Nova festival survivor and traumatized calf heal together

Guy Ben Shimon thought he would die during the Hamas massacre on October 7, searching for peace of mind after ordeal he comes across a calf that was left without food or water in the barn in Kibbutz Kissufim under fire; now they help each other

Guy Ben Shimon found it hard to grasp that he would survive the massacre at the Nova Festival on October 7. Rendered helpless, he, like many others, tried to escape the terrorists, seek refuge, recite "Shema Yisrael," and cling to hope. He dialed his mother as bullets zipped past from every direction and bid his family farewell.
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גיא בן שמעון והעגל שנקרא על שמו
גיא בן שמעון והעגל שנקרא על שמו
Guy Ben Shimon and his good friend
(Photo: Talya Finkel)
Miraculously, he emerged alive. The harrowing ordeal led him to Freedom Farm, a sanctuary and rehabilitation hub for animals from the food industry, in Moshav Olesh in central Israel. He had devoted about eight months to voluntary service at this farm before the war. His return to the farm was the start of his journey to recovery from the traumatic experience. "Stepping into Freedom Farm felt like entering a bubble where everything's alright. People are cheerful, animals are munching on watermelon. It's a strangely grounding experience," he says. "It's like moving from a bustling highway into a serene meadow. The farm feels like a cozy cabin amid a storm."
A unique bond took root between him and a calf that had endured the days-long bombardments on Kibbutz Kissufim. In tribute, the farm named the calf after him, Guy. Their extraordinary relationship was showcased in the inaugural episode of the second season of the web series "Freedom Farm" on Kan Digital. "In the initial days of the war, the calf endured six days of terror, hunger, and thirst yet he hung on. It's a testament to resilience. I doubt everyone could've survived such circumstances," Ben Shimon says. "The calf was visibly weak and in pain, which was compounded by his sudden separation from his mother," he says. "I saw a resemblance between the calf and me. I would offer him different types of food, but he'd choose only the best. I, too, prefer the best," he says with a smile.
Co-founder of Freedom Farm, Meital Ben Ari, says the calf was moved from the kibbutz to a pet zone temporarily and then relocated to their farm. "The calf was likely born just days before October 7. When the war began, the area was under attack, and the farmers were unable to care for the animals. A few days later, a farmer came to tend to the cows, and was killed by a terrorist who was hiding nearby. An utterly terrifying tale," she says.
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גיא בן שמעון מנגן לגיא. מתוך הסדרה
גיא בן שמעון מנגן לגיא. מתוך הסדרה
From the show
(Photo: Yoram Milo)
"He was terrified, but he quickly grew to trust us. Now, he's fully integrated into the herd, significantly grown, and astonishingly handsome. We organized 'love shifts' for him, where volunteers spent hours petting him and showering him with affection. This noticeably revived his trust. Guy, too, was a part of this, and we received an outpouring of volunteer applications wanting to help. Bestowing love and warmth on a survivor animal also gives back considerably to the volunteer. We've all been touched by trauma. Guy has been through a nightmare, which has fortified him. Caring for animals can bring us immense strength."

"Despite everything, life is beautiful"

25-year-old Ben Shimon, a former martial arts champion and now a budding musician, was working as a bartender before the war. He was at Nova with Inbar Heyman who was abducted and murdered, and her body is still held by Hamas in Gaza.
He composed the song "Despite Everything," incorporating Heyman's last words to him, as a tribute to her memory. "During the initial missile attacks, she told me, 'Okay, Guy, but despite everything, life is beautiful.' Our conversation was abruptly interrupted by the missiles," he says.
Do you see these words as he legacy?
I try to incorporate this in my attitude to life. with everything we are going through now, I try to see what there is to be grateful for, what makes me feel good during this time. I feel like we all were forced to look inward and ask questions. With all the pain and madness, I felt there was a blessing in doing that, and in the unity we felt at least in the early days of the war, a unity we are now losing. Looking inward made me stronger but it is sad that it had to come as it did."
How are you now? many survivors describe nightmares, difficulty to function
"There are many from Nova who committed suicide. Speaking for myself, it's an ongoing process. I experience extreme lows and then highs, only to hit rock bottom again. I don't have a constant state, and I can't say that I am alright. now, I'm somewhat okay, but it comes in waves that my body can't take. emotional waves, memories to process, another face I saw there."
"I think Guy has an immediate and unmediated connection with animals, there are such people," says Talya Finkel, the show creator. "In the episode, you also see how the pigs on the farm come right to him. There's something lovely about his relationship with animals. That's also how I chose the characters in the series, they all have extraordinary connections with animals."
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