The Shalva Band dropped its widely supported bid to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest Tuesday, after organizers refused to budge on the group’s request not to perform on Shabbat.
The band — made up of musicians with disabilities, some of whom are observant Jews — had recently been named as a finalist on the reality TV show “Rising Star,” which determines Israel’s entry for the annual song contest.
The group was long-rumored to be considering quitting the show over the possibility it may have to break the Jewish day of rest if selected as the winner. The band advanced to the final round earlier this week and had to make a decision before the show would take place.
The pullout was widely reported in Hebrew-language media Tuesday night. There was no confirmation from the band or “Rising Star.”
Eurovision contestants are required to perform onstage in the general rehearsal, which is held 24 hours before the tournament’s final — on Friday night, after Shabbat has begun.
Israel had unsuccessfully tried to persuade the European Broadcasting Union to bend the rules to allow Shalva Band to compete without performing on Shabbat.
The general rehearsal is considered crucial, and all performing artists must participate, since it plays a major role in determining the score of the judges from each country. It 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 Shabbat.
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 had gained significant public support and was seen as a frontrunner to represent Israel at the contest, scheduled for May in Tel Aviv.
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 European Broadcasters Union to try and find a solution.
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, the band’s rabbi was apparently not inclined to give similar permission.
The group was founded 12 years ago by Shai Ben Shushan, a drummer who sustained a head injury in special forces combat service.
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.”
Shalva’s departure opens the door to singers Shefita (Rotem Shefi), Kitria, Maya Bouskilla and Avraham de Carvalho to compete for a Eurovision spot.
JTA contributed to this report.