Never forget

First-of-its-kind exhibit chronicles Oct. 7 atrocities, highlighting women’s voices, hostages’ plight

Exhibition at the Musem of Tolerance in Jerusalem features photographs from the attacks as well as 25 video testimonies of women who were injured, fought terrorists, saved lives, taken hostage, lost loved ones or had a family member taken captive by Hamas

Almost two months ago, when Shelly Shem Tov agreed to record her story as part of an exhibit featuring the personal testimonies of 25 women about their experiences on Oct. 7, she fully expected to be at the opening at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem (MOTJ) with her son Omer, 21 — who was kidnapped from the Nova music festival and taken captive into Gaza by Hamas — by her side.

Instead, she was standing alone, at the Jerusalem exhibit curated by her partner, Malki Shem Tov, watching her life-size image on a video screen relate how their son was captured at the festival after her Oct. 6 birthday celebration in which she silently thanked God for all the good in her life. The next day her unending nightmare began, and she has become one of the well-known figures in the hostage families’ struggle to bring home the hostages, who have now been in captivity for over 219 days.

“We called Omer. He was scared and frightened. He promised he would come home,” she said in her recorded testimony. “As time went by we understood that would not happen, that he had been kidnapped. The ground opened beneath our feet. We have been in this nightmare for 215 days. Two hundred and fifteen days that I wake up every morning, and it is daylight outside and I’m thinking about my Omer, who hasn’t seen the light of day in so much time.”

The museum exhibit, “06:29 From Darkness to Light,” premiered last Thursday afternoon in an opening for diplomats and journalists in the presence of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. The exhibit will open to the public on May 20.

“The magnitude of the disaster and the intensity of the cruelty we experienced in October which we see in the video shown at the beginning of the exhibition has left such a powerful darkness that sometimes it seems that it is too much for the eye and heart to absorb,” said Herzog at the opening. “Precisely in this difficult reality the exhibition here at the Museum of Tolerance brings such an important voice.”

The very fitting naming of the exhibit, “From Darkness to Light,” reminds people that though they should not look away from the darkness they should at the same time always “turn to the light,” he said. 

The entrance to a new exhibition on the Oct. 7 terror attacks at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem on May 9, 2024.
The entrance to a new exhibition on the Oct. 7 terror attacks at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem on May 9, 2024. (Courtesy/Guy Sidi)

Shelly Shem Tov told eJewishPhilanthropy that the exhibition is meant to cause attendees to grapple with the atrocities of Oct. 7.   

“There are no words in the Hebrew language to describe the things that happened here on Oct. 7,” she said, after she had walked through the exhibit at the opening. “To actually come here and confront [the day] quietly, only as a place of listening is important. So it is important for the government to listen and connect to the personal story and pain of everyone. To come and feel, and not put things aside. This place tells the story of so many women. I want to tell the government to take an example from the Israeli people who have been so united, and to go to the mat — both the coalition and the opposition — to bring the hostages home.”

The exhibit begins with a stark wall flashing the large digital numbers “06:29,” the time Hamas launched its attack on Israel. Then the visitor is confronted with photos from the devastated southern communities taken by photojournalist Ziv Koren shortly after the Hamas attack. Next, the exhibit moves to a short film narrated by 15-year-old Ella Shani, from Kibbutz Be’eri, whose father was murdered, grandparents injured and cousin kidnapped. Two mobile shelters were created for the exhibition where recordings of sirens and communication devices will be heard, taking visitors through the moments of fear civilians felt while hiding from terrorists and rockets. Visitors will then continue through the shelters to view the 25 personal testimonies shown, in the dark, on 25 life-size interactive screens, featuring women who were injured, fought terrorists, saved lives of wounded civilians and soldiers, taken hostage, lost loved ones or had a family member taken captive by Hamas.

The virtual video testimonies, which were filmed and produced by producer Noam Shalev, are available in Hebrew and English.

In the last part of the exhibition, a series of clips shot by producer Kobi Sitt present the solidarity of the Israeli public, which came together on Oct. 7 and the months that followed, as a way to ignite a “light of hope in the darkness,” according to the museum, and as a reminder that “even in the most difficult times, there is good in the world.” 

Curator Malki Shem Tov said the recorded testimonies are also meant to serve as evidence of what happened on Oct. 7 and provide another layer in which people can hear the story and create more awareness.

“This is what I normally do, curating exhibits, in shows and museums. This time it’s become really a personal story for me,” he said. “My son is still in Gaza and he is there already [219] days and we are waiting for him. Our lives were overtaken by an overwhelming darkness that touched every aspect [of our lives]. We need people all over the world to hear about the story, to know more about the story.”

The museum’s co-chair, Larry Mizel, noted that the “06:29 From Darkness to Light” show is the first major exhibit that chronicles the atrocities of Oct. 7 and thanked the “courageous” women who agreed to give their testimony.

“The second part of the exhibit strikes a powerful contrasting note to Hamas vile atrocities,” he said. “We must never forget the events of Oct. 7, nor allow the world to look away in indifference or deny the reality of what has occurred.”

Photographs on display at a new exhibition on the Oct. 7 terror attacks at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem on May 9, 2024.
Photographs on display at a new exhibition on the Oct. 7 terror attacks at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem on May 9, 2024. (Courtesy/Guy Sidi)

Another of the interviewees, Noam Ben David, 27, recounted losing her boyfriend, David Newman, 27, who was killed by Hamas terrorists as the two of them hid in a dumpster for four hours with 16 other young people from the Nova party. Ben David credits Newman with saving her and sending their location so the army could find them. Of the 16 people hiding, only four survived the massacre, said Ben David, who was shot in the hip during the attack and came to the opening using crutches. Ben David said that recording, and then watching, her testimony was both difficult and impactful.

“It is totally a bit of both feelings,” she said. “It’s so empowering to see. It also gives you a feeling that you’re standing in front of the human being, and because of that it’s meaningful. It really makes you feel [something], looking at their eyes and seeing the small movements,” she said.

Ben David said she felt a tightening of her stomach as she confronted the full-wall photograph of all the burned cars of the Nova partygoers and others.

“I was there,” she added. “It’s crazy, and it is even crazy that there are still hostages in Gaza. And it is crazy that I have to stand and tell about my partner who was murdered. How did no one even know about this situation? How does the country not understand? Where was the army? Where was the police, where was the ambulance, where were they to save us? After four and half hours they arrived. The Nova victims really need a place where we can get mental health care. There isn’t one framework that can give space to people like me who lived with my partner. How am I supposed to live now? Where? How is my life supposed to go on?”