With the Eurovision Song Contest coming to Tel Aviv, a lot of attention has focused on which group will represent Israel, the reigning champion following Netta Barzilai’s victory in 2018.
One of the four finalists, The Shalva Band — made up of individuals with a range of disabilities — stole the hearts and ears of Israelis with their performances on Rising Star in Israel, a reality singing competition that determines who will represent the nation at Eurovision.
The Shalva Band unfortunately pulled out of the Eurovision competition Feb. 5, because the final rehearsal before the competition — part of the performers’ scores — is scheduled for Shabbat. While the band asked for the rehearsal to be rescheduled as some of its members are Orthodox Jews, Eurovision organizers refused the request.
Shalva is the “Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities,” according to its website. Shalva was founded in 1990 by Malki and Kalman Samuels, who recognized the need to assist those with special needs while raising their son Yossi, who was blind, deaf and acutely hyperactive.
The group grew from an afterschool program aiding eight families to a national center serving thousands of Israelis with a wide spectrum of needs.
Kalman Samuels explained in an email to the AJT that the band was created as an extension of Shalva’s music therapy program in 2005. He also spoke to the growth of The Shalva Band since then.
“Today they perform to the highest musical standards in front of thousands at cultural venues, popular music forums and dignitary events throughout Israel and around the world,” he said. “Employed by Shalva as professional musicians, the band performs several times a week, often alongside celebrity artists.”
The Shalva Band performed at Rising Star on a huge stage, uniting many Israelis behind their message of inclusion, Kalman Samuels added. He noted that they had received support from celebrities and politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We are astounded by the unbelievable impact that The Shalva Band has made. The country has embraced them in ways we never imagined, and the band can literally not walk down the street without people approaching them for a chat or picture,” he said.
Kalman Samuels also said that their appearances have made a far larger impact than can be put into numbers.
“Their performances changed how millions of people view and embrace disability. They have strengthened children with disabilities and their families to believe in their amazing potential,” he said. “And most of all, have proven that people deserve to be judged and celebrated for their abilities.”
The band made its debut on Rising Star in November with The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” shocking the nation. Since then they’ve performed hits by Simon & Garfunkel, Idan Raichel and Leonard Cohen, and most recently their own original song, “I See Something Good Within You.”
While they will not be in the official competition at the Eurovision Song Contest, they will still be performing there as an interval act during the second semi-final on May 16.
“We are so proud of The Shalva Band and [the] impact they have made with their performances on Rising Star,” Kalman Samuels said. “Shalva empowers people with disabilities to become ambassadors of their own change, and that is exactly what they did.”
To see The Shalva Band’s performances, visit www.shalva.org.