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They survived the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel. Now they battle antisemitism

A man pulls weeds from the marker for an Israeli killed at the Nova music festival in Re'im, southern Israel, at the site of an Oct.7, 2023 cross-border attack by Hamas, who killed and kidnapped hundreds of revelers, Tuesday, April 2, 2024.
Maya Alleruzzo/AP
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AP
A man pulls weeds from the marker for an Israeli killed at the Nova music festival in Re'im, southern Israel, at the site of an Oct.7, 2023 cross-border attack by Hamas, who killed and kidnapped hundreds of revelers, Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

Israeli survivors of the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 visited college campuses in South Florida in April to bring their stories to students and combat antisemitism.

Six months ago this week, Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israel, launching the deadliest assault on the Jewish nation in its history, killing more than 1,200 people.

Now a group of six survivors are touring seven U.S. states, including Florida, with stops at several universities, to call attention to the rise of antisemitic incidents on college campuses.

Since the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, 2023, there have been 746 antisemitic incidents on college and university campuses, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks such incidents nationwide. During the same period last year, there was less than 100 incidents, reports the ADL, meaning such incidents have skyrocketed 757% in the past year.

Over all, the ADL has recorded more than 5,500 antisemitic incidents across the U.S., a 331% percent surge compared to the previous year.

“This 'