A 25-year-old woman who barely survived the massacre at a music festival in Israel this month trembled as she recounted her story in Washington.
Rockets flew overhead at the festival site in Re’im and gunmen overran it, Noa Ben Artzi said at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, where American Jewish leaders held an event Tuesday with government officials in support of Israel. Ben Artzi said she had tried to escape by car, then took cover in a small cement shelter with other concertgoers.
“Thirty people fell on top of me. Everyone wanted to save their life,” Ben Artzi, an industrial engineering student from the Israeli city of Hod HaSharon, said as she gripped the wooden lectern. “Next thing I know, they’re throwing five grenades inside, body parts are flying around, and all I hear around me is people suffocating, people on top of another and a lot of shots from within.”
She recalled how the attackers burned bodies at the entrance to the shelter, filling it with smoke. Some people fled the shelter in search of fresh air, only to be shot when they stepped out. She hid for 3½ hours, she said. As she became more distraught retelling her story, her brother comforted her onstage. She emerged as a survivor of an attack that left at least 260 people dead — part of a multipronged assault in which Hamas killed at least 1,400 people in Israel and took about 200 hostages into Gaza.
“I thought about my family,” she said, “and I had one question, and it was, ‘Why do I deserve to suffocate until I die?’”
Ben Artzi spoke alongside U.S. and Jewish leaders at the event, which the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations convened as President Biden prepares to travel to Israel on Wednesday in a dramatic show of support.
Congressional leaders on Tuesday pledged their support for Israel, too, and spoke of growing antisemitism around the world. Many drew comparisons to the Holocaust.
Oct. 7 marked “the most Jews killed in a single day since the Holocaust. More Jews died on the 7th than on Kristallnacht, reminding us of the darker days,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the United States’ highest-ranking Jewish elected official. It was, he said, “something we will now think of every day for the rest of our lives.”
Schumer, who traveled last week to Israel with a delegation of U.S. officials, described meeting with families of people taken as hostages by Hamas and hearing about a kibbutz that was attacked and how “over 100 people” of all ages were “herded” into a rec room and killed. Schumer said it reminded him of the story of his great-grandmother, whom Nazis gunned down with her entire family on their porch in a town in western Ukraine.
“During this difficult time, Israel will have America’s support,” he said, adding that the Senate would move quickly to vote on humanitarian aid. “We will not just talk. We will act.”
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said 423 out of 434 House members had signed on to bipartisan legislation expressing support for Israel and condemning “Hamas and its Iranian backers.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) were also among those who spoke.
A delegation of 50 Jewish leaders planned to fly to Israel immediately after the event to demonstrate American support, meeting with political and military leaders, families of American hostages, wounded Americans and Israelis, and evacuees from Gaza.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke at the event of his mother’s experience fleeing the Nazis and of antisemitism today. An FBI report released Monday showed a 25 percent increase in reported antisemitic hate crimes between 2021 and 2022.
“In the last week, we’ve seen a demonstrator wave a swastika during a rally in Times Square last weekend. Chants of ‘Gas the Jews’ were heard at a rally in Sydney, Australia. British media have reported a more than 300 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in the U.K. alone since the Hamas attack on Israel,” Mayorkas said.
“I not only implore alertness and vigilance; I implore strength,” he said, “the strength to live our Jewish lives and not allow fear to prevail.”
Ben Artzi on Tuesday, having survived, spoke for those who did not. Her best friend and her best friend’s sister, she said, were killed or taken during the attack. Both were U.S. citizens.
“They loved America,” she said.