Nova Music Festival Massacre Survivor Shye Klein Weinstein Shares Story

Twenty-six-year-old photographer and friends managed to escape by car
January 10, 2024
Shye Klein Weinstein (Photo courtesy of Shye Klein Weinstein)

Shye Klein Weinstein, a survivor of the Nova Music Festival on Oct. 7, shared his story with the Journal in an exclusive interview.

Speaking via phone, Weinstein — a 26-year-old Canadian photographer who resides in Tel Aviv — told the Journal that he initially didn’t want to go to the festival “because I had never been to a festival so I thought it would just be gross and not fun and I wouldn’t enjoy myself.” But he ended up going when one of his good friends decided to go, so he got his ticket about 24 hours beforehand. Weinstein went with six people — his friends and a cousin —and met two people there.

When Weinstein arrived at the festival, it was “amazing.” “You hear the bass, you see the lights, you hear the music, you see all the people and the cars, so many cars,” he said, adding that “everyone’s smiling, everyone’s laughing, everyone’s hugging, everyone’s kissing, it’s a really positive environment.”

Eventually, the rockets from the Gaza Strip started, which Weinstein described as being “almost nonstop” and sounding “like a kick drum.” “Everyone’s nervous, but no one’s running for their life, no one’s terrified, no one’s scared they’re going to die,” Weinstein said. “And we’re at the camp with our friends, and people are saying, ‘Oh we’re safe, they’re not shooting at us … they’re shooting past us. No one’s going to attack the desert.’”

Photo by Shye Klein Weinstein

But Weinstein wanted to leave immediately. “I was on edge, I was nervous, I was paranoid.” The group he came with agreed to go, and he started helping people out around the festival and taking photos. When Klein came back to his friends, he heard “off in the distance the sound of machine gun fire. Now I don’t know if it’s machine gun fire or not … I tell my friends what I heard and asked them if they had heard it too. Nobody heard it, nobody’s sure, nobody knows anything. Now I’m on edge. Now I’m really concerned.”

They said their goodbyes and packed up everything in the car “when the gunfire rings out from the festival ground. That’s when we all hear it, all of us. That’s when we know something’s happening.” Three of their friends left in one car and Weinstein — along with his cousin, his cousin’s girlfriend and two mutual friends — drove away, with Weinstein driving since he was the most sober at the time. He described the scene at the exit of the festival as being “gridlock” since there were “rows and rows and rows and rows of cars.” Weinstein didn’t want to wait, so he drove “past everybody, I drove off the road, I drive past everyone, pushing my way to the very front.”

Weinstein was behind two cars; the car immediately in front of him was honking their horns toward the second car, but the second car was empty. A lot of cars around Weinstein were empty because people were running away on foot. Weinstein ordered his cousin to tell the people in front that the second car was empty; eventually, the car in front drove around the empty car and Weinstein followed.

The only direction that Weinstein could go was “straight into a field, where there’s nothing.” They were about 25 meters in (approximately 82 feet) when Weinstein’s cousin’s girlfriend screams that they’re “being shot at” and they need to leave the car on foot, so at first that’s what they did and ducked into the field. Weinstein’s cousin eventually went back to the car and drove to pick them up from the field, so the rest of the way Weinstein’s cousin drove them.

“After what felt like hours, we spot another field off in the distance,” Weinstein said. “We see orange trees, and there’s rows and rows and rows of trees, and there’s a space in the middle of the trees, and I tell my cousin to drive towards it because maybe it’s a road.” And it was a road. Eventually they found a gravel road, which led to a paved street that they took toward Netivot and then Sderot, to eventually make their way back to Tel Aviv. Along the way they passed by multiple cars that were abandoned, damaged, bullet-ridden, “cars with bodies inside,” “bodies around cars” and “a car on the side of the road, driver in the driver’s seat shot in the face, dead.”

Photo by Shye Klein Weinstein

As they were driving on a highway toward Sderot, they noticed “a silver car, and there’s two figures next to it, moving around, waving their arms above their head as if they want us to stop or slow down.” “We get closer and closer and closer, and we see these men — they’re wearing blue jeans, cargo pants, combat boots, black t-shirts, black balaclavas over their face carrying machine guns, one with a tactical vest and the other without––and I realize that this is not IDF,” Klein Weinstein said. “The car next to them has a man and woman in the driver’s seat shot dead. And we drive past them, we fly by them, freaking out the whole time realizing it’s Hamas. They don’t shoot us for whatever reason, I have no idea why, but they don’t shoot us.”

“We tell them, we can’t go back, we can’t turn around, we have to go this way, it’s the only way towards Tel Aviv.”- Shye Klein Weinstein

Eventually Weinstein and his group made their way to what they thought was a checkpoint, until they noticed that “there’s two [IDF] officers dead on the ground.” “One of the officers who’s alive tells us it’s not safe, we have to leave the area, there’s terrorists hiding in the bush,” Weinstein said. “We tell them, we can’t go back, we can’t turn around, we have to go this way, it’s the only way towards Tel Aviv, there’s like two roads to Tel Aviv from where we are, so we can’t turn around.” They were told by the two IDF officers who were alive to move quickly, and they did. Weinstein said “the whole time [we were] thinking we’re going to die.”

As they were driving, they noticed “all these black pillars of smoke which is from the kibbutz being set on fire.”

Photo by Shye Klein Weinstein

The group did finally make their way to Weinstein’s Tel Aviv apartment in one piece, and they learned that their three friends who went in a separate car also survived after hiding “in the woods while Hamas hunted people around them.”

Weinstein later uploaded videos and photos he had taken from the festival and his group’s escape to social media to learn the fate of all the people he met at the festival. “Of all the people I met and I photographed, only two people had been killed. The rest are okay,” Weinstein said. “The people who are killed, I printed off their photos and I gave them to their families. The rest I made sure to see them in person and talk to them again.”

From Oct. 11 until the end of the month, Weinstein began giving interviews every day, “sometimes six times a day.” The following month, Weinstein is asked to share his story at various speaking appearances at universities and communities in North America as part of a project called “Faces of October 7th.” And that’s what he did from Nov. 5 until Dec. 11, which included speaking appearances at UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Chapman University, Boston University and Penn State.

Weinstein described his speaking appearances at college campuses to be “very positive.” “I have not had a single issue … silly questions, but you get that everywhere,” Weinstein said, adding that “everyone’s been receptive. I’ve had groups come see me as small as five, as large as 500.”

Regarding pro-Palestinian protests at various campuses, he called it “ignorance.” “It’s opinions held by people who have never been shot at or had to drive over dead bodies of people they had just danced with,” Weinstein said. “They’re safe to have these opinions and believe what they want to believe, but they live in a bubble and live separated from reality.”

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