Re’im music festival massacre survivor Lee Sasi shares her story with Rowan students

Sasi giving a speech at another location. - Photo via @leesasi

Californian native Lee Sasi survived to tell the story of what she endured during the October 7 attacks in Israel. Sasi, who attended the Nova music festival that was attacked by Hamas, came to Rowan to inform people of the reality of what she endured, and that for her, every day is October 7. 

That day marked the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. Sasi is one of the many survivors who endured the Hamas attack and has lived to explain her story of survival. The Rowan Jewish organizations Hillel and Chabad came together to welcome Lee and to bring awareness of what she endured. 

“2023 was one of the best years of my life and it was also one of the worst years of my life,” said Sasi

Sasi, who was in Israel for vacation, had just recently gotten engaged and was celebrating the occasion with her family. She was originally scheduled to return to the United States on Oct. 3. Her cousin Nitzan told her about the music festival, which was to take place on Oct. 6 so she decided to attend and extended her stay. 

Her uncle Avi Sassi, cousins Danielle Sasi and Nitzan Rahoum, and friend Alex Luke also attended the festival, from 2 a.m. to sunrise. 

“We were having a great time at the party,” said Sasi.

Once morning arrived and they were heading to leave, Sasi described seeing “fireworks from the sky coming down.” What she was seeing were rockets striking down into Israel from Gaza. There were no sirens alerting anyone of the threat, according to Sasi. 

Sasi and some of her relatives found a bomb shelter nearby. She described the bomb shelter being “5ft by 8in.” The size of a closet. The bomb shelter was created to hold about eight people but sheltered over 30 during the attack. There was no door to the shelter, only a hallway leading to the outside. They waited over 45 minutes, hearing the sounds of rockets. While in the shelter, they received word from relatives that terrorists were in pursuit. Alex Luke was one of the men who attempted to guard the shelter.

Sasi then described hearing screams from the people outside the shelter. A few minutes had passed before the sound of “1,000 gunshots” from an AK-47 rang nearby, a barrage of bullets coming from a gunman inside the shelter.

They endured the torture of being trapped in the shelter for seven hours, hearing the massacre unfolding outside. They heard the throwing of hand grenades and Molotov cocktails, and the firing of more bullets. Her uncle had died right next to her from an implosion of a grenade. 

During all of this, Sasi recalled the terrorists as “having joy and full of laughter as they were throwing grenades into the bomb shelter as if their goal in life was to kill.” 

Sasi survived by hiding under bodies as attacks on the bomb shelter were happening. Since the attack, Sasi says she now has the hearing of a “50-year-old.” Around 2 p.m. she and those who were still alive were rescued by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers who were directed by Lee’s uncle, having her location shared on her phone with family.

Leaving the bomb shelter, Sasi said she felt safe. She describes the next imagery as a scene from the AMC TV series “The Walking Dead,” passing bodies burned to the point where they could not be identified. Out of the 40 people who stayed at the shelter, only nine survived.

“This story could have happened to anybody. It is my duty to bring awareness, it makes me stronger every time I speak,” said Sasi. 

Student Jenna Levner had heard Lee’s story on the news when the attacks first happened.

“Hearing this now is more in-depth, and hearing difficult stories like this is important especially when people deny the current events. It is important to listen and share,” Levner said.

“Hearing in detail from a survivor about the attacks hits home so much more,” said Rabbi Hersch Loschak, who led a moment of prayer in Hebrew after Lee spoke. “This is all of our story as a Jew. Lee is a voice that can continue to spread awareness of what happened.” 

For some students, hearing this story was a way to bring their community together, and understand one another.

“It is always important to speak up about different things that are happening. In the Jewish community, what has occurred has affected all. Whether it is near or far. Regardless of where we all are, we are one family,” said Student David Chehet.

Hillel Advisor Mark Fleishner referred to Lee Sasi as courageous.

“A lot of what I see today in terms of anti-Semitism is because people are scared to speak up. It is okay to be scared. Courage is not being scared,” said Fleishner.

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