Students at UConn met a survivor from the Nova music festival massacre in Israel on Friday.
It happened on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants crossed into Israel from Gaza and opened fire, killing hundreds of people.
For 26-year-old Shye Klein Weinstein, it was his very first music festival.
“For the first six hours, it was awesome,” said Weinstein.
Weinstein went with his cousin and a group of friends. They drove to the Negev, the desert in southern Israel, for a night full of joy, music, and celebration. Weinstein says they got there at midnight, partying until the sun came up.
Little did he know that night would change his life forever.
“All we were doing was having fun. Loving each other, making new friends. Nobody was expecting at 6 a.m. sunrise, we’d be running for our lives,” he told the students.
Weinstein says around 6:30 a.m., he heard rockets. Moments later, he heard the sound of machine gun fire.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a place where 3,000 people are trying to leave at the same time. Maybe a baseball game? But it wasn’t like that,” he said.
He and his friends left the music festival by car. Weinstein was driving, but he says escaping was far from easy. Police had shut down nearby streets and traffic was piling up.
After some time, he and his friends got out of the car and tried escaping through a field. Weinstein’s cousin had run back to the car to pick them up, thinking it would be safer to drive.
As they drove, they passed vehicles that had been raided and riddled with bullets, as well as people who had been brutally murdered, laying lifeless on the road.
At one point, Weinstein says he saw two men in dark masks motioning them to slow down. Their guns were pointed, but Weinstein and his friends managed to get out unscathed.
“We were really lucky and really fast. The people who left before us didn’t make it. The people who left in the end didn’t make it. We were right in the middle. Safe,” he said.
A photographer, Weinstein brought his camera to the festival and took over a hundred pictures of people, striking up meaningful conversations with each of them. In the days following the massacre, he figured out that everyone he photographed, except for two, survived.
He says he has kept in touched with the people in those photographs every day since October 7.
Weinstein is now sharing his story to students across the U.S., which included dozens at UConn Hillel on Friday.
“I am surprised someone experiencing that event does want to speak about it, but it’s also very rewarding for us to hear it. It’s very important to all of us. Whether you’re Jewish or not Jewish, it’s important to listen to him,” said UConn Senior Ariel Melumad.
UConn was just one stop of his tour. Weinstein says he plans to speak to students across the country before reuniting with his friends and extended family back in Tel Aviv.