Kalman Samuels, Founder and President of Shalva, will be one of the torch lighters in this year’s Israel Independence Day parade, an honor that he describes as “really quite amazing.”

“It’s more exciting than I could ever have imagined,” Samuels, the Founder and President of Shalva, an organization that supports and empowers individuals with disabilities, tells Israel National News.

“From the moment that [Minister of Culture and Sports] Hili Tropper called me two weeks ago to share with me that I would be one of 12 people lighting a torch on Independence Day, I was very excited, not for Kalman Samuels but for the incredible number of people over 32 years who have dedicated themselves in one capacity or another to enable Shalva to grow and develop in a way starting from five children in 1990.”

Today, Shalva serves over one thousand children a day, in one of the largest centers in the world, Samuels explains.

Shalva has also become famous in Israel and throughout the world thanks to the Shalva Band, which is made up of eight musicians who all live with some degree of disability.

“The Shalva Band began in 2005 together with music therapist Shai Ben Shushan who told me he could build the band and it went from very small beginnings to playing in various forums and an international trip, and ultimately in the Rising Star program, and of course Eurovision in front of 200 million people," Samuels says. "The band entered the hearts of every Israeli home but it’s important to note that the band for us is just another program that went further than we could have imagined. Everything we do at Shalva is based on the same principle of trying to enable every child to get not his disabilities but his abilities to their fullest potential.”

He remarks that in the last three decades since his organization began, Israel has made huge progress in integrating people with disabilities.

“There’s no question, there’s always great room for improvement but where we started in 1990 and where we are today is light years away. On a positive note, today everybody wants to accept, wants to integrate, and it’s an amazing society we live in and we should be every proud. There is more to do of course but we’re in the right direction.”