New exhibit in New York re-creates Israeli music festival attacked on Oct. 7

The objects bear the scars of a massacre. Bullet-riddled bathroom stalls. Burned-out cars caked in ash. Dusty sandals, shattered eyeglasses, abandoned camping tents.

All of these items were recovered from a sprawling field in southern Israel where thousands of young people had come together last fall for the open-air Tribe of Nova trance music festival. When the sun rose on Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists breached the nearby border with Gaza and opened fire, killing 360 people and taking dozens hostage.

The remnants left behind by the concertgoers are now on display in New York City, just steps away from Wall Street and Manhattan’s bustling financial center. They are part of an exhibition subtitled “06:29 AM — The Moment Music Stood Still,” an immersive installation inside a 50,000-square-foot venue that will be open to the public for four weeks starting Sunday.

Nova Exhibition Installation (Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images for The Nova Music Festival Exhibition)
Nova Exhibition Installation (Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images for The Nova Music Festival Exhibition)

The exhibit’s organizers say they want to offer visitors a “sacred space” for remembrance, as well as a way to “responsibly explore the events” of Oct. 7. The cars, clothes, tents and other items salvaged from the festival are surrounded by television screens displaying graphic videos recorded by the Hamas attackers, as well as on-camera testimonials from Nova survivors. (NBC News reporters were given early access to the exhibit Thursday.)

Scooter Braun, the high-profile music manager, helped bring the exhibit to the U.S. from Tel Aviv, where it was available to the public late last year as Israel reeled from the killings of more than 1,200 people. In an interview, Braun said he was deeply moved after having traveled to Israel, visited the kibbutzim where civilians were slaughtered and spent time with young Nova festival survivors.

“I saw these 20-year-old kids singing and crying and laughing together and holding each other,” Braun said. “I felt this sense of anger. How could we ignore them? … I felt like we were letting them down.” (The proceeds from the exhibition will go to Nova Healing Journey, an initiative that supports mental health treatment for Oct. 7 victims and their families.)

Nova Exhibition Installation (Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images for The Nova Music Festival Exhibition)
Nova Exhibition Installation (Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images for The Nova Music Festival Exhibition)

The ambitious installation arrives in the U.S. at an especially fraught chapter in the Israel-Hamas war.

Israel’s military campaign has devastated Gaza, killing more than 33,000 people and fueling a humanitarian crisis. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has become increasingly isolated on the global stage over its military actions. Netanyahu’s war Cabinet is weighing how to respond to Iran’s retaliatory drone and missile attacks on Israel, an unprecedented incursion that raised fears of a wider regional conflagration.

Braun, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors who were imprisoned at Nazi concentration camps, said he hopes people who visit the exhibit leave with “empathy” for everyone whose lives have been violently upended by the Middle East conflict: the Israeli victims of Oct. 7, the families of people kidnapped by Hamas militants, the “innocent people in Gaza” who have been under siege for more than six months.

The exhibit’s organizers were nonetheless bracing for possible protests by pro-Palestinian activists, who have rallied in major cities in opposition to Israel’s conduct and the Biden administration’s support for Netanyahu’s government. Braun said he hopes organizers will be able to transport the Nova installation to other cities across the U.S., though for the time being he is focused on the New York installation.

The version of “The Moment Music Stood Still” on display in Manhattan re-creates the Nova grounds in haunting detail. The floors of the venue are coated in dirt. Trees are affixed to the ground with sandbags. The festival’s main stage and DJ booth are bathed in neon light. In keeping with the exhibit’s name, the rooms feel frozen in time, caught between ecstasy and terror.

Shoes on display in the
Shoes on display in the

In the corner of one room, visitors can see “Lost and Found” tables crammed with personal belongings found in the desert, many of them stored in small plastic bags: watches, car keys, glasses, purses. The rows of shoes recall a similar display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., symbolizing the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.

In a joint interview with NBC News, three of the festival attack survivors described their harrowing ordeals, recalling the frantic hours as they scrambled to reach their loved ones, flee the hail of bullets and hide from the Hamas attackers. Ofir Amar, 40, said he hopes the exhibit remains in keeping with the spirit of the Nova festival — a celebration of “life, freedom, peace.”

“You can feel it no matter where you come from,” Amar said. “It’s when we are on the same ground and listening to the same music, we are all the same. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what religion, what color, what country. We are the same.”

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