Lost in the Nova Exhibit

By: Shira Kramer  |  June 14, 2024

By Shira Kramer, Managing Editor

“Don’t go in there.”

A saying you might hear screamed at a movie theater during a horror film, but less likely at a museum in downtown Manhattan. When my roommate asked me if I wanted to go to The Nova Music Festival Exhibition with her, I immediately said yes. These were my brothers and sisters. I wanted to acknowledge what they had been through but I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

Like many, I knew about the horrors that were committed by Hamas at the Nova festival on Oct. 7 and saw horrifying videos of the tragedies on Instagram. However, nothing could have prepared me for the life-like experience that The Nova Exhibition brought to New York City. 

Patrons enter the exhibit to a room filled with happiness and laughter. A video, featuring festival attendees dancing, plays on a projector as the floor is covered in sand, simulating the desert. The scene before me displayed the joyful environment of a music festival, but I knew that it would not last forever. 

“Don’t go in there,” I wanted to scream at them.

As the video came to an end, security at the festival called a code red and everyone began to freak out. Knowing what happened next, I did not want to continue on to the next part of the exhibition; I desperately wanted the happiness to live on forever. But, I knew that no matter if I went into the next room or not, the atrocities of Oct. 7 still happened. So, I traveled back in time with the 75 other visitors and went into the next room in the exhibit. 

As we entered the simulated desert, there were signs on the walls informing us that all of the objects found in the exhibit were real from the Nova festival. I couldn’t believe that the tampons and toothbrushes were real. In another room, we saw the cars of those who had been at the festival, torched by terrorists and barely standing. We walked past overturned porta-potties and tents filled with old clothes. However, the hardest part, the part that many Jews are familiar with, was the shoes. Piles and piles of shoes filled the museum. Each article of clothing had a barcode attached to it so that former hostages and families of victims could find their property.

I wanted to cry but no one else was and I didn’t want to seem overly emotional. 

Much like any Holocaust museum, the last room in the exhibit showcased the aftermath of that horrible day. However, unlike any Holocaust museum I’ve ever been to, there was no new beginning. Entering that room, I looked around to see dozens of pictures of people around my age. Finally letting the tears drop, I tried to read every description of every death. One young girl caught my eye. Her family wrote, “She devoured life.” I couldn’t help but think: would anyone ever say that about me?

I honestly don’t think they would. Fully sobbing at this point, I vowed to try to live life to the fullest in honor of these young men and women who just wanted to dance. 

I didn’t know how an atrocity that took place across the world in Israel could be felt so realistically in New York City, but after I went to this exhibit, I knew my life had changed forever. I realized that I am not just an Israel-loving girl with social media, but I am also a human. This exhibit affected me differently than any other museum has because it felt so real. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to have gone there. Sadly, on June 16, the Nova Exhibit will be leaving New York City. 

A couple of weeks after my visit, I flew to Israel for a family vacation. As soon as I got off the plane, I was met with pictures of the hostages staring back at me. I didn’t want to run from their faces but I also didn’t know what to do. Reposting the same Instagram stories that I see 500 times on my feed may be doing something, but I don’t believe it is enough. With a newfound sense of relation to this war because of my experience at the exhibit, I remembered my vow. While in Israel, I knew I needed to take every moment as an opportunity to honor those who fell. Whether that meant eating good food, singing zemiros on Shabbos, or educating my Israeli relatives on antisemitism in the diaspora. 

I did everything with great passion for those who no longer could, for those whose lives were brutally taken too soon.

Photo Credit: Shira Kramer, The Nova Music Festival Exhibition