Israeli man visits Minnesota to share his story of escaping Oct. 7 attacks

A man speaks in front of a screen
Twenty-nine-year-old Rom El-Hai recounts his escape from the Supernova Music Festival near Re’im, Israel after Hamas militants launched a deadly attack on Oct. 7 during a speaking event at Minnesota Hillel in Minneapolis on Friday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

An Israeli music fan is in Minnesota this weekend to talk about surviving the harrowing October day that changed his life. 

Pausing only for occasional help translating a word from Hebrew to English, Rom El-Hai recounted the hours-long escape he and his friends made from the Supernova music festival after Hamas militants launched a deadly attack from Gaza on the morning of Oct. 7.

On Friday, about 30 students and community members filled the seats of the Martin and Esther Capp Event Center in Minnesota Hillel near the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis to listen to El-Hai share his story.

People look at photos on a projector screen
Students and community members listen as Rom El-Hai recounts his escape from the Nova Music Festival in southern Israel on Oct. 7 during a speaking event at Minnesota Hillel in Minneapolis on Friday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

During the presentation, the 29-year-old Israeli citizen shared cell phone photos of him and his friends hiding in the bushes and pictures of his damaged car after they finally returned to the festival grounds days later. El-Hai also shared an image of his friend, Hezi Hanom, who he said was killed during the attack. 

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“I’ve been in the trance music scene for 10 years,” El-Hai said. Festivals, like the Supernova festival in southern Israel, are like his “second home.” 

According to El-Hai, the trance music community in Israel is small and tight-knit. 

“So when I saw the pictures of the people who had been murdered — I didn't know them personally but I knew their faces,” he said.

A man points to photos of a damaged car projected onto a screen
Rom El-Hai shows pictures of his damaged his car, which was left at the Supernova music festival, during a speaking event on Friday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The presentation at Minnesota Hillel was one stop on the second leg of El-Hai’s speaking tour through the Midwest, organized by the Israeli-led organization Faces of October Seventh. This weekend he will also speak at several Twin Cities synagogues and will eventually make stops in Chicago, Ill., Atlanta, Ga. and Durham, N.C., according to trip coordinator Doron Gertzovski.

For Minnesota Hillel executive director Benjie Kaplan, it was important for Jewish students to bear witness to the firsthand accounts of people like El-Hai who experienced the attack. 

“The last six or seven weeks on campus have been difficult for all students who are impacted by what's happening,” said Kaplan. He sees Minnesota Hillel’s role as a space on campus for students to reflect and find room for discussion, understanding and empathy.

Kidnapped posters hang on windows
Posters of people kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel line the windows at Minnesota Hillel in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Dozens of University of Minnesota Twin Cities students staged a walkout on Wednesday in support of Palestinians in Gaza, and activists lobbied the State Board of Investment to withdraw the state’s holdings in Israeli companies. 

On Friday, Israeli warplanes resumed bombing locations in Gaza after a week-long ceasefire collapsed. 

Israeli officials say at least 1,200 people were killed in the Oct. 7 attack, and around 240 people were taken to Gaza as hostages, 137 of whom have been released in prisoner exchanges throughout the week. In response to the Hamas offensive, Israeli airstrikes and ground campaigns have killed over 15,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health authorities.