Musical therapy gives Nova festival survivors a new lease on life

Workshop developed at Rimon School of Music provides outlet for those lucky enough to survive music festival massacre on October 7, healing through composing and playing music, as well as singing along to the tunes created

Yoav Birnberg|
Yuval Rafael from Ra’anana will not let the nightmarish sights and memories of the tragic Nova music festival massacre break her. “I survived to live, not to be in pain and to be in despair,” she says shortly before she goes on stage at the Rimon Music School to sing “Ba'aliya” – the beautiful song she wrote in a workshop organized by Merhav Marfa and the Party Survivors School.
At 6:30 in the morning of October 7, when the shots and missiles were fired everywhere, the 23-year-old Rafael ran with the friends she arrived with to their car. “One of us lives in Kibbutz Or Haner, which is fifteen minutes from the party,” she says calmly as if it were someone else or a scene from a movie.
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Singing to heal
(Photo: Rimon school)
“We entered the shelter. Fifteen minutes later, the terrorists entered the shelter and started spraying everyone. We had 50 people trapped in an area of one square meter, and we had nowhere to run. After the first shot, I opened my eyes and saw that my friends were still alive, but there were also a lot of people there. Bodies. One person was holding my hand, and then just died on my shoulder. I started to feel pain in my right leg. I looked down and saw that I had a body on my leg. We stayed like that for eight hours. There was no way to move or get up.”
From time to time, other terrorist cells entered the shelter and shot whoever was hiding in it. “When the terrorists entered, I lifted the head of the body that was lying on my leg. I put my head under her head, cheek to cheek, to protect my face, so that if, God forbid, a bullet hit me, it wouldn’t hit my head,” she says.
“Then they started throwing grenades at us. Avi Sassi, the father of one of the girls who was with us, jumped on a grenade to save us and was killed. After eight hours, they came to rescue us.”
What did you think about during the hours you were in the safe room? “The pain in my leg caused me many times to gather inside myself, close my eyes, breathe, talk to myself and say ‘it doesn’t hurt’, because I really felt my leg crushing. I imagined myself in my mother’s house, lying on the bed in a fetal position. It was the opposite feeling to what I felt then. Many times I imagined our rescue. To this day, I’m sure I heard a helicopter land on the road. I imagined soldiers entering the shelter and saying, ‘That’s it, it’s all over.’
"For four hours, when the terrorists left the shelter after spraying us, I was calling the police non-stop. Each time they told me, ‘A car is coming to you,’ but no car came… only terrorists, who shot at us while they threw grenades and Molotov cocktails at us. At my breaking point, I told myself that the next time I ask the terrorists to shoot me and kill me, and something about that terrible thought freed me.”
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Playing guitar
(Photo: Rimon school)
That Shabbat must leave you for a moment. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. I experience everything – anxiety, hyperarousal. I don’t fall asleep until four or five in the morning, but I always make sure to tell myself, what did you expect, to come home as if everything is normal? I’m really sensitive to noise. Every noise sounds like a gunshot to me.”
Was the song “Aliyah” written about you? “About someone I know who went through a very severe trauma in his childhood, and how he overcame it. Music is my whole life. Even in the safe room, when I started getting used to the shootings and grenades, I took my long fingernail and put it in my ear so that if we escaped from here, my hearing would not be damaged, God forbid, and I would be able to continue singing.”
Bravery and inner strength… And she did continue, as part of an inspiring songwriting workshop launched when Rimon School of Music’s Yehuda Eder (President) and Rony Koral (Vice President) met with Eitan Vakshel – a music coordinator and guide at a healing space, whose son survived the party – and understood the therapeutic need for such a workshop.
“In the first two months, Miki (Kam) and I performed with Daniel Weiss, whose parents were murdered,” says Eder. “I discovered him at his father’s funeral, where he beautifully sang ‘I’m a Guitar’. I called Rony Koral and we met Eitan and Keshel at the Ronit farm. No one told them what to write. They were told, “close your eyes and write about whatever you want.”
They ended up with the lyrics for Nova because that’s what keeps them busy. The leader of this project is Ari Gorli, a counselor at Rimon. “It’s amazing, the soul of an artist, which contains all the difficult events that people have gone through.”
Michal Herzog, the wife of Israel’s president, attended the workshop. “I look at the beautiful faces in this room, and just for a moment, I imagine in my heart what happened to you on that cursed Sabbath. The sights you saw, the voices you heard, and the face of the terrible evil that loomed over you. I can only imagine how much bravery and inner strength you mustered to get up, come here, play, sing and create together. You are shining lights of hope in difficult times.”
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Everyone together
(Photo: Dana Koppel)
Naama Eitan, 24, from Ra’anana, remembers well the sunrise of that Shabbat. “At 6:30, we were in the square,” she says. “There are few people who are not in the square at sunrise at such parties. Very quickly everyone dispersed. We ran to our cars, racing to escape. I was in the car with [fellow workshop participant] Guy [Ben Shimon]. We arrived at Route 232, and from there we drove south toward Re’im. At some point, we came to a bottleneck. A lieutenant colonel directed us to ‘Start moving east, it’s dangerous here.’
“Guy stayed in the area of the road. I decided that I was going east with other friends. Heavy shooting started toward us. We ran into the fields and people were hit. We hid for eight hours in a bush, under some tree, and tore leaves to cover us. The terrorists passed us by and luckily they didn’t spot us.”
What do you think about while you hid under a tree for eight hours? “A whole life went through my mind… what I had done and what I had achieved. I was sure that this was the end of me. I didn’t think for a moment that I would get out of there alive. We were just waiting for someone to come and take us out with a bullet. I went to sleep many times. I thought I’d rather die in my sleep. I laid on my stomach so that if someone came, I wouldn’t see how it happened.”
Did you talk to your parents? “During the escape, I got to talk to them a lot. My father went into service that morning. He told me, ‘Naama, assimilate into the area, don’t move. A rescue will reach you, we sent him a location.’ I didn’t talk to my mother that much because I didn’t want to distress her. I wrote everyone a farewell letter, but in a somewhat indirect way, ‘Hey, I love you’.”
Why did you write a song specifically about Danny Rupp? “I wrote a song about the weather forecast in a somewhat cynical way. At the end of the song, I talked about Danny Rupp and said, I wish there was a forecast for what I feel, so that I would know when I’m in pain and how to prepare for it. I’m a pretty balanced girl, but after the party, I found myself prone to sudden outbursts and crying spells. My emotions range from zero to a hundred. It’s suddenly hard for me to go out to parties. It’s difficult for me to sit with friends and I can’t be in public places. I also experienced a breakup from a four-year relationship.”

