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One Thousand Bear Witness to Nova Music Festival Massacre at Jewish Center of Teaneck

Shira Cohen and Eden Shmuel, survivors of the Nova music festival massacre.

On the night of January 29, 1,000 people attended a very powerful program at the Jewish Center of Teaneck. They came to hear the story of two young Israeli women, Shira Cohen and Eden Shmuel, who are survivors of the Nova music festival massacre. Among the attendees were members of the rabbinate, faith leaders, members of the Bergen County prosecutor’s office and municipal leaders.

Cohen and Shmuel are among the survivors of the massacre that was carried out by Hamas terrorists in Israel on October 7, 2023. Some 3,500 people from all over Israel came to the Nova music festival to enjoy themselves, and enjoy an experience of music and fun, a celebration of love, life and freedom. But by sunrise, everything had changed. The Nova music festival massacre left 364 of our brothers and sisters brutally murdered and 40 taken hostage into Gaza.

Cohen and Shmuel are here in the United States to testify about this sheer act of evil, to honor the living and the dead by telling their story of survival, and to establish an organization to help the Nova music festival survivors put their lives back together.

Cohen is 28 and CEO of a travel agency, and Shmuel is 32, a lawyer who also has two e-commerce businesses in Israel. Shmuel was at her parents’ home that night and her plan was to go to sleep at home. Cohen’s story begins 30 days before, on September 7. On that day, She received the terrible news that her beloved brother Ari had been in a motorcycle accident. By the time she arrived at the hospital, Ari had passed away. Cohen did not know how she could move on from this trauma. Her friends tried to convince her to attend the Nova music festival but, she said, “it was hard to wrap my head around it.” She did not think it was a good idea. But she decided to join her friends.

Cohen had never been to a party like the Nova music festival before but felt that maybe, after losing her brother, there was still something she could live for, and maybe this would help. So that night, after dinner, with her parents thinking that she had gone to sleep, Cohen went to dinner with her friends. The five friends were going to cancel going to the festival but Shmuel said, “No, it will be an experience.” She was hoping to help her friend feel better after the loss of her brother, and so the five friends drove south to the festival.

At 6 a.m., as the sun rose, they looked up at the sky and thought that they were seeing fireworks. But the DJ stopped the music, a siren went off, and the partygoers were told to find someplace safe. But in an open field there was no place to hide. By 6:45 a.m. a nightmare was unfolding, with people running and screaming. No one knew what to do; a policewoman told Cohen that if she had a car, to get in it and get out of there. The sky was full of rockets.

Cohen’s and Shmuel’s harrowing experiences that day took them from trying to escape in whatever cars they could get into to finding shelter. “Your brain is empty. An animal comes to hunt you, you just need to run. You don’t have a second, nothing. There are terrorists coming. You need to run,” said Cohen.

There was only one road out of the parade ground, and they encountered a police blockade. Traffic could not move. It was necessary to turn around. The young women found out later that it was not an Israeli police blockade, but Hamas terrorists disguised as Israeli police, and the terrorists shot each person in each car coming through that way. Later, this was to be called “Death Road.”

Cohen and Shmuel are now left with memories of rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, blood everywhere, dead bodies, and a narrow escape from a shelter blown up by terrorist grenades two seconds after they decided to run from the shelter. Of their survival when so many others died, Shmuel said, “God was with [us] all the way to home.”

But the massacre perpetrated by Hamas that day left Cohen with yet another horrific memory. When she returned home, she found out that her best friends, Hadar Hosen and Livnat Levi, had been murdered. After returning home from Hosen’s funeral, the police notified her that Levi’s body had been identified. The two friends are buried next to each other. For Cohen, “The next months were awful. I could not see a way out. I was full of guilt.” And Shmuel thought, “Everything has no meaning.”

Yet, Cohen also started thinking: “What does God want from me? What am I supposed to do? How am I in this crazy situation? I am not religious like my parents are, but I’m still a person of faith and I believe that things do have a reason. They don’t happen for no reason at all.”

Cohen continued: “I started to think that it was not for nothing that I went to this party where I didn’t enjoy the music, didn’t do drugs and would have never been at a party like that. I have a higher purpose. I have a higher mission here.”

So now, the two young women are following their higher mission. They are doing things to recover from the trauma and horrific events they suffered, and seeking to help themselves move forward.

They told The Jewish Link: “A large part of our treatment is our journey through today. Sharing and at the same time knowing we are helping other survivors. This is what gives us realness to life and hope that we are doing something good in this world. Before we came here we were treated by psychologists.

“It is important to us that the world knows about the cruelty and injustice, that the terrorists broke into people’s houses while they were sleeping, entered the most sacred and safe place, to murder. And all because they are Jews. They entered a party whose purpose was to celebrate life and ruined the innocence of all the beautiful people who came with that. It is important for us to know that we are one nation and we are strong—and we will overcome everything because no one will be able to break us.”

As part of their mission, the two women have established an association called “Beginning to Live Again,” to help the survivors of the Nova music festival massacre. “Our goal is to empower the survivors of the Nova party tragedy through entrepreneurship, to achieve personal and professional goals and personal growth. Turning adversity into hope and renewed life.

“We will do this with the help of building a personal coaching program for each survivor and personal accompaniment to achieve the goals they neglected. Financing developmental studies and courses, investing in entrepreneurship projects that will be accompanied by businessmen, and building lectures so that survivors can tell the story of their testimony,” Shira Cohen and Eden Shmuel said in one voice, their faith and strength shining through their words.

For further information, contact Hani Greidy, 347-744-2262, [email protected].

Beginning to Live Again has partnered with the Giving Back Fund, a 501(c)(3), and the Giving Group Community (its boots on the ground in Israel) to help raise funds. For more information visit https://bit.ly/3OHiZhX.

Susan R. Eisenstein is a longtime Jewish educator, passionate about creating special, innovative activities for her students. She is also passionate about writing about Jewish topics and about Israel. She has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.

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