There is a new craze in Israel these days. The Eurovision Song Contest, which Israel has won three times already, (the latest being last year with Neta Barzilai’s amazing rendition of ‘Toy”) is coming to Israel this May! Yes, and Israelis are beside themselves with excitement. It will be held in Tel Aviv and its probably too late to try to find any hotel space (I hear airbnb apartments are sold out as well) but I digress…
What is really gripping the Israeli public is who is going to represent Israel in this year’s Eurovision. And its a nail biter and a tearjerker, because the crowd favorite is a band. A special band. A band made up of eight special needs young adults, three visually impaired, two with Down’s Syndrome, one with Williams Syndrome, one with autism and their musical director, who himself suffered a debilitating injury during his military service.
The Shalva Band blossomed out of the musical therapy program at Shalva (meaning ‘peace and calm‘ in Hebrew), which is the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. But enough with words.
Please watch the Shalva Band in their debut performance in front of a national audience. I dare you to keep a dry eye.
The band has been doing extremely well in the competition, moving forward and making it to the next rounds. As a matter of fact, the Shalva Band performed their first original song this past week and made it to the Quarter Finals!
The song, written by Annael (the lead vocalist), documents her journey with disability and acceptance. The song is called ‘I See Something Good Within You‘ and is about how she ‘looks’ in the mirror and sees something good, something close, something worth loving.
The possibility of this amazing band of special needs friends making it to the top and representing Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest is a worthwhile story in itself.
However, it is made more poignant because last week I attended the International Court for the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Tel Aviv. My daughter Tamar was selected to be among 70 talented and inspiring teens from all over Israel to help commemorate this anniversary by staging a mock trial. The highschoolers staged the trial of Ernst Rudin, a Nazi doctor, pioneer and head of the Racial Hygiene programs in the Third Reich. He was in charge of the forced, mass sterilization of over 400,000 Germans deemed inferior and undesirable and the killing of tens of thousands more. In one of his speeches he justified the euthanasia of children as “the value of eliminating young children of clearly inferior quality”. He was known as a ‘racial fanatic’ and one of the leading advocates for the purity of the ‘German people’.
Ernst Rudin was arrested after the Holocaust and was supposed to stand trial as a war criminal at Nuremberg. However, his defense claim was that most of his knowledge about eugenics and the racial superiority of the Aryan Race he learned from the birthplace of race theory, the United States. This made the American lawyers and judges at Nuremberg quite uncomfortable and they did not wish to open a Pandora’s Box. So, he was chastised, got a slap on the wrist, fined 500 marks, and released. He died a free man in 1952.
The Israeli teenagers were divided into two groups; prosecutors and defense attorneys. Famous international judges were invited to preside over the trial, from Scotland, the United States, and Germany as well as two high ranking Israeli judges. Witnesses were brought in from Austria and Germany. Rudin was played by an Israeli actor…
I was so very impressed with the teens as they advocated for or against this Nazi and his crimes. Their seriousness and professionalism overwhelmed me and I could barely contain my pride and ‘naches’ (Yiddish for pleasure attained from seeing someone you love do something amazing).
The organizers and sponsors of the mock trial aim to package this idea and market it to other countries with the goal of creating an International Youth Parliament that will deal with matters important to the youth of today.
I was going to write about the trial, and Tamar, and how proud I am of her, and how fascinating it all was last week. But I hadn’t yet. I got busy with other things.
Until today, when my husband Yitzhak and I watched the video of the Shalva Band moving on to the Quarter Finals. He wiped tears from his eyes and said to me, “You know, Rudin would have killed them all.” As simple as that. The Nazis would have sterilized and euthanized them. Every one of them.
And now, I’m at a loss for words.