Shalva IDF volunteers
Shalva IDF volunteersShalva

The Shalva band ultimately appeared on the Eurovision stage but not as one of the contenders. The band members announced that they wouldn't be able to participate in rehearsals during Shabbat, thus cutting themselves off from competing for a place in the competition, despite the fact that they were the favorites of the audience.

But the swiftly rising popularity of the special band was unstoppable.

Their performance at Eurovision drew the attention of the worldwide audience, a few months after they captured the hearts of Israelis. Eurovision has become completely marginal compared to the larger story - the change in outlook to those with disabilities that the graceful group managed to achieve in such a short time.

"We see meteoric progress in relation to people with disabilities," says Yochanan Samuels, CEO of Shalva. "For us, the band is part of a broader process. Who would have believed that Shalva would reach such extraordinary achievements? I see their schedule and I am amazed. They run one day from a concert in the north to a concert in the south and perform on international stages. At their performances, important organizations vie to be affiliated with them, as if they are rock stars from abroad."

But at Shalva, they don't calmly rest on their laurels. The organization saw a springboard for more extensive activity in light of the tremendous exposure they received as a result of the band's success. "Dare to dream," as the slogan says. "It's impossible to describe in words the tremendous push that the Shalva band enabled through Eurovision," Samuels said. "Shalva has been active in many areas for years, but the band's success put a spotlight on our work. People realized that the band was the tip of the iceberg. Whoever looked up Shalva on the internet understood that Shalva has been taking care of thousands of people and families for years. We're at a point where it's time to strike while the iron is hot - to embark on any initiative that will enhance integration and improve us as a society. The push from the band's success enabled us to embark on many new ventures and expand our activities."

The highlight of the wave of post-Eurovision activity at Shalva is a new and unique program called "Rise up in Rank." The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, together with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Lev Academic Center, joined together to create a multi-year program which will provide solutions for young men with special needs aged 18-25. The goal is to integrate them into the regular framework that young men of their age experience - Torah, academia and the army.

"The program provides young men with various disabilities - on the autistic spectrum, Down Syndrome or cognitive deficits - a program for integration into the IDF alongside Torah and academia," says Samuels. "First and foremost, the goal is to allow them to breathe the air of achievement, to let them experience the IDF, which is the melting pot of Israeli society, to give them a taste of a large learning center like the Lev Academic Center and be there with hundreds of young men who are learning."

The program will build a framework for each participant to enter civilian life, develop skills and professionalism and develop independence. Samuels estimates that demand for the program will exceed the number of places they can offer. "In the coming months, I believe that we will have to fight for every available space because the demand will be very high," he says.

One of the families who are interested in the program is the Kabri family, who have a son with Down Syndrome. Tzippy, the mother of the family, says, "Our son finished a special education high school and we looked for another framework for him. We wanted him to serve in the army, but because we're a religious family, it was important to us that he also has a religious framework. We found out about Shalva, arranged a meeting, and they told us about the new program."