‘We will dance again’—Remembering the horrors of October 7 at a powerful new exhibition

June 4, 2024
Josh Lipowsky  —  CEP Senior Research Analyst

A new exhibition takes visitors on a gruesome journey of the Nova Festival massacre whilst fitfully remembering and paying tribute to the dead. 

On October 6, 2023, thousands gathered for a celebration of life, peace, and music in Re’im, Israel, for the Nova Music Festival. They set up tents around a central stage where musicians played throughout the day and night in southern Israel. 

Recognizing this was more than just a festival, attendees dubbed themselves the Nova Community as they celebrated what bound them together as human beings. As the sun set on Friday, community members immersed themselves in feelings of love and tranquility as they celebrated life and nature.

“The whole night you prepare yourself for that second when you’ll raise your head towards the sun and give thanks to creation,” recalled attendee Achiya Malul. 

But that tranquility was shattered as the sun rose on October 7. Thousands of members of the terrorist group Hamas overran the Gaza-Israel border and flooded into Israel. As people woke to the sunrise at Nova, they could hear Israel’s Red Alert system warning them of rocket attacks. At 6:29 a.m., Hamas arrived at Nova. 

A sign on a wall

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Scenes from that terrible day have been recreated at the Nova Music Festival Exhibition: October 7th | 06:29AM to honor the fallen and bear witness to the atrocities Hamas carried out that dark day. Created by a group of Nova survivors working with U.S. partners, the exhibit is a memorial to Hamas’s victims and a glimpse into the horrors of that day through painful survivor testimonies.

victims pictures

They came in Jeeps and on motorized paragliders and motorcycles. Armed with machine guns and grenades, they cut the electricity and blocked roads around the Nova site. The smell of incense was replaced with the smell of gunpowder and burnt flesh. The open encampment provided few hiding spots. Some tried hiding in trees and bushes while others hid in bomb shelters as Hamas gunmen stormed the festival site. 

Hamas threw grenades around the shelters while blocking the shelter entrances, trapping defenseless people inside. Those who attempted to escape the shelters were met with gunfire. “There were forty of us in there; only seven came out alive,” according to testimony by Nova survivor Roni Mendelson. 

Mendelson and other survivors hid under piles of corpses in the shelters for hours until security forces arrived. Hamas had cut the electricity. The heat became unbearable, but they knew leaving the shelters was not an option. Others tried to escape by running to their cars but were chased down. Cars were set on fire, leaving burnt out wreckage. 

burned out car

In all, Hamas killed 1,200 people and kidnapped more than 240 others during its brazen attack. At Nova, Hamas killed 370 people and kidnapped 44 that day. Survivors hid in garbage bins, refrigerators, and beneath the bodies of their friends. Many recounted instances of rape while first responders found bodies of women tied spread-eagled. “The sights I saw there will be engraved in my mind till the end of time,” said Rami Davidian, one of the civilian first responders after the attack. 

In one of the most infamous moments of that day, Hamas captured 22-year-old German-Israeli national Shani Louk from Nova. They tied her up, stripped her, and paraded her around Gaza City in the back of a pickup truck as Gazans cheered and journalists documented the dehumanizing and grotesque display. On May 17, Israeli forces in Gaza recovered Shani’s body, along with the bodies of Amit Buskila and Itzik Gelenter, who were also killed at Nova. 

Walking through the exhibit in downtown New York, visitors come face to face with the Nova Festival site. The 50,000 square-foot space contains a darkened hall filled with tents and campsites recreated from the festival. Video monitors show footage of the attack captured from security cameras as well as Hamas’s own cameras. The scenes are graphic and “intense” is too weak a word for the descriptions in video and written testimonies from survivors and first responders.

Past the tents are burnt out cars recovered from Nova. Their insides have been consumed by fire and are unrecognizable. In the center of the room is the Nova stage, once occupied by musicians and now standing as a memorial to the slain. To the side are tables filled with books, backpacks, hats, purses, and other items recovered from Nova. Another table is filled with shoes and sandals of Hamas’s victims. 

A shelf victims shoes

This gruesome sight is reminiscent of displays of shoes of victims of the Nazis at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and across Europe. While listening to the testimonies of Nova survivors, it is difficult to ignore the parallels between the massacre on October 7 and the Holocaust. In both, innocent men, women, and children were brutally murdered simply for being Jewish. Indeed, October 7 was the worst attack on Jews in a single day since the Holocaust.  

The Nova exhibit ends at a memorial hall for its victims. Pictures of each innocent life hang in a candle-lit hall where visitors can leave notes in their memory. A healing tent is set up for personal reflection. Throughout the exhibit is the slogan, “We will dance again.” It is as much an affirmation of life as it is a defiant message to Hamas: You will not destroy our spirit.

The exhibit was created by Reut Feingold, Omri Sassi, Yoni Feingold, Ofir Amir, and Yagil Rimoni with U.S. partners Scooter Braun, Joe Teplow, and Josh Kadden. The exhibit spent 10 weeks in Tel Aviv and arrived in New York City on April 21. It will remain on display at 35 Wall Street in New York City until June 16 when it will move to Los Angeles. 

Donations go toward the Nova Healing Journey, which supports mental health treatment for victims and families of the attack. For more information on the exhibit, visit https://www.novaexhibition.com/.

we will dance again poster

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