Amidst rigorous academics, the students of Eton College in England, dressed in suits with tails, paused their studies for a musical performance by the Shalva Band and learned a most unique lesson on inclusion and hope.
The interfaith concert at Eton College included an inspiring and interactive repertoire of classic songs, bringing the audience of 300 students, teachers, and guests to their feet with applause.
The Shalva Band is composed of eight adults with disabilities including Down syndrome, Autism, and various physical handicaps, whose talent and moving performances have merited awards and international recognition. The band has traveled by invitation to perform at concerts across the globe, captivating audiences with their supreme musical talents and inspiring messages.
"It is a true privilege that they have come to perform," said Nathan Swidler following the performance at Eton College. Aside from being a student at Eton, Nathan is the son of prominent social advocate and philanthropist Alisa Swidler.
"What the organization does to advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities, the important programs and the care that each kid receives at the Shalva Center in Israel is truly extraordinary," Swidler said as he addressed the audience of fellow students and guests.
"It was an evening of profound importance and joy! I’m yet to fully reflect on how significant and wonderful it was for the boys to witness and engage with so many things in one event," said Rev. Daniel Bond, Chaplin of Eton College.
Eton College is an independent boarding school for boys ages 13-18 located near Windsor, England. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI and remains today one of the world's most esteemed educational institutions.
The performance at Eton College was followed by the British Friends of Shalva gala dinner, which was attended by 300 guests, many of whom hold important leadership positions in community, commercial, and philanthropic circles. The gala dinner raised 450 pounds, crucial funds to ensure the operation of Shalva’s therapy, education, and recreational programs.
Ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom, Mark Regev, attended Shalva’s Gala Dinner in England and presented ten young women from England who chose to volunteer at Shalva on a weekly basis during their gap-year programs in Israel.
“Not only are your parents proud of you, and are the people here tonight proud of you; but the State of Israel is proud of you,” Regev addressed the Shalva volunteers. Regev later that evening tweeted about the award ceremony and shared a picture of himself and the volunteers on Twitter.
Shalva was founded in 1990 by Kalman and Malki Samuels to help children and families coping with disabilities, as a result of their personal family story. The organization immediately filled a void in rehabilitative opportunities for children with disabilities and today provides direct-care services to 2,000 children with disabilities and their families in the largest center for disability care and inclusion in Israel.
"At Shalva, there is a purity and celebration of life that is simply contagious," says Gaby Hirsch, Chief Executive of the British Friends of Shalva. "It is incredible to see how people who have come in contact with Shalva's children are overcome with a hopeful perspective on life and are invigorated with positivity. At Shalva, we see our children for their abilities, rather than their limitations; and in a world of abilities there are endless possibilities."
Shalva's comprehensive life-cycle programming includes leading-edge therapies, inclusive educational frameworks, employment training and independent living, as well as respite and family support. Shalva strives to create a better, more inclusive world and has established advocacy projects across the globe to advance this effort, most famously the Shalva Band.
"When the band was established over ten years ago, it was merely an expansion of Shalva's music therapy program," explained Shai Ben-Shushan, the band’s director. "Today the Shalva Band has become an international icon for inclusion and a real example of the amazing things that can happen when you empower people's abilities and believe in their potential. This is a message that everyone can relate to, whether or not they have disabilities."