(November 21, 2023 / JNS)
Natalie Sanandaji traveled to Israel this summer for a friend’s wedding. The American Jew, born to Israeli and Iranian parents in Long Island, N.Y., opted to remain there to spend the High Holidays with family and friends. In October, the 28-year-old joined friends who were attending the Nova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel.
Prior to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, during which terrorists murdered 364 people at the festival, Sanandaji could not imagine being in the situation she is in now, she told JNS.
She went to Florida to share her experiences with attendees of the Combat Antisemitism Movement’s 2023 North American Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism during a Nov. 16 gala dinner at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood about a half-hour from Fort Lauderdale where the conference was being held. After sharing her harrowing experiences, Sanandaji received a standing ovation from attendees of the summit, which included mayors of more than 50 municipalities, members of Congress and overseas leaders.
“It’s hard to grasp that it’s been over a month,” she told JNS. “There are so many people my age who weren’t as lucky as me, who were either killed or taken hostage, and they are still there over a month later.”
“I feel very privileged and lucky to be here and in a position to speak out for them, because obviously, they can’t speak for themselves right now,” she added. “It’s hard to believe they’re still there in Gaza being held hostage.”
‘It felt like an out-of-body experience’
When Hamas terrorists fired a barrage of rockets, Sanandaji and her three friends were sleeping at a campsite, having arrived at the festival at about 1 a.m. Two hours later, the four decided to retire to the campsite, which was near enough to the dance floors to still hear the music, she told JNS.
“We decided to take a nap and wake up for the sunrise,” she told JNS, explaining that one of the girls “came to wake us up when the first rocket came our way.” They picked up and fled.
For four hours, Sanandaji ran for her life in the desert, managing to evade the Hamas terrorists that overran the area. She and her three friends were eventually rescued.
“My obvious reaction to being in a very traumatic and very intense experience was to disassociate,” she told JNS. “Even until now, I haven’t fully left that dissociation. From the moment it started happening, it felt like an out-of-body experience, which I never had before.”
Sanandaji said she hoped that the leaders attending the summit would take away from her speech “the fact this is not an isolated incident.”
“These terrorists will just as easily attack the United States and attack other modern countries the way that they attacked Israel,” she said. “We’re fighting the same enemy. If Israel doesn’t finish them now, they will come to the United States.”
“I also want them to take away the fact that they need to support the Jews here in the States as well because they don’t feel safe,” Sanandaji told JNS. “A lot of people are very uneducated about the subject, and leaders need to take a stand in educating the people that they govern on what’s happening.”
‘I will never be the same’
In her speech, Sanandaji told the leaders that her life is now permanently divided in two.
“I will never be the same person after what I saw on Oct. 7,” she said, emphasizing that life as she knew it is “forever changed.”
“Long Island, where I grew up, is home to one of the biggest Jewish communities in America, and I felt safe displaying my Jewish identity with pride,” she added in her remarks. “But over the past month, since returning home from Israel, I can no longer say that is true.”
For the first time in her life, Sanandaji said she is seeing friends fearful of displaying their Judaism outwardly—tucking Jewish star necklaces into their shirts and removing mezuzahs from their home doorways.
“This disturbing reality is why I transformed my life, and I’m now working with the Combat Antisemitism Movement, devoting all my energy to standing up to Jew-hatred in all its modern-day forms,” she said to thunderous applause.
She added that she won’t let victims of antisemitism be forgotten.
“In the past month, we were attacked twice: First, by bloodthirsty Hamas terrorists looking to slaughter as many Jews as possible, and then by the demonstrators who have taken to the streets worldwide to celebrate Hamas, to celebrate their barbarity and incite more violence against the Jewish people and state,” she stated.
“Never again is now, and I will do everything I can to ensure that no Jew has to suffer what I and so many others, who are no longer with us, went through.”
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