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A memorial in Tel Aviv honors victims who were at the music festival on October 7

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

On October 7, Hamas terrorists killed or kidnapped nearly 400 young people attending the Nova Dance and Music Festival in southern Israel. Some of Nova's producers, who are now also survivors, have opened a memorial exhibit to keep the memory of their friends alive. NPR's Jason DeRose visited the exhibit in Tel Aviv. And a warning - this story contains graphic material some may find difficult to hear.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: On the morning of October 7, just before dawn, Nimrod Arnin was dancing in the desert. He helped found the Nova Festival nearly a decade ago. For him, it's more than a party.

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NIMROD ARNIN: It's a community. It's a movement. It's people that like to be with each other, and we share the same values of free love and green environment and love and accept each other.

DEROSE: When you enter the memorial at Tel Aviv's Expo Center, you hear music that was playing that morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEROSE: You step over blankets, abandoned games of checkers, a book cracked open, real items left behind.

ARNIN: This is the camping site. People come the whole weekend, and they bring their tents, their equipment.

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DEROSE: Arnin says the fun weekend in the desert turned to horror when armed Hamas gunmen crashed the party. He walks me over to half a dozen port-a-potties riddled with bullet holes.

ARNIN: You can see the toilet cabins where people hide from the terrorists. These are the original entrance of the bullets of the terrorists. This, what you see, is dry blood.

DEROSE: Dry blood on toilet seats - spatter barely cleaned for this exhibit. Nearby, a pileup of charred vehicles.

ARNIN: These are cars that burned to the ground. People are inside, and still, there are DNA parts in there.

DEROSE: While the bodies have been removed, he says, authorities told him there is still the ash of human remains dusting the cars. Arnin walks among piles of abandoned flip-flops and sneakers. A basket cradles hundreds of car and house keys that nobody ever claimed.

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ARNIN: And have you been to Yad Vashem?

DEROSE: Yes.

ARNIN: OK, so this is our Yad Vashem.

DEROSE: Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust memorial, was one of Arnin's inspirations for the exhibit. He ends our tour standing in front of a massive digital display. Portraits of those killed at Nova drift from right to left on the screen.

ARNIN: See the faces of 400 youngsters who came to dance and enjoying life and found their death. This is Ayelet, my little sister.

DEROSE: In the pink?

ARNIN: Yeah.

DEROSE: Ayelet was just 22 years old - shot to death.

The exhibit focuses on a few hours of one terrible day. It means different things to different people. For many, it's a memorial. Others will notice no mention of the thousands who've been killed in Gaza. And for some, like Tel Aviv resident Adi Kravitz, it's a call to action, strengthening her resolve against Hamas.

ADI KRAVITZ: It's very important to see, like the Holocaust. If people forget why we fight, you need to see it.

DEROSE: Because there are lessons, Kravitz says, clearly left to be learned. Still, she noticed in the memorial a glimmer of hope.

KRAVITZ: The signs that we will dance again. We think about the future. Israel will dance again.

DEROSE: It's an optimism, a resolve, really, shared by exhibit creator Nimrod Arnin.

ARNIN: We need help to keep this light and to ignite the light and to spread it to the world.

DEROSE: A necessary light, he says, glancing at a pile of dusty shoes, because the darkness right now is very real. Jason DeRose, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose
Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.