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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Hillel and Chabad host Oct. 7 survivor Matan Boltax

At the event, Boltax recounted his experience escaping the Hamas attack at the Nova Music Festival.

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On Feb. 10, Dartmouth Hillel and Chabad at Dartmouth hosted Matan Boltax, a survivor of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel at an event titled “We Will Dance Again.” Hillel Rabbi Seth Linfield estimated that approximately 200 people attended the event. Following the event, community members and students gathered for a dinner at the Chabad House with Boltax. 

At the event, Boltax discussed his firsthand experiences at the Nova Music Festival and answered questions from the audience. 

On the night of Oct. 6, Boltax and his friends drove to Negev Desert for the popular EDM festival, which was set to begin at midnight on Oct. 7 and last until 5 p.m. 

At 6:30 a.m., Boltax said he and his friends saw rockets in the sky. According to Boltax, while rockets are uncommon, given the proximity of the festival area to the Gaza border, Boltax and his friends assumed the festival would be canceled due to the presence of rockets. Boltax added that when the rocket fire lasted more than 30 minutes instead of the usual five minutes, and the direction of the rockets was towards central Israel rather than the Gaza Envelope, he became alarmed.

Boltax said he and other festival attendees became “very concerned” and focused on survival. According to Boltax, police instructed civilians to head towards the east of the country. Boltax described how some individuals left the site by car, while others ran on foot. Boltax said that “rumors” started circulating that terrorists had gotten through the border into Israel after people saw cars with bullet holes and people with bullet wounds. 

Boltax said he realized the severity of the attack when he saw two trucks of Hamas militants holding guns. Boltax and his friend helped two strangers near the border into their car and drove away as fast as possible. 

After hiding in a public shelter off the highway, Boltax said he and his friend made their way to a town and took cover in a strangers’ bomb shelter. According to Boltax, they hid in the bomb shelter for nearly 10 hours.

Eventually, Boltax said he and his friend drove home towards central Israel. At a small town near the border, Boltax said he saw the near-“apocalyptic” destruction of Oct. 7 firsthand. According to Boltax, there were countless bloodied bodies of innocent civilians along the road and crashed cars of people who deserted them in hopes of escaping faster on foot.

Boltax grew up in Great Neck, N.Y. and moved to Israel with his family when he was 10 years old. Like all Israeli teenagers, Boltax said he completed three years of mandatory military service, during which he served in the Nahal Infantry Brigade. Boltax said he finished his service in November 2022 and began studying for his SATs to attend college in Israel. 

After Oct. 7, Boltax said he was called up for reserve duties. According to Boltax, most Israeli citizens have put political opinions aside to support each other in these difficult times. Boltax stressed that everyone has a responsibility to continue to spread hope and unity, through one good deed, one conversation, lighting Shabbat candles and donating food or money.

Boltax said he will be traveling the East Coast to speak at colleges and other communities and share his story with the help of the organization “Faces of October 7th.” According to its website, the organization’s mission is to “humanize the impact of these tragic events beyond mere statistics” by sending survivors to college campuses and other communities across North America.

“I have a really good platform, as there weren’t a lot of fluent English speakers [at Nova], and it’s really important to me to share my firsthand story,” Boltax said in an interview after the event. “I just want to show that I’m just a normal 23-year-old, and this shouldn’t be happening to anyone.”

Ellen Rockmore, a lecturer for the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric, said she came to the event to find community because she has been thinking a lot about Israel and the hostages since Oct. 7. Rockmore hopes that students recognize the “similarities between young Americans and young Israelis.” 

“There are a lot of misconceptions about how Israelis are and what Israelis are like, and people underestimate the similarities between young Americans and young Israelis,” Rockmore said. “I think in this event, you could see that young Americans are really not that different from young Israelis.”

Shira Elisha ’27 shared similar thoughts. 

“It’s so crazy that it could have really been any of us,” Elisha said. “I have family and friends in Israel, and one of my friends from camp is actually a hostage right now. It’s just so crazy that people who are just like us went through something so traumatic.”

At the event, Boltax showed a selfie with several individuals taken minutes before the rockets began firing. According to Boltax, his close friend Daniel Perez — who was depicted in the photo — was taken hostage with other soldiers from his unit after trying to fight back against Hamas militants on Oct. 7. Boltax said Aner Shapira, who was also in the photo, died on Oct. 7 by catching and throwing hand grenades out of a public bomb shelter with over 30 people inside. Boltax said Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a 23-year-old American citizen who was taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7, is still being held in Gaza right now. 

Boltax said that almost everyone in Israel is personally connected to what happened on Oct. 7, whether they knew a hostage, a survivor of the attack or a soldier who was called up for reserves. Boltax said that “Jewish Geography,” which is a term describing how Jewish people can be connected to each other through only a few degrees of separation, took on a new meaning in the wake of the attack at the Nova Music Festival. 

Chabad Rabbi Moshe Gray saw Boltax’s visit as “really important” due to Boltax’s firsthand account of the day. 

“Bearing witness to and hearing the stories [of these survivors] is really important through the fog and the chaos of social media and all that noise around it,” Gray said. 

Gray said he was “really glad” to see that there were many non-Jewish students in the audience who came to listen to Boltax’s story. 

“Whatever they take away is valid,” he said. “What’s important is that they came, and they listened, which is what college students should do. They came in with open minds and will continue the conversation with their peers. That’s my hope.”

Linfield said he wanted students to learn about the personal experiences of an individual as opposed to a political discussion. 

“Sometimes, we do talk in terms of geopolitical concerns and theoretical politics, big scale things, and so much of living and loving and actually maybe developing [what] Israel and the Middle East can look like tomorrow will be done through person-to-person conversations,” Linfield said.