The Shalva Band made their international debut back in 2017. It is composed of eight Israeli musicians with physical and mental disabilities such as Down syndrome, Autism and various handicaps, who have not let their limitations stop them from captivating and inspiring many worldwide.
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.
The Shalva Band has become a favorite to represent Israel in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, which will take place this year in Tel Aviv, under the slogan “Dare to Dream”.
According to the rules of the competition a live performance during the general rehearsing is expected to take place in middle of Shabbat.
Yediot Aharonot reported on Monday that the band considered quitting the program, since three of its members are Shabbat observant, and will be forced to violate Shabbat.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev sent an official letter on behalf of the Shalva Band to the European Broadcasting Union on Monday requesting they allow the group to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest without desecrating Shabbat.
The letter read:
I turn to you after I learned, to my great disappointment, that the appeal of “The Next Star” production, competing for the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel was answered negatively in the event that the Shalva Band wins the rights to represent Israel in the 2019 Eurovision, it will be able to appear before judges and the rehearsal of the competition, that is to take place on Saturday, via a pre-prepared video clip, as apposed to a live performance on stage.
To the best of my knowledge, a source in the European Broadcast Union replied that according to the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest, all performances by all the representatives are required to be a live, even the studio audience. And those who cannot guarantee a live performance in the general rehearsal will not be in the competition.
This rigid rule stands in the way of the Shalva Band, which appears to be a big winner in “The Next Star” competition and who apparently is expected to represent the State of Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, in May.
The Shalva Band is very resonant because all its most talented members, it should be noted, are men and women with special needs, who celebrate universal values od equality and acceptance of the other in society.
Within the band there are friends, Shabbat observant Jews, who according to their conscience and religious way of life, are prevented from performing on stage on Shabbat.
Therefore, the European Broadcasting Corporation’s adherence to the tough rules mans that the competition opportunity is compromised and that potential competitors, because of their religious beliefs, are given the opportunity to represent not only the State of Israel on the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest, but also the sacred principle, in my opinion, also for the European Broadcasting Union, equality without distinction of religion, gender, race and religious outlook. I will also point out that the production company turned to the expert bodies of the issue of Shabbat in order to create a creative solution to the issue, but all its efforts were unsuccessful, due to the fact that the value of the sanctity of Shabbat is a principle for observant Jews.
I would therefore be happy if you my request, a formal request, required by the rules that bind you and this is so that you will see these easy and important circumstances before you. Which would lead to a deviation from the rigid rule, which could lead to a reduction in equality of opportunity for all Shabbat-observant Jews, regardless of citizenship, that is a basic value in any democratic society.
The State of Israel, like any other democratic state, believes in the spirit of the Eurovision Song Contest, which provides a platform for all bearer of talent regardless of race, gender, nationality and religious belief.
It should be emphasized, that this is not a purely hypothetic situation, but rather a fundamental issue that is at the basis of the celebration of human diversity and equality, of which the Eurovision contest so identifies with and is good that is does.
I would appreciate if you would respond positively and open the gateway to the Shalva Band, which is apparently expected, among others, even with your long-awaited approval, to represent us in the Eurovision Song Contest, thereby linking the crown of equality to the entire competition.
The expert bodies Minister Regev referred to in her letter is the Tzomet Institute who were requested to provide a microphone to enable the Shalva Band to perform on Shabbat. Their request was rebuffed by Tzomet rabbis, who said that rehearsals held on Shabbat itself would involve massive Shabbat desecration on the part of the many employees who would be forced to work on the Jewish Day of Rest.
Another popular contestant, Omar Adam, arguably Israel's most popular pop star, dropped out of the contest due to the desecration of Shabbat.
"Omer Adam received an offer to participate in the Eurovision 2019. After a meeting between the parties, and in view of the fact that the general rehearsals take place during the Sabbath, Omer decided not to take part in the event," confirmed Adam's publicist.