Caroline Goldberg Igra
Art Historian, Writer and Triathlete

Clambering to the Light

The Shalva Band. If you haven’t seen them perform: run, not walk. Or at least watch them on YouTube.

I’m not sure we’ve made a big enough deal of this group of eight individuals that, although challenged by a variety of disabilities, managed to pull Israel together last month, albeit for five and a half minutes. That accomplishment is no small feat in this divisive country. Their performance at the Eurovision competition–an event that, in itself, will be remembered as a national high mark, the country polished to a dazzling shine and extending an extraordinarily warm welcome to all those who came to be part of the sixty-four-year-old celebration–was nothing short of epic: illustrating Israel’s ability to appreciate its gifts, its miracles and its genius.

Living in a place that is so harshly criticized, not only from abroad but from within, surrounded by so many, close and far, who seem to go out of their way to find fault and imperfections, quick to hold an entire people up to a moral standard maintained by very few across this giant globe, it’s all the more critical that we acknowledge our genuine treasures.

The Shalva Band’s performance of “A Million Dreams” deserves our admiration not only because of the wonder of the group’s accomplishment, their ability to rise above the serious obstacles they face daily and produce such beauty, but even more so for the way they brought an entire nation to tears. Their performance struck the hearts of hordes of Israelis, filling them with an all-too-rare, sense of shared pride. As the band members dared to dream, hoping to exceed the limited options of their world (the words of that song written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from “The Greatest Showman” so perfectly aligned with their own reality) so, too, do many of us here in this tiny, often-plagued and frequently maligned corner of the Middle East.

I recently came across the concept of collecting moments as a means of taking stock; of stopping at a major juncture and gathering words that encapsulate the facts and emotions of the instant as a means of better understanding its significance. The protagonist of Tara Conklin’s “The Last Romantics,” Fiona, does this in an attempt to recover what was, how things had been, immediately before an enormous loss. It enables her to reconsider the regrets, the anger and the frustration she experienced at this critical moment in her life in an effort to cope with the pain.

I believe that this action could be used in a far more uplifting fashion, as a means of acknowledgment, a way to clamber up to the light just when things seem black. By stopping a moment to consider what was going on precisely as the Shalva Band shone its impossibly bright light on millions of Israelis, their contribution to a people, their message of inclusion and their proof of the power of aspirations, become even more germane.

I followed Fiona’s lead and made a list of the moments that characterized this roller coaster of a life we live here in Israel just around the time the Shalva Band took to the stage. It was more than troubling: the area surrounding Gaza was, yet again, being pummeled with rocket fire, citizens forced to stay home, ready to run into a shelter at any moment; hundreds of acres of arable land were being burned to the point of devastation daily; the religious right had gained unprecedented strength through the electoral process and was set to impose its Medieval practices on a modern nation; some of the most basic human rights, those upon which Israel has always prided itself–Israel: the ultimate defender of democracy in the Middle East–were under serious attack, threatened with rescission.

This gathering of moments didn’t add up to anything I wanted a part of, it felt foreign and ugly. It was black, so very black. Yet there it was, a moment that was part of those others; one that begged to be acknowledged: a moment when the baton swung wildly high and Israel pulled off a spectacle that would make us all proud, featuring an exquisite exemplar of achievement and tolerance, acceptance and embrace, all of those things that we were desperate to remember were part of this country as well.

We have so very much for which to be thankful, so many reasons to stick it out and fight the fight. Embracing a moment, gathering the strands of our existence at a critical junction, is a wonderful way to help us recognize our blessings, cling to those beams of light and maintain hope of realizing our dreams.

“They can say…it all sounds crazy. They can…say I’ve lost my mind. I don’t care…so call me crazy. We can live in a world that we design.”

A million thanks to the Shalva Band for reminding us of what we have and encouraging us to dream.

 

About the Author
Caroline published her first novel, "Count to a Thousand," with Mandolin Publishing in June 2018. She holds a doctorate in Art History. She has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in international, academic art history journals as well as a book on the work of WWII artist J. D. Kirszenbaum in conjunction with the artist's nephew (Somogy Éditions d'Art.) She curated an exhibition on Kirszenbaum which was mounted at two Israeli venues: Beit Hatfutsot and the Museum of Art in Ein Harod. She started a blog titled Stuck in the Middle years ago and then went on to blog for the Jerusalem Post for a number of years.
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