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Millet Ben Haim spoke at the Chabad House to recount her experience of the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 2023 (Photo Courtesy of Chabad at Penn).

Millet Ben Haim, a survivor of the Nova Festival in Israel, spoke at Penn’s Chabad House to recount her experience escaping from the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. 

Around 85 students and faculty members gathered Wednesday evening to hear Ben Haim’s firsthand account of how she survived the attack and her subsequent process of recovery. The event was organized by Director of the Chabad House Ephraim Levin in collaboration with the Penn Jewish Student Law Association and Penn Medicine’s Maimonides Society.

Ben Haim was present at the Nova Music Festival on Oct. 7, which was held in celebration of the Jewish holiday Sukkot. After Hamas gunmen began firing on civilians, Ben Haim said that she initially attempted to flee by car, but was forced to seek sanctuary on foot with three of her friends. They ran across open fields in pursuit of shelter and, after two hours, buried themselves in foliage to try to conceal themselves and wait for rescue.

Ben Haim said that she called the police while in hiding, but did not receive an answer until half an hour later. 

“They told us that they’re sorry, but all of the villages around us have been taken over by terrorists and they don’t have anyone to send to us,” Ben Haim said. “Then they hung up.”

Ben Haim and her friends were eventually rescued by Rami Davidian, a farmer from a nearby agricultural community who worked to help multiple festival attendees in the aftermath of the terrorist ambush.

“I always describe it as one of those nightmares where you try to run fast but you can’t, and you can feel that someone is about to grab you,” Ben Haim said. “It’s a very helpless situation. It feels like you’re trying to prevent a heart attack from happening because it’s so scary, and it’s horrifying to see so many people falling down around you.”

By sharing her story with others, Ben Haim said that she hopes to honor the legacies of the Israeli citizens killed at the festival and illuminate the importance of fighting against ongoing civilian attacks that continue to pervade Israel today. 

“It’s very important for me to share their stories and honor their memories. I know we witnessed great darkness that day and ever since, but we also have witnessed a lot of light and a lot of love,” she said. “I want to encourage us to keep spreading the truth and keep sticking to the belief that love will always win.”

Ben Haim is part of the broader national project, The Faces of October Seventh, that funds festival survivors traveling to different campuses across the country to share their experiences. Penn is among 50 universities that have decided to participate in the project, including Columbia, Georgetown, Duke, Syracuse, and Maryland Universities.  

Following Ben Haim’s concluding remarks, Chabad House leaders invited audience members to light candles to commemorate those who had been killed during the festival and taken hostage.

“There’s a concept that rather than pushing away a lot of darkness, the best way to face darkness is to bring light, and those candles represent this idea of light and bringing hope for the future,” Levin said. “We wanted to invite everyone to light candles for the hostages that remain to bring this idea to life.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that the event had 85 attendees, not 25.