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I just looked forward. Not back, under no circumstances should I look back.

It was 5:00 am. Tamar and I were lying on a pouf at the “Good People” campsite. Resting a little…

I just looked forward. Not back, under no circumstances should I look back.

My personal story – Nova Festival

It was 5:00 am. Tamar and I were lying on a pouf at the “Good People” campsite. Resting a little before we return to the dance area.

“So we’re doing yoga at 7:30, right?” Tamar asked me.

“Sweety, by 7:30 in the morning we’ll have been through a lot. Let’s not commit to having the energy for yoga yet,” I said, and we laughed knowing the highs we were going to have in the next couple of hours at the music festival.

It was 6:30 am and the party had just peaked from the kind of music that makes your body move unconsciously and you can’t stop. Dawn was approaching and we were expecting the next peak, which always comes at sunrise.

The five of us finally got together on the sidelines of the main stage and gave each other long hugs. Tamar and Yael, me and Nataly, and I believe there was a sandwich hug with Yifat in the middle.

Before the sun rose, Nataly, Yael and I ran over quickly to get our sunglasses from our campsite. It was a moment before sunrise and I’m easily blinded, so I definitely needed sunglasses.

We separated from the girls at the main stage. After a minute of walking to our camping area, we heard explosions from above the party.

We lifted our heads and couldn’t believe it… Are those rockets? Or fireworks?

This event has some high quality production, but there’s no way they invested in fireworks! And in any case, we’re at the Gaza border, this happens sometimes and it’ll be over soon and then we’ll get back to the party.

But then the music stopped and the loudspeaker announced: “Lay on the ground and put your hands over your head.”

“I’m worried about the girls at the main stage,” I said to Nataly and Yael. “We’ll go get them,” Nataly said without hesitation.

We found them and grabbed them in our arms as the explosions continued from above. We all flinch with each explosion.

We packed up our camp in what seemed like three minutes. Everything was in a controlled panic and we barely exchanged a word.

The security guard came over in the midst of all the packing and yelled “Just take the necessities and get out of here!”

The five of us left with all of our gear and headed towards the cars. They opened the back gates, and we found our car within two minutes.

Apart from feeling jumpy and on high alert, I felt pretty calm at this point. It was just rockets, and I see them, they’re far.

We’ll just get into the car and drive! I thought, with the disappointment of “wow, but it was such a good party”, still refusing to believe it.

We merged into what seemed to be the first convoy of vehicles to leave the festival grounds.

Another couple of friends messaged us on Whatsapp that they were staying at the festival until the chaos passed. A decision that would determine their fate.

We got to the road, where the event security told us to turn right, head south. After the event we found out that we turned right so that we wouldn’t cross a solid lane divider. I simply thought they were instructing us based on safety. Could that really be the reason? Were they really worried about traffic laws at a time like this?

On the road we were together with hundreds of other cars and we drove in a slow line for a number of kilometers until the convoy stopped all at once, and we saw that all the cars were headed back to where we had just come from.

Picture it; hundreds of cars driven by 25-year-old kids (on average), most of them on the scariest journey you could ever imagine, making u-turns on a narrow two-lane road on the border of Gaza.

That was all I thought about the whole time! Thinking, “there’ll be a car accident here before there’s a rocket hit.”

And we turned around like that three times. Each time we tried a different road. We were like sheep in a cage, searching for an opening in a fence that we could escape out of.

“Hand me a falafel”, I asked Tamar who was sitting next to me. Yes, falafel! We made some the night before at Tamar’s house and it was amazing, with tahini. I was hungry, okay? It was already 7:00 am, I’m dry, I don’t drink coffee, and I’m 42 years old for God’s sake!

While I drove, Tamar mixed the raw tahini with water and lemon, and held the plastic bowl so I could dip the falafel in tahini with every other bite, along with cherry tomatoes that we bought in the street market the day before.

We’re driving, we’re on the way, there’s nothing to stress about, we’re getting out of this. It didn’t occur to me at that moment that I won’t get out of this. Please understand, I walk through the world with a feeling that nothing bad will ever really happen to me. I will have difficulties, I will get through challenges, but nothing truly bad will ever happen to me. And yes, I feel the “don’t jinx it!” on the tip of your tongue. But that’s been my outlook for years. And here I am.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, we decided to look for bomb shelter and stop there, instead of continuing the crazy driving that led us nowhere. So we stopped for a few minutes. Yifat ducked in while Tamar and I went for a quick smoke outside. Very quickly we saw that cars continued to pass us. So we got into the car again so we could arrive at yet another dead end.

