Survivors of Israel music festival massacre unite to build a healing community

For some, the way back has come through dancing again.
A young woman is comforted as she weeps at the Nova Healing Concert in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Thursday, June 27, 2024.
A young woman is comforted as she weeps at the Nova Healing Concert in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Thursday, June 27, 2024.(Photo | AP)

TEL AVIV, Israel: In the months since Hamas’ surprise attack sent them scattering across fields or hiding in desert brush, thousands of survivors of a massacre at a trance festival in Israel have come together as a community to heal.

They have found solace in massage therapy, ice baths, yoga or surfing with the only people who could truly understand what they had been through. And they have built a robust support network for themselves as the Israel-Hamas war rages on and authorities struggle to provide services to devastated communities.

For some, the way back has come through dancing again.

On Thursday, thousands of people attended the Nova Healing Concert in Tel Aviv, the first Tribe of Nova mass gathering since the Oct. 7 attack.

“We understood that people needed to be together, and we’re a community that takes care of itself,” said Omri Sasa, one of the founders of the Tribe of Nova, which organized the festival last October. “I’m in trauma, and I wanted to be with people who also went through this.”

He was among around 3,000 people dancing through the night in a field just miles from Gaza when rockets lit up the sky at 6:29 a.m. Heavily armed Palestinian militants rampaged through the festival, killing at least 364 people and taking more than 40 hostage. Many of them are still held in Gaza.

Hila Fakliro, a communications student who was tending bar at the festival, escaped by zigzagging through fields, hiding and running for over five hours, until she reached the safety of a village some 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. Six of her friends were killed and another three were taken hostage.

“Someone asked me if I can dance again, and in the beginning I said no,” she said. At a memorial in January for one of her friends, she tried to dance, had a panic attack, and then tried again. “I was crying and dancing at the same time,” she said.

But after attending events organized by Nova survivors, she was once again able to find solace in the trance music she loves. At a recent event, she slid into an ice bath while others attended yoga and art classes in a cluster of tents.

Omri Kohavi, 35, one of Nova’s founding organizers, said they had felt abandoned by Israel’s security forces, who took hours to respond to the Oct. 7 attack. Now director of community programming for the Nova Foundation, Kohavi said organizers realized within days that “if we don’t care for ourselves, no one else will.”

Survivors began to gather to deal with the trauma they had experienced together. On the first day, 500 showed up. That number doubled the following day. After three months, they shifted to weekly Community Day events and encouraged survivors to return to their regular lives and jobs.

At those events in Tel Aviv, survivors meet with therapists, lawyers, social workers or just spend time with one another. The Nova Foundation connects survivors to opportunities for horse therapy, surfing and massage. Some have completed trainings in peer therapy to help others, and the organization recently began providing support to the families of those killed.

Earlier this month, Israel rescued four hostages who were snatched from the festival, which Sasa said “was the biggest present anyone could imagine.” The daytime rescue killed over 270 Palestinians.

The gathering Thursday was to raise money to support the volunteer network and to call for the release of the remaining hostages. To appeal to a broader audience, it featured electronic music and mainstream artists as well as the Nova mainstay, trance.

“We need a lot of money, and the only way we know how to raise money is through events,” Sasa said.

Nova provided a separate area at the Nova Healing Concert for survivors and family members of victims, and two hostages who were released during a ceasefire in November addressed the crowd. A chorus of mothers who lost their children performed.

The war ignited by Hamas’ attack is far from over. Some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Israel on Oct. 7, and another 250 were taken hostage. Israel’s massive offensive in Gaza has killed over 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. Fears of another all-out war, this time with Hezbollah in Lebanon, have people on edge

Sivan Cohen, 30, said ahead of the event Thursday that she would be “dancing for two.” Her partner of six years, Yaniv Sarudi, 26, was killed while trying to drive a car filled with nine festivalgoers to safety. Cohen was shot in the leg and, at first, she wasn’t sure if she would ever walk again, much less dance.

“My friends and I have grabbed this with both hands and we come every week,” Cohen said of Nova’s Community Days. She said it’s hard to explain to those who weren’t there what it means to reunite with someone who was in that car or whose injuries she helped to treat.

On Thursday, tens of thousands danced in the humid June heat, the beat pulsing as the sun set over the Nova stage. Quiet corners for reflection with mandalas and photos of the victims gave way to a massive party at the center stage.

“The only way to really commemorate these people is through living what they lived, which is dancing. That’s what they came there to do,” Eyal Porat said as he entered the festival.

Moran Stella Yanai, who was snatched from the Nova festival and held hostage for 54 days, took the stage and invited audience members to close their eyes.

“Imagine, imagine that all of the hostages are standing in a line, holding hands, imagine them strong, imagine them smiling, imagine their families standing before them, imagine the happiness that is beginning to well up inside,” Yanai said.

“Raise your hands up to the sky, high and strong,” she told the crowd. “Open your eyes, believe, and dance!”

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The New Indian Express