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Nova Festival Exhibit in Manhattan Harrowing and Inspiring

The travelling, immersive exhibit puts you in the middle of the dance festival attacked by Hamas.
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April 26, 2024
Shoes found at the Nova Festival after the Hamas terrorist attack of October 7. Photo by Perry Bindelglass.

Despite the carnage, Sarel Botavia didn’t think he would be killed.

“My biggest fear was that me and my girlfriend would be kidnapped,” Botavia, 26, told the Journal at the traveling exhibition about the Nova Music Festival, “06:29 am: The Moment Music Stood Still,” where, along with other survivors,  he was one of the guides of the Tribe of Nova festival.

He said bullets whizzed by his head and people near him were killed. He first hid under the main stage, then under the forest and after about seven hours made it to Ofakim.

The first sign of trouble, he said, were a few rockets, followed by confusion and then a barrage of about 100 rockets.

“Before the terrorists arrived, it was like a movie, looking at so many rockets in the sky,” he said. “After we saw the terrorists, it was like a horror movie where it was the end of the world. Hundreds of terrorists shot all over the area with machine guns and RPG’s.”

Since Oct. 7, he’s had nightmares and flashbacks but has trained himself to remain calm and it gives him strength to talk to people about his experience.

Walking around the exhibit (now on view at 33 Wall Street, New York City),  it is impossible not to notice the shoes on a table — an echo of Holocaust museums — only with modern footwear. Another table held clothing, as well as bags with some watches, with the explanation that Hamas terrorists took them from the bodies of Israelis they killed, then taken from the terrorists when they were killed by Israeli soldiers.

There are numerous videos, including the infamous one of Shani Louk in her underwear as four terrorists are in the back of a truck and someone in a red shirt spit on her body. There is also the video of Noa Argamani, whose kidnapping was shown on the front pages of some newspapers, as well as videos that haven’t been widely seen. It is impossible not to see the charred cars and wonder what the last moments of life were for the partygoers who were trying to drive away and were easy targets for the terrorists. Looking at the portable bathrooms used, it is hard not to think how it made sense to hide in there, though terrorists still fired into them.

Visitors will see pictures and brief descriptions of those who were killed at or kidnapped at the festival. Most of the faces are youthful with bright smiles.

Hannie Ricardo has written a musical kaddish in memory of her daughter Oriyah, who was murdered by Hamas on October 7.
Photo by Perry Bindelglass

Hannie Ricardo talked about the youngest of her three daughters, Oriya, 26, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists.

“She was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met,” Ricardo told the Journal. “She had a great love of life. She was a happy and loving person. We talked every day. I miss that so much. I miss her morning message-it was her afternoon when she would text me.”

Ricardo lives in New York. She said her daughter’s boyfriend risked his life to find her and allowed her to give her daughter a proper burial.

“I’m here to speak because they can’t speak,” she said. “They’re dead. They were murdered. I’m here to speak for them. I know there are a lot of parents who don’t have it in them to speak about their kids. There are 404 kids. I call them kids because each and every one of them was someone’s kid. Not everyone is able to stand and speak about it. So, I will. It drains me sometimes, but then another day comes, and I create the energy. I have to tell the story.”

“I’m here to speak because they can’t speak. They’re dead. They were murdered. I’m here to speak for them. I know there are a lot of parents who don’t have it in them to speak about their kids. There are 404 kids. Not everyone is able to stand and speak about it. So, I will.” Hannie Ricardo, mother three daughters, Oriya Ricardo, killed at Nova.

Ricardo played a piece of music she composed as a special Kaddish for her daughter; it will be performed at the Tel Aviv Opera on the year anniversary of the attack. It includes some music from Theresienstadt.

Many campus protesters, she said, “have no idea what they are talking about” and while her daughter was not sexually abused, “so called feminist” groups and celebrities such as the actress Angelina Jolie were silent on the sexual assaults against Jewish women that were at the festival. Some videos include testimony of this at the exhibit.

Survivor Shye Weinstein made Aliyah from Canada in September, 2023. He said he left a party in Tel Aviv to go to the festival and when there were rockets in the morning, figured they’d be safe since there were no valuable targets in the desert. He said at about 8:45 a.m, driving away on the highway, they saw corpses on the road and also in cars. They also saw two men with Kalashnikovs and had black balaclava with black tee-shirts.

He said for whatever reason, the Hamas terrorists did not shoot them.

“Maybe we were going too fast, maybe the gun jammed, or they ran out of bullets,” he told the Journal.  “We didn’t stop to ask. We know we were almost killed.”

The exhibit is financed by Reut Feingold, Joe Teplow, Josh Kadden, Ilan Faktor. and music executive Scooter Braun.

Kadden said the exhibit itself is not about politics, religion, or war.

“This is about young kids that came to dance,” Kadden told the Journal. “And there was pure terror. Terror is terror.”

Teplow said the most harrowing and inspiring thing was to see the faces of the survivors, who speak about what took place.

“You can see it still affects them and you can’t imagine what they went through,” he said. “But it’s inspiring to see that they are willing to come to New York and tell their story.”

Both explained that the Tel Aviv exhibit was mainly artifacts whereas the New York exhibition had more elements and videos.

Faktor also said he is inspired by those who talk about what took place.

“It’s important to tell the truth,” Faktor said. “There are some who will try to deny the sexual abuse or deny other aspects. They can come and see the truth. It seems like we always lose in public opinion. But the truth is always important. There are some amazing and also disturbing testimonies.”

Ravit Naor, an Israeli tour organizer said that despite being 60, she sprung into action to help sort clothing and items belonging to those killed at or kidnapped from the festival. She said some items were recently identified as belonging to someone who was killed, and their parents asked that it be sent to them so they could receive it before Passover.

“It was like CSI,” she said. “Sometimes you find a tooth or a charred phone. We found four burned bodies. What you see here is only a tiny sample. There are way more than 20,000 items that were all tagged and scanned.”

As tragic as things are she said, she has to look for some positivity “or I will go bananas.”

Raz Malka, 27 also a festival producer, said many of his friends were killed and he was depressed following the attack. But the survivors gathered to form a healing community called “The Tribe of Nova Community.”

“I have anger and I am sad, but we have to feel hope that we are alive, and we have to go up and not down,” Malka said.

Throughout the day, many people came to the exhibit, with some crying while watching the testimonies on video of different people.

A large sign read: “We Will Dance Again” which Mia Schem had tattooed on her left forearm after being taken hostage by Hamas at the festival and being freed at the end of November spending 54 days in captivity.

Organizers said the exhibit will travel to Los Angeles after New York.

All of the survivors said have been shaken and they think of their friends who are gone

“My life is not focused on trying to help the community,” Botavia said. “Nobody in the world can understand what happened unless they were there.”

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