What would have happened if we’d decided to stay at the shelter? Would we have ended up like Shoval and Ran?

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself…

We reached the third dead end and suddenly Nataly and Yael were in the car in front of us, leading the long line of cars to turn back. I honked at them; Nataly stuck her head out the window and yelled something like “the other way”. So we turned around again and drove until we passed the entrance to the festival for the third time, and got stuck behind another row of cars, but this time they weren’t moving. We stood behind Nataly’s car, until suddenly she started driving in reverse. I shifted into reverse but I didn’t have anywhere to go. There were so many cars already behind me, and they weren’t moving. I honked and yelled “Nataly, noooo”. I hear the impact from the collision and I don’t understand what’s happening around me.

Two days later, Nataly told me that they heard there were terrorists at the front of the line, and that they were spraying the cars with bullets.

Somehow they passed us and I yelled “That’s it, I’ve had it” at the girls. “No one here knows what’s happening. This is going to end in a disaster.” I still thought the worst thing that could happen is a massive car accident. “I’m stopping the car and we’re going to get cover under the bridge,” I announced.

I stopped on the shoulder, and we got out of the car to catch a quick breath of air.

Yifat started walking towards the bridge, 50 meters from the car, rockets still above us this entire time. We were sure that the danger was only coming from the sky at this stage. With this thought, we understood that we might be stuck under the bridge for a while, so we should move the car to park it as far to the side as possible so that we didn’t block passing traffic.

I could never have imagined that there is such a thin line between staying calm and stupidity!

I finished parking, Tamar organized a few things to take with us, including water. We were so responsible. Of course the kids will need to drink, thought our motherly minds.

We went down under the bridge and lit a cigarette to share between us. Another group that looked to be around our age offered us something to “keep the party going”. We declined politely, our minds in overload.

“It didn’t occur to me at that moment that I won’t get out of this. Please understand, I walk through the world with a feeling that nothing bad will ever really happen to me. I will have difficulties, I will get through challenges, but nothing truly bad will ever happen to me.”

The whole time young people were running in every direction. And I didn’t understand the hysteria. The rockets would stop soon.

I passed Tamar the cigarette, and we wordlessly exchanged a look of, “What the f*ck is happening?”

And then came the rumors of terrorists in the field. What? How many? Fifty, said someone. And the security forces from above told us to get into our cars and drive east.

So I reluctantly got back into the car and continued with the cars through the fields, heading east. We drove what seemed like over a kilometer until again we saw the convoy turning back. We stopped in our tracks. We didn’t know where to go. We got out of the car, to see what was happening around us. And suddenly, we heard gunshots all around us.

Immediately we got back into the car and decided to drive. It didn’t matter anymore if there was a road or not, we just drove.

Yifat cried from the back “Drive, drive, they’re behind us!”

I drove as fast as I could, looking only ahead. Only ahead. Ahead will save us. Suddenly I see on the hill in front of me that people are running in the fields. Why are they running? Why don’t they have a car? The terrorists that are next to us, they’re far, definitely only one or two. I couldn’t imagine that there were such a huge number of terrorists.

We were driving when suddenly a kid jumped in front of us and opened the door. We yelled, “get in, get in” to him and two others, maybe three. We continued to drive. They were hysterical behind us, a symphony of crying and yelling, and I just looked forward. Not back, under no circumstances should I look back.

One of the girls demanded to get out, so I stopped and they got out, and in their place two others got in. At this point we were eight people in the car, six in the back with the doors open and full of dust. So much dust in the front, sides, and inside the car. I couldn’t see a meter ahead of me. Maybe this also created some camouflage for the car?

“Drive, drive faster,” they yelled.

“Take a right.”

“No! Take a left.”

“Drive to the villages.”

“No, drive to Tze’elim.”

Shon’s face was stuck between mine and Tamar’s because it was so crowded, and I felt his fearful breathing. I felt everyone’s terror of death.

