Though they have been big news in Israel for a while now, their story became widely known this week in the US: The Shalva Band.
The Shalva Band is comprised of 8 talented musicians with disabilities and performs to the highest musical standards by invitation at cultural venues and dignitary events throughout the year. Their musical talents were discovered and developed through Shalva’s music therapy program. Inspiring crowds with its musical repertoire and charm, the band is one of Shalva’s most celebrated inclusion programs.
The Shalva band was a contestant on the Israeli TV show “HaKochav Habah” (“The Next Star). The winner of the show becomes Israel’s entry into Eurovision, being held this year in Tel Aviv. The band was a crowd favorite, stealing the hearts of both judges and the audience. So much so, that the band had advanced to the final round of the show.
On Tuesday the news reported that the Shalva Band would be dropping out of the competition. Several members of the band are Shabbat observant and Eurovision holds its final dress rehearsals on Friday night and Saturday, complete with recording and filming. Band members said they were aware of the rules but had not expected to advance so far in the competition. Eurovision said the final rehearsals are vital because the performances are filmed and sent to international judges for use in scoring, and so the contest has a backup in case technical issues arise during the live performances on Saturday night.
It’s unfortunate that Eurovision was unwilling to find a way to be inclusive of the Shabbat observance of some members of a group that teaches and embodies inclusion in their every performance.
But in many ways The Shalva Band has already won. First, the band will be appearing at the international song contest after all – in a special appearance during the second semi-final.
A spokeswoman for KAN, Israel’s public broadcaster, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that it invited the band to appear as an interval act during the show, which will be held live on May 16 in Tel Aviv.
But beyond Eurovision, the band is a winner because of how beloved they became and the attention that they helped focus on disabilities awareness and inclusion. February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. We are excited to host Richard Bernstein at the conclusion of the 9 AM minyan in the Sanctuary and hear his inspirational story of overcoming obstacles and reaching one’s potential. Thank you to Mimi Jankovits, Teach Florida and GIL for helping to bring this opportunity to our community. I will also be giving a shiur Shabbat afternoon (at 5 PM) on Halachic views on disabilities and inclusion.
Inclusion is not only about allowing people that are not typical to feel more “normal” by including them in “normal” activities. Inclusion also means declaring that all Jews, regardless of their physical and mental differences, not only have a place in the Jewish community, but have something to contribute. Everyone has his/her unique ability. As a community we must be committed to bringing out the best in each and every person. Sometimes people may need support or accommodations in order to participate and contribute to our community. We should view these accommodations as opportunities to bring out the best in each person and the best in our community.
If you have ideas on how we can make our shul more inclusive, please let me or Sara Frieberg know. There is a tradition that the word “Yisrael” is an acronym for “Yesh Shishim Ribo Otiyot LaTorah” (“there are 600,000 letters in a Torah”) In truth there are far fewer than 600,000 letters in a Torah. However the number 600,000 is symbolic of the totality of the Jewish People (hence the tradition that there were 600,000 Jews who left Egypt and stood at Sinai). The lesson of the Yisrael acronym is two-fold. First every Jew has a unique connection to the Torah, and we should do our best to nurture and accommodate each person’s unique Jewish identity. Second, as a Torah scroll missing even one letter is not kosher, so too a Jewish community that is not accessible to all of its constituents is lacking in a fundamental manner. Let us do our best to ensure that our Torah – and our community- is complete.