearsal on Friday night.
The band was due to record a clip bidding farewell to the show, which is due to air Thursday night on Hakochav Haba, and will also issue an official statement on television.
The Shalva Band knew the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest, in place since its inauguration in 1956. Just because this year’s competition is taking place in Tel Aviv doesn’t mean that Israel gets to determine the rules.
It is, however, unfortunate that the EBU refused to consider a compromise to enable them to perform, if they would have been chosen.
We salute the Shalva Band for its inspirational performances in the run-up to the finals, which captured the hearts of millions of viewers, not just in Israel but throughout the world. And we respect the band for standing up for the Jewish principle of observing Shabbat.
The Shalva Band members are employed by Shalva, a nonprofit organization based in Jerusalem for young people with disabilities. It was established in 1990 by Rabbi Kalman Samuels and his wife, Malki, after their son Yossi – who was born healthy in 1977 but was rendered blind, deaf and hyperactive after receiving a faulty DPT vaccination – achieved what they call “a Helen Keller breakthrough,” showing that he can communicate. Yossi has proudly shared the Shalva Band’s victories on his Facebook page.
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 superb musicians who also study, work and volunteer. Some are graduates of Shalva’s rehabilitative programs and their musical talents were developed through Shalva’s music therapy program. What began as a unique outlet for talented Shalva participants in 2005 has developed into a model for cultural inclusion.
Hundreds of thousands of fans followed the popular TV show to support the band and watch as it received the highest grades from both judges and audience members; videos of their performances went viral. In fact, they were the favorites to win the competition, and were even embraced by Netta Barzilai, who won the Eurovision for Israel last year – which is why it is being held here this year.
In their first performance of The Beatles classic “Here Comes the Sun,” there was not a dry eye in the audience as the judges voted unanimously for them. Rabbi Samuels, an immigrant from Canada, was seen wiping away tears from his eyes. “For me, there is nothing greater than this moment,” he said.
The band’s performance of their first original song, “I See Something Good Within You,” written by singer Anael, documents her journey with disability and acceptance, describing how, although physically blind, she “looks” in the mirror and sees something good and worth loving.
Sandy Koufax was one of the great American “ace” baseball pitchers who is remembered for refusing to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. The Shalva Band is poised to become Israel’s Sandy Koufax.