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One-man mission to tell story of Nova

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Being at the site of the Nova festival is nothing short of heartbreaking. Every step you take, you are walking on land on which young people were brutalised, raped, and murdered, but no matter what happened, they were terrified beyond anything they had experienced before.

There were more than 3 000 mostly young people there on the night of 6 October, dancing and partying for peace, and they were attacked at 06:30 the following morning, leaving 364 people dead, many of whom had been raped and tortured.

Walking through the full-of-life-and-joy photographs of each of those who were murdered on 7 October is tragic, but so important. Each photograph is a tribute to a life cut short in the worst attack on Jewish lives since the Holocaust.

For Amir Chodorov, an Israeli photographer and former fighter pilot in his mid-60s, the event changed the course of his life. He wasn’t there on 7 October, but was so affected by what happened, he changed his life mission to ensure that each of those killed at Nova was properly memorialised for who they were until that fateful day.

He’s in the process of creating a memorial that allows people to visit the site without a guide and understand everything that happened on that day.

Chodorov believes each person needs to have their story told to show who they were in the way their family wants to tell it. He’s also determined to create a collage of all those who were killed to show them as a unique community, as a group which will forever share the end of its story. This is already up, but changes are still being made.

“Because they aren’t all soldiers or kibbutzniks, they aren’t recognised as a community, and it’s important for people to understand them as a community,” he said. He showed that among those killed were people from the richest and poorest families in Israel. “There were lesbian, Muslim, Bedouin, gay, Orthodox – everybody was here on this field,” he said.

So, he contacted every family who lost someone there to get photographs for the collage. “Not all of them had up-to-date photographs as they may not have got their family members’ phones back as most of them were destroyed or taken to Gaza,” Chodorov said.

In the process, he got to know the families and, in some cases, was the person who brought mothers to the Nova site for the first time. Whatever they asked for, he tried to make happen. If they wanted their daughter to be next to her cousin in the collage, he did it. If they wanted to remove a scar in the photo, he did it.

He watched more than 450 videos of their last minutes, and gleaned an understanding of those who had been there and what really happened to the point that he has given insight and support to the families.

Said Chodorov, “When someone tells you it was a nature party, you think about drugs and everyone being high, but it wasn’t like that. There were three party areas, not one, the police were here, and everything was very much under control until Hamas descended.

“I discovered how many heroes there were here. People who could have got away, but came back to save others. The number of people who did this in their jeans and T-shirts, with no weapons, they could have got away, but they kept coming back to save lives.”

Chodorov continues to help families that want to have their own unique memorial for their lost loves. He gives them advice, but believes they need to create whatever it is that will resonate with them.

He has created a large map showing the area, explaining what happened where in English and Hebrew. Then, in designated areas, he has put up signs with explanations of what happened on 7 October.

He has done it all on his own, from concept to graphics, getting the material from families, printing it in his studio, and then hanging it at the site. He has also helped people plant memorial saplings to their loved ones. “Now it’s starting to look like a young forest,” he said, smiling as he overlooked this area.

One of the most shocking things about Nova, Chodorov said, is that there was nowhere for revellers to hide when running from Hamas terrorists because much of the land is just brown earth and a few sparse trees. There is no long grass or bushes.

He showed the SA Jewish Report the tiny shelter where about 28 or 30 people squashed to evade the terrorists, who then threw a grenade into it, killing most of them, leaving a handful alive among shattered bodies until they could escape.

He discovered that while many in Israel questioned where the police were on that day, there was in fact an incredibly brave team at the festival, most of whom died trying to save lives. “I found out that the police fought like the best unit in any army,” he said.

“They had small handguns, with 10 bullets in them, after all, they were there to protect a music festival,” he said.

When the police understood what was happening, they realised that they needed to go out in force against Hamas to try and get them to retaliate, otherwise they would think they had no opposition. So, with their handguns against hundreds with automatic weapons, they rushed towards the terrorists, fighting. They called on police at the nearby town of Ofakim to come help. Then, they did all they could to get revellers out in the right direction to find safety. Twenty police officers were killed on this day, and Chodorov has memorialised them too.

He told the SA Jewish Report the story of a woman called Sharon, who called her brother, Eli, who was in Yavneh, and told him what was happening and that she needed his help. He rushed to Nova, and was killed with her. “There are so many similar tragic stories.”

Chodorov said he had learnt that there were two phases of the 7 October attack. First, Hamas terrorists arrived, killing everyone in sight, as many as possible. The second phase, he said, was civilians from Gaza who came to steal whatever they could, rape as many women as possible and then kill them. “They tied them to the trees, raped them, and shot them.”

No matter what he did in his life before this, this experience had been a total restart, Chodorov said, and all he wants to do is tell the stories of each of these innocents whose lives were taken on 7 October.

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