I caught Tamar’s eye and again screamed wordlessly, “WHAT THE F*CKKK???”

At this point, I drove 60 km/h with the pedal to the floor. It was heavy for my faithful Mitsubishi Attrage.

“Guys”, I said in a firm and authoritative voice, “me and my friend call the shots from here on out. We’re on our way. Breathe!” Well, maybe it sounded less organized but that was the gist.

At this point, we were alone on the road. There wasn’t a car ahead of us or behind us. Just the eight of us.

“‘Drive, drive faster,’ they yelled.”

We reached an access road to some kibbutz, and we met a Major with a flat tire from gunfire, driving on his wheel rims. “Go to the closest base, you’ll be safe there,” he said. “I’m also on the way there, it’ll just take me time with the flat tire”. We blessed him and continued on.

After a few hundred meters we saw another car with bullet holes in the engine hood and a guy standing next to it waving for us to stop.

We opened all the windows and apologized that we didn’t have any more space, but that behind us there’s a military officer and he will pick him up.

“Bless you, we’ll get through this, bless you,” he said in elated optimism of still being alive.

We continued on the road another 10 minutes or so. We thought about navigating to Tze’elim Base, but someone blurted out that the terrorists had taken over a military base, and maybe it was Tze’elim…we saw some sort of small military outpost and drove towards it.

“I told you that we were going to go through a lot of things by 7:30 am, and you wanted to go to yoga,” I said to Tamar, trying to lighten the atmosphere in the car, especially for myself.

The moment I parked at the guard station at the entrance we all spilled out of the car, including Yifat. She saw that we lingered near the car and shook her head in disbelief at our insanity. I said to Tamar, “I have to pee” and she said, “so do I.”

We rushed to pee behind the dusty car. And I heard the guard yell “Come on already” so I made a face at Tamar saying “Let’s go, they’re stressed.” I grabbed my phone and water. She grabbed her bag without her phone or water, and we ran to the guard.

The soldiers of this non-combat base directed us to the shelter. The kids that we picked up were already there, as were Shoval and Ran who were wandering around bloodied, getting first aid from Shai, the amazing medic at the base, on the floor of the shelter which was covered in blood.

During the hours we spent at this base we learned that Shoval and Ran had stood in a concrete shelter on the side of the road with so many other kids, hiding from the rockets when a terrorist appeared and threw a grenade inside the shelter. They didn’t see any other survivors when they were forced to step over the crushed bodies in order to escape. Shoval had shrapnel in both of her legs, as did Ran. Luckily, someone helped extract them and put them in a car that was passing by along with another sweet girl who also arrived at the base.

At this point, we were able to send messages to our family and friends that we were safe, and discovered that there had also been rockets in Tel Aviv but that all of our kids were okay. They’re used to it from the moment they were born.

Around 1:00 pm, the roads were opened. They evacuated the wounded in an ambulance, and suggested we drive home.

We were hesitant to believe it was actually safe, so we stayed around a bit longer, but we wanted to return home so badly that eventually we just ran to the car, got in, locked the doors, and drove for several long minutes in total silence.

I passed out in my bed at home near Kikar Rabin around 4:00 pm, after the shower of my life, only to wake up at 8:00 pm to the sound of sirens and explosions above central Tel Aviv.

And only then began to discover the magnitude of the disaster.

Suddenly we discovered that our party was known as “The Party”. The one in Re’im, the one called Nova.

And discovered the degree of luck and providence I had with me, with us. And I realized that the truly devastating things, my eyes had not witnessed.

From today, I will remember the event of October 7, 2023 as the Kensho moment in my life, which means the growth following a crisis, pain. A crisis that shook my world and my country to such an extent that it changed the course of all of our lives, and has left me curious to find out what good will rise up out of this evil.

Because I, I had bought a ticket to the Nova Festival a day before the event. And my friends bought theirs months in advance.

When will I find out why I had to be there?

How good it is to be home.

It’s Friday afternoon, on the way to lunch with Tamar in Carmel market. We couldn’t imagine what the next hours would bring.

The little I managed to catch of the beautiful festival.

Us all comforting each other and our children with chocolate pancakes on Sunday night, at home in Tel Aviv.

Yonit K.