On Friday (Oct. 27), less than three weeks after Hamas terrorists killed more than 260 attendees at an electronic music festival in Re’im, Israel, two survivors spoke about their experiences to a crowd of mostly students at New York University.
The festival massacre was part of a wider Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that claimed approximately 1,400 lives, most of them civilians, and set off a war between Hamas and Israel that continues to escalate as Israel bombs Gaza and conducts limited sorties into the area. Officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza have listed the Palestinian death toll at more than 6,000, although President Biden has said he has “no confidence” in that number. As the festival survivors spoke Friday, hundreds of protesters gathered further uptown in New York’s Grand Central Terminal calling for a ceasefire. Around 200 people remain hostages of Hamas.
Maya Parizer, a 27-year-old Israeli American, and Jonathan Diller, a 28-year-old Israeli-Italian American, shared their stories to a room of less than 150 people on a Friday afternoon at an event hosted by NYU alum Avery Stern, with both staying around afterward to speak one-on-one to students. Pictures and descriptions of festival attendees who were kidnapped and remain hostages were laid out on chairs.
Parizer began to tear up almost immediately, sharing that she had attended the Nova Festival prior to 2023 and encouraged many of her friends to attend this year.
The attack began around 6:30 in the morning on Oct. 7, which Parizer said is a normal hour for Nova attendees to be up and dancing. “Sunrise is when the best dancing happens,” she said. “Instead of amazing DJs, I saw what looked like a thousand rockets within seconds… I didn’t imagine what happened next would be exponentially worse.”
“[I’m the] type of the person who tells everyone to wake up and start dancing,” Diller recalls of the morning of Oct. 7. “So we go to the stage and start dancing. At 6:30, we start seeing the rockets. And, uh, it’s kind of interesting. You see all these dozens of rockets in the air coming toward you, from the side, and the music keeps going. You can’t hear the alarm – it’s loud music…. Everyone didn’t panic because there was still music going on. People were drunk, didn’t know what’s going on.”
Not long after, the music was shut off and a police officer told attendees the situation was code red, referring to the Red Color early-warning system that warns Israeli towns around the Gaza Strip that missiles are incoming. “The missiles kept coming and coming,” Diller said between many heavy sighs. “I’m talking about a hundred missiles in the air and people just panicking.”
Despite the rocket attack, Parizer notes that no one seemed to understand the full gravity of the situation; many of the 3,000 attendees were preparing to leave but taking time to pack up their belongings, not aware that Hamas terrorists were headed their way.
Both Parizer and Diller, who attended the festival separately and left in separate vehicles around 7 a.m., said it was a decision to drive away via the road less traveled – a move based on luck as much as logic – that ultimately saved their lives. It was only as they attempted to drive away from the Re’im event amidst heavy traffic that the extent of the attack became apparent. Diller said he stopped to help a woman out of her bullet-riddled car: “We open the door and she slides out, just bleeding. We didn’t understand where this poor girl, 23…. got shot from,” he said. At that point he realized “something’s not right.”
At that point, Diller and his friends began to flee on foot, moving away from the sound of “heavy gunshots.” They walked for more than four hours before finding shelter in a distant town. “People were so tired, people were still drunk,” Diller says. “[It was] just keep your head down, don’t panic, keep going forward.”
Parizer became aware how serious the situation was after driving past a bloody body on the side of the road, calling the police and receiving no answer. After she and her fiancé drove past terrorists who shot at them (“by some miracle [we survived]” she said), an Israeli soldier stopped their car and instructed them to stop driving. “We were a minute or so from turning left and not being here to tell our story,” she said.
While squatting in a nearby shelter, Parizer said she decided to “call my parents and say my goodbyes.” Her mother didn’t pick up, and her father “didn’t comprehend the situation. He tried to reassure me and said IDF [Israel Defense Forces] would handle it and I should stay in the shelter.” But with no door on the shelter, Parizer and her fiancé decided to flee, a decision she believes saved their lives. They found a family who let them hide in a nearby kibbutz, and for the next 24 hours, they laid low, listening to the sound of automatic gunshots while clutching kitchen knives.
Parizer also shared the story of her friend, a woman who “didn’t have the luxury” of getting out physically unscathed. Terrorists found her friend and several others inside a shelter and began throwing grenades inside. “These are not people that are experienced,” Parizer said of those hiding in the shelter. “It’s drunk people with survival instincts who were brave. They decided to throw the grenades back…. In the beginning, they were successful, but they started losing their body parts. Hands, feet.”
Despite suffering extensive bruising and hearing loss in one ear, her friend survived, though she initially didn’t realize why. When footage of the attack was later reviewed and translated, her friend learned the reason she was set aside. “They said, ‘she is the one for rape, so let’s put her back inside for rape.’ My best friend,” Parizer said through tears. “By some miracle she survived because they had to leave. I don’t know why. Something happened and they left.”
Parizer said she’s still “traumatized” and “petrified”; when a building alarm went off in the distance during their NYU visit, she was visibly uncomfortable until it stopped.
“It’s just people that went to rave,” she said. “It’s like going to Coachella and not coming back. Most of us did not even comprehend what was going on when it started.”
“I would say it’s like Burning Man with Coachella – just people loving life,” Diller said. He recalled convincing his resistant friend to go with him to the festival in the first place. “I said, ‘Come on, it’s the Nova Peace Festival. It’s once a year, it’s 3000 nice people, beautiful people.’”
Diller summed up what the festival turned into: “[They were] coming with machine guns and spraying whoever they could see just because they’re Jewish. [The dead] didn’t do anything to anyone. Two of my friends were murdered and three of them got kidnapped.”
“I condemn all deaths. I don’t want to see any people hurt. I advocate peace – I always have,” Parizer said. “I know it’s not the entire nation [of Palestine]. I don’t want to talk politics – I just want the kidnapped back home. And I want the terrorists to stop. Thank you for listening.”