An emotional performance by the Shalva Band at Thursday’s Eurovision Song Contest semifinal earned widespread praise from viewers in Israel and abroad, who hailed the band for its message of inclusivity and acceptance.
The Eurovision organization commended the band for “inspiring us to think differently about challenges and acceptance.” Many viewers at home said the performance brought them to tears. The group received a long standing ovation at the end of their song, and host Bar Refaeli appeared to be holding back tears as she remarked on their performance.
The Shalva Band is composed of eight talented musicians and vocalists with disabilities who began their journey at the Shalva National Center in Jerusalem, an Israeli-based organization dedicated to providing care and inclusion to people with disabilities. The band director, Shai Ben Shushan, was an elite combat solider in the Duvdevan army unit when he suffered a life-threatening injury 14 years ago and came to Shalva as a volunteer, which, according to Shai, was critical to his rehabilitation. The band’s two lead singers, Anael and Dina, are blind. Anael immigrated to Israel from France and has been singing since she was 5. Dina immigrated to Israel from Manipur, India at age 10 and learned Hebrew through music. Band percussionists Tal and Yair have Down syndrome, and Yosef has William Syndrome, a rare genetic disease. Guy, the keyboardist, is visually impaired.
The band rose to national stardom following their performances on season 6 of the Israeli singing competition “The Rising Star.” The winner of the reality TV contest goes on to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest that took place last week in Tel Aviv. Performance after performance, the band wowed the audience and judges. They went viral as they won over the hearts of the Israeli public and became household names as hundreds of thousands of people tuned in to watch their performances.
After reaching the finale, the Shalva Band dropped its widely supported bid to represent Israel in Eurovision in order to avoid performing on the Sabbath. Eurovision contestants were required to perform in an onstage rehearsal held on Friday evening prior the tournament’s final. Some members of the band are Sabbath observers and therefore the band decided to stay together as a group.
In the week leading up to Eurovision, the Shalva Band released their new song, “The Door Will Be Open,” written by Israeli singer and songwriter, Amir Dadon. The song was released in conjunction with a new social action initiative with Bank Hapoalim, the Israeli Association of Community Centers, and YouTube. It is a media blitz with billboards, radio, newspaper, TV, and social-media advertisements throughout Israel, encouraging the Israeli public and businesses to embrace and integrate persons with disabilities into society.
In an interview last Friday, Shai Ben Shushan told Army Radio that despite forgoing participation in the song contest, they had received numerous invitations to play shows abroad. But Ben Shushan stressed that if the band decided to go on tour, they would not abandon their goal of helping make life accessible to Israelis with disabilities. “The heartwarming response from the public is so much more important to us than Eurovision,” he said.
Shalva, the Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, provides an all-encompassing range of services for 2,000 individuals from infancy through adulthood and their families. Shalva gives equal access and opportunity to all participants regardless of religion, ethnic background, or financial capability.