A friend kidnapped into Gaza

Nevo Shaulian, 28, from Marshaphon, took the stage at Rimon his Phantom (a metallic percussion instrument). His meditative playing flooded the hall. “Ido and Keshel came to perform at the party with our band,” he says.
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Rimon school of music
Rimon school of music
Rimon school of music
(Photo: Rimon school)
“When we were about to appear, the rockets started. My good friend, Idan Shatvi, had come along to take pictures of us. We arranged to meet at my house, but that was the last time I heard from him. He was kidnapped. When the shooting increased, Ido and I started heading toward the road. A volley of shots was fired at us. We started running toward Gaza. We had no other choice. We encountered the terrorists once again and started running away from them until we got back to the road.
“We had to leave our musical instruments in the field. In the first two months, I didn’t leave the house that much. After a month and a half, they called me and said, ‘They found the Phantom.’ I was excited. The Phantom costs ten thousand shekels.”
Bar Hinitz, 27, from Mans-Ziona, wrote “No Powers”, “a song whose words – ‘I am David protecting the Star of David’ – became the catchphrase for the workshop,” says Yehuda Eder.
“As soon as we heard the missiles, we decided to fold quickly,” Hanitz says. “I got confused by Waze and turned south. For the first ones, who turned north, a terrorist van was waiting. We went back north, passed by the party area, and then there was a traffic jam.
People were making U-turns because of the traffic, and then someone shouted to us from the car window, ‘There is an infiltration of terrorists, run away!’ My friend Eric and I were thinking about what to do. Another car stopped for us, with a very cute couple, who offered us to come to his family in Be’eri. We told them ‘good luck’ and they drove off without us. I have no idea what happened to them. We spent half a day in the fields.”
What saved you? “The fact that we climbed a hill and then continued through the wadi. Many of those who were up there were killed. At some point, the shots were really close to us. I saw someone I know from Mans-Ziona push two girls into the bush, so we also jumped into the bush with them. We were there for 40 minutes. After, we saw a policeman running, shooting a gun, and shouting to us, ‘Come on.’ We followed him, running. We reached a greenhouse full of peppers. I took a gamba (sweet bell pepper) and said to my friend Eric, ‘This is the gamba of victory. Remember!’ I picked two flowers and put one behind each of our ears. ‘If we die, At least we will die beautiful'”.
Guy Ben Shimon, 25, from Oranit, released a moving song shortly after the start of the war called “In Spite of Everything” – in memory of Inbar Hayman who was kidnapped and murdered in Gaza. “She told me at a party, ‘Guychik – don’t forget… despite everything, life is beautiful’”. “Sometime after I left the Nova grounds, I heard a girl scream, and I went to see what was happening,” he says.
“She took a lot of bullets. I could hear the whistles as bullets flew past us. Something made me turn my head about a centimeter to the left. At that second, a bullet hit her husband where my head was just before. We started running to the orchard. Meanwhile, two helicopters hovered above. One of the terrorists fired an AR-FJ toward them. A black car, civilian, with a Druze policeman inside, stopped and let me and two others into the car. He drove about 60 miles per hour, gave me his gun and said, ‘If you see anyone, shoot them.‘”
What is the song “Ba’ata” about? “We were asked to write a song about a painful memory and let the emotion guide us as we wrote. My emotion? Tremendous fear. The song tells a violent story from my childhood that has accompanied me for a long time. I am dealing with it now. The trauma from that time and the trauma from the party are in the same category. The expression screams. I hope that these songs will have a sequel."
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