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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Nova Festival survivor shares story with Gainesville Jewish community

Nearly 250 students, community members attended the event

Yarin Levin answers the crowds questions after sharing his story about the Nova Festival at the Chabad UF Jewish Student & Community Center on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.
Yarin Levin answers the crowds questions after sharing his story about the Nova Festival at the Chabad UF Jewish Student & Community Center on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.

Yarin Levin, a 24-year-old former Israeli Defense Force officer, was standing outside the entrance of the Nova Festival in southern Israel on Oct. 7 when Hamas started dropping missiles around 6:20 a.m. He had stayed up all night chatting and drinking with other festival goers, thanking his friends for inviting him and wasn’t alarmed by the missiles as a former combat soldier. 

Levin, currently on break from the IDF reserves, spoke to a crowd of nearly 250 Jewish and non-Jewish students and community members on Tuesday night at Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center. He shared his story from the time the first missiles dropped to arriving home over 10 hours later. 

As festival goers were trying to leave, Hamas ascended on them with gunfire, Levin said. With 2,000 people behind Levin as he shouted “terrorists” in response to the gunfire, chaos broke out and festival goers started running. 

A man near Levin was shot in the leg, he said. Levin pulled him behind a car, took off his belt and started to tend to his wound. The Hamas SUVs started to drive through the field festival goers had run through. The SUVs were running people over, firing shots and gathering people in their trucks, he said. 

“I’m sorry,” he said to the wounded man. He kept running. 

As he was running, he noticed a girl laying in the field, he said. He picked her up because he thought she was having a panic attack, but he couldn’t see her face because she’d been shot in the head. All he could remember was that she was blonde. He laid her down in the field again and kept running. 

After nearly 4 miles of running, Levin received two phone calls. The first came from his brother — before his brother could speak, Levin told his brother he was okay, even as gunfire hit the car he was hiding behind. The second phone call was from his ex-girlfriend. 

“I love you. I’ll get over this. I’ll finish this and I’ll contact you when I’m safe,” he told her. 

Levin, his four friends, two girls and the crowd of festival survivors kept walking. Around 9:30 a.m., he received his last phone call. It was his ex-girlfriend’s father, an Israeli police officer, telling him the situation is a lot worse than anyone thought, and wishing him good luck. 

Levin arrived back at his house around 4:30 p.m. His family still doesn’t know the details of his morning fleeing from the Hamas, he said. After arriving home, he took a shower and a three hour nap. Then, he woke up, packed his bags and went back to the IDF to serve Israel, he said. 

Levin’s story was powerful, Rabbi Berl Goldman said. 

“To see and hear a former IDF soldier that was at the festival on Oct. 7 — and to witness his friends being slaughtered — being chased and miraculously surviving is a testimony to what took place. It's a lesson for all of us, thousands of miles away from the actual conflict in Israel,” Berl said. 

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Chanie Goldman, co-director of the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center, finds Levin's story relevant not to Jewish people, but to everyone living far from a war zone, she said. 

“It's very easy for us living far away out of a war zone, to be really upset or emotional as soon as we hear about a tragedy,” Chanie said. “We go on with our regular lives and things kind of go back to normal, but we need to remember that there's people who are still suffering and who went through a traumatic event.” 

Joseph Bensabet, president of the Lubavitch Chabad student group, read from the Book of Psalms to open the event. Bensabet thinks it’s important for students to hear firsthand accounts of the events of Oct. 7, he said. 

The night was emotional and educational for students and community members alike, he said. 

“Everybody was overall very touched, and both educated and empowered by his story,” Bensabet said. 

Israel and Hamas agreed on a four-day ceasefire on Nov. 24. On Monday, Israel and Hamas extended their truce, according to Reuters. The truce could expire within a day, but international mediators are working to extend it and head of Egypt's state information services, Diaa Rashwan, said an extension is “highly likely,” AP reports. 

A total of 60 Israelis have been freed under the truce, 26 others have been freed under different negotiations or rescued and two have been found dead in Gaza; 180 Palestinians have been freed from Israeli prisons since the truce began, according to AP news. The truce has allowed up to 200 trucks a day to enter southern Gaza from Egypt. 

Contact Ella at Follow her on Twitter @elladeethompson.

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Ella Thompson

Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.

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