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.
Last Thursday, the Shalva Band, as guest artists, performed the song A Million Dreams”. Following their performance, thousands of Eurovision fans took to Twitter to applaud the band.
“Shalva Band. Just one of a million reasons why #Eurovision is THE GREATEST SHOW!
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 comprised 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 soldier 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. Two of the band’s percussionists, Tal and Yair, have Down Syndrome and one 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. Their performances 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 launched together with Bank Hapoalim, The Israeli Association of Community Centers and the support of 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 in the wake of Thursday’s performance. “We were invited to play shows in Europe,” he said in an interview. 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 heart-warming 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.