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At Israeli rave site attacked by Hamas, DJs play music to honor the dead and missing

Sigal Manzuri, whose daughters Norelle and Roya were killed in the Hamas-led attack on the Nova music festival on Oct. 7, embraces one of their friends. Surrounding them are photos of people killed and taken hostage by Hamas militants, displayed at the site as DJs spin music to commemorate victims, near Kibbutz Re'im, Tuesday.
Maya Levin for NPR
Sigal Manzuri, whose daughters Norelle and Roya were killed in the Hamas-led attack on the Nova music festival on Oct. 7, embraces one of their friends. Surrounding them are photos of people killed and taken hostage by Hamas militants, displayed at the site as DJs spin music to commemorate victims, near Kibbutz Re'im, Tuesday.

RE'IM, Israel — In a small clearing in a eucalyptus forest, a lone DJ on a stage blasts out pulsing electronic music that punctuates the otherwise quiet landscape.

There are no concertgoers. His crowd is a sea of poster-board faces atop poles. These are the faces of the 364 young people killed by Hamas-led militants last month in an attack on a rave party in Israel's Negev Desert. There are also pictures of dozens of people Hamas seized as hostages that same day.

The memorial event took place Tuesday at the exact spot of the Nova festival massacre, to commemorate those whose lives were cut short and upended on Oct. 7, when Hamas killed 1,200 people and took more than 240 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.

"It's just our small way to tell the world what happened here," says Ilana Frenkel, one of the event's organizers. "The size of the horror is more than anyone can imagine. This is the beginning of explaining how horrible it was."

Asher Swissa, AKA DJ Skazi, performed at the commemoration event.
/ Maya Levin for NPR
/
Maya Levin for NPR
Asher Swissa, AKA DJ Skazi, performed at the commemoration event.

Armed Israeli soldiers mill about. The scores of charred cars that were set afire during the attack have all been hauled away, and the burnt road is being repaved. But there are still a few mangled beach chairs and broken coolers lying in the surrounding fields and eucalyptus forest.

The memorial event, held a couple of miles from the Gaza Strip, was hastily put together as the Israeli army only gave clearance a few days earlier. Five well-known Israeli DJs played music throughout the day, while pictures of the Oct. 7 attack victims were projected on screens.

Asher Swissa, whose DJ name is Skazi, opened the event.

"This was not only a massacre of people," he says. "It was a massacre of music, of freedom, of something much more bigger than us."

Swissa, a trance producer with a global following, was out of the country on Oct. 7. But he says it was extremely important to be here now for the memorial.

A DJ plays music among hundreds of photos showing people taken captive or killed by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.
/ Maya Levin for NPR
/
Maya Levin for NPR
A DJ plays music among hundreds of photos showing people taken captive or killed by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

"I'd say I played many festivals in my life — including internationally. I've been all over the world. But I never felt what I feel here in this moment. I feel sadness," he says. "Deep sadness."

Swissa says Israel is known the world over for its rave events and what's called psytrance, or psychedelic trance, music. The Nova rave party is held every year in different venues around Israel.

Swissa hadn't been sure how he would open the tribute, but says he knew as soon as he got here.

"Im Nin'alu" is one of his most famous mixes that he recorded with artist Mor Avrahami.

Based on a Hebrew poem written by a 17th century Yemeni rabbi, Swissa says the song was fitting for a place where so many people were killed.

The memorial rave lasted throughout the day, giving anyone who wished the opportunity to come.

"This is holy ground for us, and we came back to close the circle," says Bar Markos, 31, who managed to escape the Re'im attack with his twin brother.
/ Maya Levin for NPR
/
Maya Levin for NPR
"This is holy ground for us, and we came back to close the circle," says Bar Markos, 31, who managed to escape the Re'im attack with his twin brother.

Thirty-one-year-old Bar Markos showed up with his twin brother, Dor. They were among the ravers who escaped on Oct. 7.

"This is holy ground for us," Bar Markos says. "We came back to close the circle."

Markos says Hamas blocked the the road out on the day of the attack. The brothers escaped in their car on other dirt roads, and planned to leave the memorial the same way, to get some closure.

He says this is the first time he's listened to music since the attack.

The photos of people taken captive on display to commemorate the Oct. 7 massacre, near Kibbutz Re'im, Tuesday.
/ Maya Levin for NPR
/
Maya Levin for NPR
The photos of people taken captive on display to commemorate the Oct. 7 massacre, near Kibbutz Re'im, Tuesday.

"And this is the first time I've been able to cry," he says. "The music is bringing it out."

Joss Aviv, 24, another of the event's organizers, says from now on, there will always be the Israel that existed before Oct. 7 and the Israel after.

Yarden Guez, 23, looks at photos of people taken captive and killed by Hamas militants at the Nova music festival in southern Israel.
/ Maya Levin for NPR
/
Maya Levin for NPR
Yarden Guez, 23, looks at photos of people taken captive and killed by Hamas militants at the Nova music festival in southern Israel.

"This impacts everything," he says, "your trust, and your sense of security. This is the 9/11 of Israel. Everything is compromised. So we're in that shock and revival stage. We're not anywhere near drawing the conclusion or what are the next steps. But when we reach that point, we're going to have a lot to talk about. This impacts everything."

Twenty-three-year-old Yarden Guez is here because she lost many friends at the rave concert. She says the Oct. 7 attack has changed the way she thinks about living together with the Palestinians.

"I used to be very hopeful about what could happen," she says. "I used to think about the future and how we could explain to them that we're trying to fight Hamas, but not them."

But she now believes that's impossible.

As for Markos, his wish is that Israel's close-knit rave community can start dancing together again.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.