An Israeli-Canadian who videotaped the Oct. 7 attack is on a speaking tour

todayNovember 25, 2023 4

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Shye Weinstein, in Toronto on Nov. 23, will tour universities in the United States and Canada to discuss his experience fleeing a music festival in Israel during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.Patrick Dell/The Globe and Mail

Many in his audience smiled in recognition when Shye Weinstein asked them whether they could remember the ecstatic anticipation of taking their first steps onto the grounds of a music festival – as he did last month.

“You get there and you feel the music, you feel the energy – it’s really positive energy – it feels like you can feel that you’re going to have fun,” he told the small group of York University students this week. “You can feel that you’re going to make memories with your friends and you’re going to make new friends and it’s just going to be an overall positive experience.”

That sense of familiarity vanished the moment the 26-year-old Israeli-Canadian photographer started explaining how he witnessed a rave in the Negev Desert quickly descend into chaos early in the morning of Oct. 7 as Hamas fighters began killing nearly 350 of the roughly 4,000 revelers.

Israeli outlet Channel 12 recently reported that local police believe the 347 attendees killed at the rave represent half of all civilians killed in the invasion, adding that Hamas took at least 40 people hostage from the party.

Canadians of Jewish and Palestinian backgrounds have been grappling with fallout from the Mideast conflict, but Mr. Weinstein’s view of the start to the war is unique: videos and images of his group’s escape from the festival went viral immediately after the surprise attack.

This month, Mr. Weinstein is on a grassroots tour of universities in the United States and Canada organized by two Israeli women so he can share how he bore witness to the horrific day of violence that kicked off the current Israel-Hamas conflict.

“I’m not going to these places to have a political debate and talk about how things should be resolved – I’m a photographer, I’m a Canadian, I’m not a politician, I’m not a military colonel or adviser – that’s not for me to speak on,” he told The Globe in a recent interview from a stop in Toronto before he headed to Los Angeles.

“I’m going there to talk about my experience … to let people know that this is a very real thing that we went through; that many of the people are still going through; that hasn’t stopped just because you turned off Instagram.”

His footage and images have helped identify survivors and victims alike in the days after the attack and were also incorporated into a Globe and Mail video giving people around the world a firsthand perspective of that day.

Mr. Weinstein said strangers have reached out to him on social media to tell him they confirmed their friends’ deaths through watching his video of speeding past bodies on one of the highways. Two of the 30 or so people he photographed in the hours before the massacre were later confirmed killed and Mr. Weinstein handed out copies of their portraits to their families.

Before picking up last April and moving to Israel, where he has citizenship but has only visited to see extended family twice as a child, Mr. Weinstein had been working in Toronto’s movie industry and doing commercial photography. Speaking about that day is also helping him process his trauma in real time, he says, adding he is also speaking to therapists in Israel.

“I’m not left all sad and depressed after each one of these – wallowing in myself and just sort of physically or mentally exhausted – I’m really hungry by the end of one of these talks,” he says.

He is now pursuing an art project that involves circling back to interview seven of the people he captured on film moments before their lives were irrevocably changed. So far he has interviewed five of them but has not been able to capture any on film. That’s because he is still saving up money to replace the expensive camera he lost when, during the early moments of his escape, he and his group heard gunfire and exited their car and made a sprint for nearby brush before jumping back into the vehicle.

Many of these survivor interviews happened at a swanky wedding venue north of Tel Aviv, where the organizers of the Supernova rave have set up an open-ended healing space for those who escaped the Hamas attack to come and connect, process and take part in group activities such as yoga, sound bathing and concerts.

“I got the satisfaction of being able to see and hug these people who I thought were dead and only met once at the festival,” he says of these gatherings. “It felt great.”

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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