Eurovision’s demands force Sabbath observers to quit contest

An Israeli band which reached the top of the competition to represent the Jewish State at the Eurovision Song Contest withdraws in honor of the Jewish Sabbath.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

The Shalva band has taken Israel by storm over recent months. Various members of the group are blind, visually impaired, or suffer from such disorders as Williams syndrome or Down syndrome.

They have wowed the celebrity panel of top Israeli singers on the Channel 12 program, “Rising Star.” As a result, this band from the Shalva Center was on the verge of representing Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, scheduled to take place in May in Tel Aviv.

The center is known for its advanced programs and facilities for disability rehabilitation, research, and inclusion.

The panelists on the television program said that it was a challenge to distinguish between the sheer quality of the group’s performances, in such songs as Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” and The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” and the fact that the group’s members face disabilities, but that ultimately they decided that this band was of an international caliber.

However, on Wednesday, the Shalva Band is expected to announce officially on a recording of Rising Star, to be aired on Thursday, that they are pulling out.

The reason: the Jewish Sabbath, observed from sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday.

Jews throughout the ages have sacrificed for the religious observance of their day of rest. And they have paid for it. Jews have lost out on workplace advancement and even been fired for observing a day of rest different from that of the surrounding societies in which they lived.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest takes place in the Jewish State. The Shalva Band observes the Jewish Sabbath in a religious manner, which includes the prohibition against performing during those 25 hours.

The final competition takes place on a Saturday night after the Shabbat is over, but the Eurovision organizers are said to have been unwilling to change the schedule of various rehearsals and recordings that take place Friday night or Saturday.

Popular Israeli pop singer Omer Adam has already turned down an offer to perform as part of the entertainment at the song contest because he, too, objected to being forced into preparations that are set during the hours of Shabbat.

The matter of Sabbath observance is a controversial issue within Israel with different sectors marking the day differently, as some people complain of religious coercion and others of a lack of opportunities for the religiously observant.

On Wednesday, Kan public broadcaster announced that the band is invited to appear during the semi-final held on a Thursday evening, which does not involve Shabbat desecration, but it will not compete at this year’s Eurovision.

Israel earned the right to host this year’s Eurovision Song Contest as a result of winning last year’s competition with Netta Barzilai’s “Toy,” a song which celebrates equal rights. The Shalva Band has won the hearts of Israelis who are celebrating the group’s inclusion despite serious physical obstacles.

Shalva’s withdrawal is apparently making some Israelis wonder why equal rights and inclusion do not also include showing flexibility towards a religious observance that differs from those at Eurovision.

That it is Israel that must bend to Eurovision’s wishes when the event is being held in the Jewish State raises eyebrows all the more.