Israel urges Eurovision organizers to let band compete while observing Shabbat
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Israel urges Eurovision organizers to let band compete while observing Shabbat

Shalva, which features members with disabilities, is mulling quitting race to represent Israel in song contest over religious concerns

The members of the Shalva Band, which successfully auditioned for 'Rising Stars,' an Israeli reality TV show. (Courtesy The Shalva Band)
The members of the Shalva Band, which successfully auditioned for 'Rising Stars,' an Israeli reality TV show. (Courtesy The Shalva Band)

Israel has been pressuring the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to change the protocol for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv to allow an Israeli band to avoid performing on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

The Shalva Band, primarily composed of eight musicians with disabilities, has captivated judges and the Israeli public throughout the current season of the TV singing competition “Rising Star,” whose winner will become Israel’s representative in the 2019 Eurovision in May. On Saturday, the band qualified for the show’s finale, and it seems poised to win.

However, since some of the band members observe the Sabbath, the band is reportedly likely to quit before the season concludes. Eurovision rules state that the general rehearsal is to take place 24 hours before the final, which is always held on Saturday night. That falls on Friday night — after Shabbat has begun.

The general rehearsal is considered crucial, and all performing artists must participate in it, since it plays a big role in determining the score of the judges from each country, and is also used as a backup in case there are malfunctions in the live broadcast the following day. Participating in the rehearsal would necessarily entail violating the Sabbath.

The Shalva Band on Kochav Haba – with English Subtitles

The magic of the moment was felt in all languages and touched hearts around the world. Therefore it was important for us to translate the video into English so you get to hear what the band had to say on this incredible occasion.Footage courtesy of makoThe Shalva Band להקת שלוההכוכב הבא

Posted by Shalva National Children's Center on Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Shalva Band has gained significant public support. An online petition to allow it to represent Israel without violating Shabbat was signed by more than 11,000 people in several days, and Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, contacted the EBU to try and find a solution.

However, the attempts so far to persuade the European organizers to bend the rules and let the band compete have failed, with the EBU reportedly telling Kan that the general rehearsal timing cannot be altered and that artists must perform live onstage during it.

Culture Minister Miri Regev at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 8, 2018 (Alex Kolomoisky/Yedioth Ahronoth/Pool)

On Monday, Culture Minister Miri Regev sent a letter to the EBU arguing that its insistence on sticking to its strict rules “denies an equal opportunity from potential contestants on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

Regev asked the organizers to “enable a deviation from the strict rule, which could harm the equal opportunity of all Jews who observe the Sabbath, regardless of their nationality — a basic value of every democratic society.”

In the past, Shabbat-observing singers Sarit Hadad and Boaz Mauda compromised and performed on the Jewish day of rest to comply with Eurovision rules after consulting with their rabbis. However, Shalva’s rabbi doesn’t seem likely to give similar permission.

The band was founded 12 years ago by Shai Ben Shushan, a drummer who sustained a head injury in special forces combat service.

ביצוע ראשון של להקת שלוה!

שיר מקורי של להקת שלוה בהכוכב הבא!מה אתם חושבים על הביצוע?היה מדהים להופיע בפעם הראשונה עם שיר מקורי שלנו כלהקה! ענאל שכתבה את המילים מכל הלב ועם הלחן שלנו.איזו התרגשות! Shalva National Children's Center לא מאמינים שהגיע החצי גמר!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Posted by ‎The Shalva Band להקת שלוה‎ on Tuesday, 29 January 2019

After recovering, Ben Shushan volunteered with Shalva, a Jerusalem organization that provides a range of services to people with disabilities, including therapy, arts programs, job training and advocacy work. He formed the band from Shalva participants with musical talent. Both lead singers, Anael Khalifa and Dina Samteh, are blind, and some of the members have Down syndrome.

The band, with a playlist of popular covers, has since toured schools and synagogues worldwide, and played with celebrity artists.

Last year, singer Netta Barzilai won “Rising Star” and went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 with her song “Toy.”

The other contestants still seeking to advance to this year’s finale against Shalva are singers Shefita (Rotem Shefi), Kitria, Maya Bouskilla and Avraham de Carvalho.

Jessica Steinberg and JTA contributed to this report.

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