Eurovision on Shabbat

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Before we begin our email, it’s important we mention that we extend our deepest condolences to the family of Ori Ansbacher, the 19-year-old who was brutally murdered by a terrorist last week. Our hearts are with her family and all of Am Yisrael (the Jewish people) at this time.

Last week, we asked about Israel’s purpose as a country. To be safe, to be normal, or to be exceptional?  Early Zionists, living as “guests” in countries throughout the world, dreamed of a Jewish State, a country like any other. How would they feel today, watching Israeli athletes compete in the Olympics? What pride would they experience watching Israelis sing in the Eurovision contest?

As American-Israeli basketball player Tal Brody famously said after Israel beat the Soviet team, a heavy favorite, in the semifinal round 1976-1977 FIBA European (now known as EuroLeague) Champions Cup competition: We are on the map! And we are staying on the map – not only in sports, but in everything.”

This week, we tackle the internal Israeli controversy surrounding potential Eurovision Song Contest competitors. Do you know what happened? What do your students have to say?

And one more question, as you read this – when would YOU cast self-interest aside for the sake of a value or relationship?

What Happened?

The Shalva Band officially dropped out of Israeli singing competition Hakochav Haba (Rising Star). Shalva is an Israeli organization for people with disabilities, whose house band has wowed judges and fans around the country. The winner of Hakochav Haba will represent Israel in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Israel this May. Because the contest holds mandatory practice and recording on Saturday, the Shalva Band decided to withdraw so as to not violate the Sabbath if selected, as several of its members are Sabbath observers.

Culture Minister Miri Regev wrote a letter to the Eurovision committee, asking them to reconsider their policy. She stated that the question is a “matter of principle, underlying the very foundations of equal opportunity and true acceptance of the concept of diversity that the Eurovision Song Contest proudly symbolizes.” The committee did not bend.

In return, the band did not bend either, and decided against representing Israel at Eurovision (if chosen). Instead, the Shalva Band will give an interval performance during one of the Eurovision semi-final shows.

Why Does This Matter?

1. So, which one is it – Is Israel a Jewish or democratic state? A tension that has been at the center of Israel’s consciousness since its founding – and something we write about a lot – is between Israel’s two core values: democracy and Judaism. Israel aspires to be both a democratic state and a Jewish state – no easy feat, or even an attainable one, some argue. Ruth Gavison, legal expert and co-author of the Gavison-Medan covenant, together with Rabbi Ya’akov Medan, who seeks to promote religious and secular co-existence, has said:

If Israel is not democratic, it has no justification for being. If Israel is not Jewish, it has no reason to be.

Though many Israelis find that Israel does not always live up to being a proper democracy, and others believe that it’s not a proper Jewish state, maintaining both of these principles is the aspiration of the State.

2. Inclusion on the “world map”? The Shalva Band has captured the hearts and minds of Israelis and Jewish people around the world. They received an unprecedented amount of votes each time they performed on Hakochav Haba, and the judges were quick to praise their talent and perseverance. Israel has many organizations dedicated to inclusion, and the new state of the art Shalva building is the world’s largest and most advanced facility for children with disabilities.

3. When to violate Shabbat and when not to? Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo made the controversial but creative distinction between supporting the building of the railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Shabbat, arguing that it would prevent car accidents. As such, he said Jews should be allowed to build on shabbat with some modifications. And, that’s exactly what happened. (See here as the construction workers make kiddush while working.)

Yet he was adamantly opposed to the decision that would force Shalva to play, saying it is “shameful that Israel’s leadership would allow the violation of Shabbat on this occasion.” He argued that Israel should “put its foot down” and even cancel the Eurovision contest if they cannot find a solution.

Discussion Questions

  1. Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, stated: “It appears that the EBU [European Broadcasting Union] is ready to accept anyone and accommodate everyone except those who ask to keep Shabbat. I wonder if they would forbid a contestant from appearing with a burka or a hijab.” Do you think Revivi is making a reasonable parallel here? How would you respond to it?
  2. Rabbi Shlomo Brody, founding director of the Tikvah Institute, wrote:

“Ultimately, the shame rests with Israel for not doing more to ensure inclusion of religious participants in cultural and sports events… It seems that some have forgotten the more basic duties of government: to ensure the liberties of its citizens, including those who want to maintain religious observance while remaining in the public sphere – and on the stage.”

Do you agree with Brody that Israel “failed its religious Jews”?  

Practical Classroom Tips

  1. Watch this video of the band members themselves. What inspired you most from watching them?
    Here is a basic translated summary of what they said:
    “We have many values that we believe in. One is Shabbat… Our band is made up of the whole gamut of Israeli society: ultra-Orthodox, secular, traditional, religious. We initially considered splitting up and only some of us performing, but then realized that wouldn’t be worth anything. What the Jewish people saw was the magic of us being together… We thought this would break us up but we are more united than ever. I (speaker) got a message from a woman whose child has cerebral palsy, whom nobody plays with, saying that people are now calling her to get together; that is our victory.”
  2. Play this inspiring video about Shalva’s founders. Ask students to write down the words and emotions that come to mind, and then ask for some to share their thoughts.
  3. Choose a past Israeli Eurovision song to teach your students and sing together. If your students know many already, play “name that tune” with them.
  4. This could be leveraged as a way to teach about the importance of inclusion. Brainstorm with your students ways to get involved in your community – could be through Yachad, Chai Lifeline, Friendship Circle, or any local organization.
  5. Ask your students one important question – What values would they sacrifice for?

Further Reading

  1. The Israel Democracy Institute has many articles on the subject of democracy and Judaism.
  2. Our earlier post on a similar topic: Tel Aviv construction on Shabbat.

In Other News…

  1. Madonna is going to perform at the Eurovision competition in Israel. Israeli-Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams, the man who brought the Giro d’Italia to Israel last year, is sponsoring her appearance.
  2. You may have missed this, but a few months back Israel hosted the World Lacrosse Championship in Netanya. There were 2,000 players from 46 countries. Israel’s team has only been playing since 2011 but managed to reach the quarterfinals.

Noam Weissman

Dr. Noam Weissman is the Senior Vice President of Education at Jerusalem U. Noam holds a doctorate in educational psychology from USC with a focus on curriculum design. Before joining Jerusalem U, he was the principal of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, where he spent 9 years actively engaging and empowering students to find meaning in their Jewish learning.

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