Shalva band readies for guest gig after nixing Eurovision bid over Shabbat
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Shalva band readies for guest gig after nixing Eurovision bid over Shabbat

Members of group made up of musicians with disabilities say they’ll give best possible performance after quitting race to represent Israel so as not to violate Jewish day of rest

The Shalva Band performs during a rehearsal for their guest appearance at the second semifinal of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
The Shalva Band performs during a rehearsal for their guest appearance at the second semifinal of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Shalva Band, which dropped its widely supported bid to represent Israel at Eurovision after organizers refused to budge on the group’s request not to perform on Shabbat, rehearsed Wednesday for a performance as guest artists at the song contest’s semifinals on Thursday evening.

“We are very excited to get on stage with smiles on our faces,” band member Yair Pomberg told Channel 12 news. “We are going to do the best possible job we can.”

His bandmate, Yosef Ovadia, told a press conference that the group has wide-ranging support ahead of their performance.

“I think that what we are going to do here at the second semifinal of the contest — I feel that the people of Israel and the people of the world are with us,” Ovadia said.

Shlava Band members and Eurovision host Assi Azar at a rehearsal ahead of their guest appearance at the second semifinal of song contest in Tel Aviv on May 15, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The band — made up of musicians with disabilities, some of whom are observant Jews — was named as a finalist on the reality TV show “Rising Star,” which determines Israel’s entry for the annual song contest taking place this week in Tel Aviv.

The group quit the show over the prospect of being forced to break the Jewish day of rest if selected as the winner.

Eurovision contestants are required to perform onstage in the general rehearsal, which will be held on Friday evening — 24 hours before the tournament’s final.

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 Shalva Band gained significant public support and was seen as a frontrunner to represent Israel in the contest.

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

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

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.

JTA contributed to this report.

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