Tuesday, June 2, 2020 -
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The best thing it had going for it

With thousands if not millions of others, I’ve been so moved and enchanted in watching The Shalva Band’s magical performances, one after the other. It has been competing on Israel’s musical competition “Rising Star.” and whoever wins the competition will perform at Eurovision 2019, to be hosted by Israel this coming spring in Tel Aviv.

It started with a mind-blowing performance of the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun.” Not only was the performance flawless and gorgeous, but to watch two blind girls as the primary singers — continuing to sing, blithely unaware they had just won the night’s highest score, unable to see the flashing fireworks that traditionally erupt as a sign of victory — is not something you see everyday. Oh, it sure pulled on your heartstrings. The accompanying band was equally compelling. Truly, endearing. It really did feel like the sun was shining in a new way — the dawn of a new day, a time when people with disabilities who have reached for the stars will be stars.

Here was a group of people with visible disabilities, ranging from blindness to Down syndrome, PDD and Williams syndrome, singing and playing their talented hearts out with so much love and pride. I dare you not to cry!

They were mesmerizing. They were fabulous!

The following week only got better. We were treated to an absolutely riveting, soul-shivering rendition of Simon and Garfunkels’ “The Sounds of Silence.” It was at once silky smooth, haunting and refined.

The Shalva Band was, as they say, killin’ it!!

It was collecting fans by the tens of thousands for powerful performances that were simply captivating.

But with this song too, it seemed to be speaking a deeper message, alluding to worlds that are silent. While the two lead singers are blind, for others their disability might be a world of silence.

Of course none of this was overt and I’m probably reading into things.

But that’s how I saw it — Shalva stitching together a musical coded story of healing, of awareness, of inclusion.

As speaking to the nobler sides of how our society ought to be.

Of rooting for this group of people who overcame tremendous odds to reach this point in time.

The Shalva Band had a story to tell. And its story is nothing short of a national treasure.

We are all flawed. We all have disabilities. We all speak in ways that can at times feel so misunderstood. For some of us, our disabilities are just more visible than for others.

The final song I saw was “I see The Good In You,” an original composed and set to music by The Shalva Band. This song is unforgettable.

Anael writes and sings about her journey and traveling the path of disability. Her message: Seeing Good In People. Not just seeing good inothers, but seeing good in yourself.

This song flows as naturally as a river. I believe it will be a new hit on Israeli radio. Watching her perform her song, so heartfelt, was spellbinding.

The entire country and even the world, was rooting for The Shalva Band to win the competition and represent Israel at the Eurovision.

The Shalva Band itself symbolized not only what it stood for but what Israel stands for. Equal opportunity and human dignity for all.

And, let’s face it, this was about breaking a glass ceiling. The Shalva Band was rocking it. Yes, its story was so endearing and extremely inspiring, but its raw talent, enthusiasm and energy — its sense of community — was electrifying and contagious.

When is the next Shalva video coming out, I wondered.

Then the news hit.

Shalva is pulling out of the “Rising Star” competition — just as they were so close to winning — due to the news that whoever represents Israel at the Eurovision will need to perform on Shabbat, violating the sacred Jewish Sabbath.

I couldn’t believe it.

Here was Shalva, an organization for people with disabilities, about to break a record, so to speak, or to set an international precedent and bring Israel such incredible, inspiring glory, but they pulled out.

Because of Shabbos. Wow.

Aside from the upsetting aspect of the story — one would think that Eurovision would take Shabbat into account, for after all Israel is the Jewish State (and apparently Israel tried to work with the European Broadcasting Union to change the scheduling, but to no avail) — Shalva has just modeled another lesson for us all.

I am reminded of a movie, “Chariots of Fire.” Vangelis’ score of this beautiful film is unforgettable too, but the message of Shabbat Uber Alles, of Olympic runner Eric Liddel who refused to breach his Sabbath, is the movie’s real power.

Shalva has now not only brought musical glory to Israel, not only Inclusion awareness to the world in the name of Israel. But Shalva has tripled its powerful message, leadership and influence: Shalva has brought Shabbat to the world.

For many of us who honor Shabbat with relative ease, who only hear of the challenges of Shabbat observance from days of yore, it doesn’t really take much sacrifice to keep Shabbat. Those stories about Jews who gave up opportunities in order to guard the Jewish Sabbath are from a bygone era.

Yet here comes The Shalva Band, removing itself from the Eurovision opportunity. It has taught us all that some things are worth more than any glory in the world.

Some things are priceless.

Shabbat one of those things.

As Asher Ginsburg, known as Ahad Ha’am, famously said: “more than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.”



And extraordinary musical talent.

Shalva is already an Israeli legend.

Eurovision 2019 just lost the best thing it had going for it.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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