Survivor of Hamas October 7 attacks shares harrowing story with students in NC

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Friday, February 9, 2024
Survivor of Hamas October 7 attacks shares story with students in NC
Rom El-Hai has met with students at Duke, Elon, and UNC-Chapel Hill and plans to speak to other groups here and in other states.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- As Rom El-Hai continues to process the October 7 attacks in Israel, he's sharing his story with college students across North Carolina.

"You can call it luck, a miracle, that I'm still here," said El-Hai.

The 29-year-old was a volunteer at the Nova Music Festival.

"I've been to festivals in Israel, Europe, and South America, and the Nova (Music Festival) specifically was really supposed to be one of the biggest festivals in terms of the music scene in Israel," said El-Hai.

(The gunfire) was nonstop ... and you hear only the weapons of the Hamas, and (realize) no one is here to save us.
Rom El-Hai

It began at midnight, with El-Hai and his friends showing up closer to 2 in the morning. At first glance, he was impressed by the set-up and noticed attendees from several different countries. Around 6:30, a terrifying scene caught El-Hai's attention.

"I'm in the middle of the dance floor and just looking at the sky, and I saw missiles exploding, (coming) from Gaza. And they were very close to us," El-Hai recalled.

While the presence of rockets is not unusual, the fact they were in an open space drew concern. That's when he and his friends collected their belongings and headed toward their car to leave. However, they were stuck in traffic amidst the rush. While still in his vehicle, he saw a vehicle come from the side and crash into three other cars. Moments later, the gravity of the situation came into fuller view.

"I saw a woman falling to the floor, full blood, and the people came next door screaming, 'She was shot. She was shot,'" said El-Hai.

At that moment, they realized they would be unable to drive away, so they got out of their car and started running toward the forest.

"(The gunfire) was nonstop and (we are) waiting and waiting, and it's continuing. And you hear only the weapons of the Hamas, and (realize) no one is here to save us," said El-Hai.

During the next eight hours, he and his friends slowly moved through the wooded area to not draw attention to themselves.

In total, El-Hai said they traveled about six kilometers, or nearly four miles before they connected with Israeli Police. It was only then that he learned of the totality of the attacks.

"To be reunited with my family and after I saw that, it was not a happy moment. It was horrible. I had a lot of blame, a lot of shame. Why did I survive and my friends did not?" said El-Hai.

El-Hai said one of his friends was killed in the attack, and the identities of the victims were released in the following days and weeks. He recognized more victims.

"The first week (following the attacks) was extremely hard. I was unable to sleep, unable to eat. I was always listening to the news until I felt I was going crazy. I was depressed and angry," El-Hai said.

He credited services set up specifically for survivors of the music festival, featuring psychologists, therapists, and musicians, for helping him through the initial difficult period. Now, he's sharing his experience with others.

"When I was a child, an older guy came to our school to bring testimony of what he'd been through in the Holocaust. And now I'm here and speaking with the young people and giving them my testimonies," said El-Hai.

He's met with students at Duke, Elon, and UNC-Chapel Hill thus far, and plans to speak to a group of adults in Raleigh, amidst trips to other states.

"I knew it was going to be tough. It was hard to listen to. There was a lot of people in that room. I could hear people sniffling. It was really hard to hold back those emotions," said Samantha Katz, a senior at Elon University.

Katz has since shared El-Hai's remarks, which were recorded, with family and friends.

"It is documented history that we can share and use as education," said Katz.

She's been upset by a rise of antisemitism following the terrorist attacks, with incidents on college campuses drawing national attention.

"It was really important that we had a speaker here who shared their story, shared photos and videos. I was not expecting that. That really added to the impact for me. You cannot deny the terrors and this terrorism happening, and I think that was really important that we had a speaker here who was able to share those experiences," Katz explained.

El-Hai credited students at each of his stops for their intellect and willingness to engage, appreciating their show of support.

"This is not the first time that we've had a great showing of community members coming together to support and hear about what's going on," said Katz.

As El-Hai continues speaking out, he looks toward a more joyous future.

"There is something I know for sure, and it's a promise. We are going to dance again," said El-Hai.