Nova Festival in Tel Aviv June 2024 (Youtube screenshot) (Youtube screenshot)
Nova Festival in Tel Aviv

Mia Schem, who was abducted from the festival and released after 55 days in a hostage deal, also addressed the crowd, calling on them not to give up on the 124 hostages still inside Gaza.

By Deborah Dahan, JTA

Almost nine months after Hamas terrorists stormed the Nova music festival, killing more than 360 revelers and abducting 40 others to Gaza, tens of thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park on Thursday evening for what organizers dubbed a “healing concert.”

The concert was the first official event held by the Tribe of Nova since Oct. 7, when the trance music community became synonymous with Israel’s catastrophe.

Many survivors of the Oct. 7 massacre attended as part of an ongoing reckoning with their trauma. But others in the crowd, which organizers claimed exceeded 40,000, stood out as noticeably different from the typical attendees at the festival on Oct. 7. Families with young children ate potatoes next to septuagenarian couples waving their arms in sync with the music.

Even the musical lineup broke away from Nova’s signature fare. While big-name trance DJs such as Captain Hook and Astrix took the stage, the lineup also included a mix of rock bands like The Giraffes and HaYehudim, Noga Erez and Ninet as well as Mizrahi music from pop star Zehava Ben.

And in the VIP area, there were several visibly religious concertgoers — people who were likely not survivors of the Oct. 7 massacre, which coincided with Shabbat and the holiday of Simchat Torah.

Two of them, Tamar and David Amar, had 15 Shabbat-observant family members who attended the festival overnight Thursday but returned home on Friday afternoon.

Their brother Hanan, however, a 37-year-old father of three, attended Simchat Torah prayers at the synagogue on Friday night before heading out to the party. He was murdered while hiding out in a roadside bomb shelter.

For Tamar, the Nova healing concert was her first time attending the kind of gathering that her brother frequented.

“I wanted to feel him, to understand what made him love events like this,” she said. “He wasn’t a person with his feet on the ground and I’m the total opposite, but I’m learning from him. He was a person who spread light, a child of love and music. He showed us what it means to live for the moment.”

Nova survivor Nir Haddad admitted it took him some time to return to attending trance parties, which have been muted across Israel since Oct. 7.

“At the beginning it was very triggering even to hear the music,” he said. “But now we’re back, we’re here to remember those we’ve lost, and guess what? We’re even stronger than before. If we stop, they win.”

Nir Shoval, a teenaged trance music and heavy metal aficionado, said that while he wasn’t at the original Nova festival, he felt a strong pull toward the community. “They’re crazy but in a good way. They’re just amazing and fun people to be around. What happened on Oct. 7 deeply affected me.”

Sophie Barrs said she went through a gamut of emotions throughout the night.

“It was quite extreme. One minute we’re doing guided meditation and I’ve got tears streaming down my face, and then all of a sudden the DJ comes back on and yells, ‘We will dance again!’ and this mad, happy music comes on,” Barrs said, referring to a phrase that has become a slogan for the Nova community’s resilience. “It was an emotional rollercoaster. But ultimately I thought it was just such a powerful display of unity, brotherhood, and love.”

Darwish, a well-known DJ in the trance scene, told the crowd that his craft helped channel the pain of losing his son, Laor Abramov — an aspiring DJ himself — on Oct. 7. “You can dance [to] hurt, pain, joy and love,” he said. “More than ever these days, we need a place where we can bring our whole selves to, just as we are.”

Mia Schem, who was abducted from the festival and released after 55 days in a hostage deal, also addressed the crowd, calling on them not to give up on the 124 hostages still inside Gaza.

“We cannot lose faith, they will return and we won’t stop fighting for them,” said Schem. She recounted being in the tunnels in Gaza and holding hands with other hostages and reciting a psalm for their release. “It was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever experienced.”

Schem famously had the phrase “We will dance again” tattooed on her body after her release from Gaza. Many attendees at Thursday’s event similarly had gotten fresh ink since the massacre, tapping into both a trance community aesthetic and a powerful symbol among Jews for whom tattoos are often associated with the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Kfir Azulay, who was there with his mother Linda, had his late brother Yonatan’s last text message turned into a tattoo on his forearm: “I’m also feeling down, but happiness is the source of all blessing.”

His mother, Linda, wearing a T-shirt featuring a collage of Yonatan’s face overlaid on an Israeli flag, was on the phone with her son when an RPG hit him. Nearly nine months later, Linda said there was no solace in her grief.

“It gets harder with time, not easier. He filled the house with light and now it’s Tisha B’Av every day at home,” she said, referencing the Jewish day of mourning.

Uzi Yochananof has gotten several new tattoos since the massacre. Yochananof was volunteering there together with his sister, cutting watermelons and handing out water.

Mona Chen-Tov, a self-described trance superfan in her sixties, had a yellow blacklight tattoo on her forearm of the date of the Hamas attack. Chen-Tov was dancing and giving out handwritten notes at the concert, and many of the recipients recognized her from the Oct. 7 Nova party when she did the same.

Others, including Alejandro Lopez and Elad Jolles, had tattoos with the date and Nova logo.

“The tattoo is sort of like a milestone. You get it put on and you move on,” Jolles said.

Another attendee, Omer Shitrit, had a tattoo inspired by the Marvel character Groot paying homage to a murdered friend, fellow Nova attendee Segev Shoshan. Like Shitrit, Shoshan — who was murdered with his girlfriend Anita Lisman — was a photographer. Since Oct. 7, Shitrit has attended several trance parties to document them with his camera. “We’re showing that we’re still here and we won’t forget,” he said.

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