October 7: A Sensitive Retelling in a New Medium 

By: Racheli Jian  |  June 8, 2024

By Racheli Jian, Senior Arts & Culture Editor and Layout Editor

While Ireland’s government and many of its politicians may be blatantly anti-Israel, two of its residents decided to stray from this unfortunate norm. When Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, two Irish filmmakers and journalists, saw what happened in Israel on October 7, they thought the world would react appropriately by condemning the evil attack committed by Hamas. Yet, they watched the world turn its back on Israel and immediately knew that they had to report the truth. 

In November, they interviewed survivors and first responders from the Nova Music Festival to hear their firsthand accounts of October 7. The responses were then recorded and pieced together by these journalists, who made it their mission to understand the bigger picture of what exactly happened that day. Then, they transformed it into a play.

On Thursday, May 16, YU took a group of students to watch October 7: In Their Own Words at Actors’ Temple. Located near Times Square, it is a small theater that is also used as a shul on weekends and holidays. While the YU students didn’t really know much about the play itself before they went to see it, the group filled up half the theater. What they were about to see was a completely verbatim account of what happened at the Nova festival and the surrounding areas during and after the October 7 attacks. Any words that were said on stage were from interviews conducted by the journalists with the people portrayed in the play. Each character is a real person and each story is a real story. 

Some might say a play is an insensitive form of relating such tragic stories. However, the October 7 play is much more than an ordinary production and is one of the most sensitive retellings I’ve ever seen. “I thought it was a really meaningful play. It really [captured] what happened on October 7,” Jessica Friedman (SCW ‘24) told the YU Observer. “I felt that it was truly like I had an obligation to go because we need to remember the people who were killed on October 7 and especially the hostages who are still being held.” A play might not be the first medium to come to mind to relate these events, but through this specific production the audience was able to understand the realities of what happened on that day. 

As we walked into the theater, we immediately saw a scene of what was happening moments before the chaos of October 7. The stage was decorated with colorful lights as EDM music played from large speakers. All the actors were dancing, but they faced away from the audience. Then the lights started to dim and disaster unfolded.

The storyline of the play goes chronologically, starting with the first rockets that flew over the Nova festival. The audience also heard stories from those who were in kibbutzim nearby and hid in bomb shelters. In order to keep the sense of time and events chronological, the play jumped between different characters’ stories. While this was disorienting at first, it was a reminder that this is what that day felt like: nothing made sense. Ten minutes earlier everyone was dancing and then they were running for cover. This aspect of chaos was communicated throughout the whole show. Not only through the use of multiple stories, but also through the use of the space. The theater itself was not a large venue and the actors used this to their advantage. Any time they had to run, they would literally run off the stage into the aisle and outside the theater. The way that they interacted with the audience’s space without actually talking to the crowd added to the uneasiness.

The inclusion of so many different characters allowed the audience the ability to see how this tragedy affected so many different people. “It really showed that each segment of Israeli society was affected by it, from young to old, religious to secular, right to left, Jewish to Muslim, and everyone in between,” Brandon Melamed (YC ‘25) told the YU Observer. “No one was immune.” This play showed that hatred doesn’t discriminate, it affects everyone.

The script focuses on the survivors and the heroes of that day who helped save peoples’ lives while putting their own at risk. There are a few characters in the play that epitomize what it means to be a hero. One character, Itamar, was dressed in all white, ready to go to shul for Simchat Torah. However, instead of going to shul he ended up going deep into the eye of the storm. When he heard about the Hamas attack on Israel, he headed to the Nova festival site and found wounded people who needed help. 

Another hero of that day was a religious man, Zaki, who lived in a kibbutz nearby and drove to the festival, picked up anyone who was running away and brought them back to his home. He stuffed as many people as he could fit into his car and repeatedly went back and forth between his house and the festival grounds. Not only that, but his willingness to drive and check his phone on Simchat Torah showed that he believed every single life is valuable.

This is the contrast that is captured throughout the production. The play starts with scenes of ultimate cruelty – baseless hatred – but as time goes on the hope for humanity is ever apparent. People stuffing as many survivors as they can into their cars, people going back to the festival and right into danger to find their friends, people serving food and comforting those who just lost their loved ones. People who care baselessly.

“October 7: In Their Own Words” is running through June 16th at The Actors’ Temple.

Photo Credit: Aaron Houston