There is a magical new street in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood called Shalva Road, where the sparkling new Shalva National Center is located. Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, holds a special place in my heart, as my 22-year-old daughter Tova, who has Down’s Syndrome, spent many years attending their wonderful programs.
Shalva, which means tranquility, was established in 1990 by Kalman and Malki Samuels who, as parents of a child with disabilities, acutely understood the need for an organization focused on easing the burden of families who have children with disabilities.
Shalva began in a Har Nof apartment with an afternoon program for eight children. It quickly became apparent that there was tremendous demand for these services, and the organization grew by leaps and bounds. Soon thereafter, Shalva bought a larger facility in Har Nof and added many programs and therapeutic services to help parents address their children’s myriad needs. In 2016, Shalva opened its incredible new facility, which provides a full range of services for thousands of people with disabilities; a few examples include an early intervention baby program, an inclusive preschool and a respite center.
My daughter Tova attended Shalva for many years and enjoyed a fun-filled schedule of after-school therapies and activities. She also attended Shalva’s annual summer camp, a delightful week-long program the organization runs for hundreds of children and volunteers. The week is so special that my oldest son, who volunteered in Shalva, decided to celebrate his “aufruf” the Shabbat before his wedding in Shalva’s sleepaway camp, as there was nowhere else he preferred to be before his wedding.
About a dozen years ago, Shalva created a band, which has become one of the organization’s most celebrated inclusion programs. The Shalva Band is comprised of people covering the entire religious spectrum, which reflects Shalva’s culture of providing equal access and opportunity to all participants regardless of religion, ethnic background or financial capability.
This past year, the Shalva Band participated in the Kochav Haba—or Rising Star—competition, whose winner will represent Israel at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. The talented band won over the hearts of millions of viewers and earned its way to the finals. Once it became clear that the band had a very strong chance of winning the competition, they had to confront a serious dilemma: Although the Eurovision grand finale takes place on a Saturday night, all entrants are required to participate in a taped dress rehearsal on the Shabbat. Even though this requirement was known from the outset, Shalva never expected in their wildest dreams to achieve such extraordinary success in the competition.
Many politicians and artists lent their support, petitioned Eurovision’s organizers to allow the Shalva Band to record their dress rehearsal on Friday. When Eurovision responded that it would not make a final decision until—and if—the Shalva Band was named Israel’s selection, the band decided to withdraw from the competition. Eurovision’s inflexible response was somewhat ironic, considering its website states: “The tag line Dare to Dream symbolises inclusion, diversity and unity, which represents the core values of the Eurovision Song Contest.”
What makes the band’s decision particularly remarkable is that, notwithstanding diverse religious beliefs and practices, the band members were unified in their decision, reflecting their bonds of unity, love and respect. May we all be privileged to absorb and apply these beautiful and exceptional lessons.
By Gedaliah Borvick