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180 Nova survivors join Shabbaton in Jerusalem with haredim

The weekend, run by Kesher Yehudi, brought together secular survivors and religious Israelis at the David's Citadel Hotel for an “authentic Shabbat experience.”

Oct. 7 survivors and religious Israelis participate in a "Shabbaton" event at the David's Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, June 28, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.
Oct. 7 survivors and religious Israelis participate in a "Shabbaton" event at the David's Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, June 28, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

Some 180 survivors of Hamas’s massacre at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7 participated in a “Shabbaton” in Jerusalem over the weekend with members of the haredi community.

The weekend, run by Kesher Yehudi, brought together secular survivors and religious Israelis at the David’s Citadel Hotel for an “authentic Shabbat experience” that included speakers discussing topics ranging from spirituality, healing and the need for unity in Israel.

“The media tells us we are separate, but we are not—we are one people,” said Kesher Yehudi founder Tzili Schneider in her welcoming remarks to the group. “This weekend we put everything aside—phones, work, the outside world—to focus on that which connects us. This Shabbat, we honor the memory of everyone who fell, those you lit candles for,” she added.

Singer Yonatan Razel gave a pre-Shabbat concert to get “into the spirit,” and Israeli group Mafteach Sol joined him in singing a combination of his own music, traditional Kabbalat Shabbat songs and other popular tunes.

Razel explained the connection of his popular hit “Katonti” to his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. “He went through such a terrible ordeal but at the end of his life, he said katonti mikol hachasadim (‘I am not worthy of all the mercies’), and that’s how this song was born. He was telling us that each of us has a unique role to play out of our pain and trials.”

Friday night was capped off with a walk through Jerusalem’s Old City to the Western Wall for services and to the hotel for an elegant Shabbat dinner, featuring inspirational words from actor Shuli Rand and his wife, actress Tzofit Grant.

Shabbat morning was filled with singing and dancing, as Nova survivors intermingled with Kesher Yehudi staff and volunteers and slowly began to open up about their experiences and their reality today.

Aryeh said that he was alive only because he eventually made his way to Kibbutz Sa’ad. Because it is a religious kibbutz, the gates were locked for Shabbat, so it was safe. “My father passed away during corona, and I felt he was with me, protecting me and my survival,” he said.

‘If you got it wrong, you were dead’

Sisters Rivkah, Sarah and Devorah all survived, escaping separately.

“There was no way any of us were prepared for what to do in a situation like this. You had nothing to rely on at all but your gut instinct. Your gut told you to hide and wait or run. Your gut said go left or go right … and if you listened to your gut and got it wrong, you were dead,” one of the sisters said.

“We don’t know why we chose to stop when we did, run when we did, go left or go right when we did. It means we are here today,” she added.

Elad said he has gone back to work but feels completely stuck. “It’s really complicated … I’m a bit of a robot … I am functioning, but … ”

His explanation was cut short when a Kesher Yehudi volunteer convinced him to join in the dancing. Within moments, he was standing on a chair, singing, and soon after he was wearing a borrowed shtreimel, the traditional Hasidic fur hat. He danced in the men’s circle for nearly an hour, embracing the others with huge smiles and looking like anything but a robot.

Among the speakers was Merav Berger, the mother of hostage Agam Berger, who has been held captive in Gaza for 271 days. She spoke about Agam and her faith, about what she learned from freed hostages and about her daughter’s insistence on holding on to her Jewish identity in captivity.

She also shared her experience with Kesher Yehudi’s chavruta program—a learning program between secular and haredi Israelis—and how it blossomed into a deep friendship with her partner.

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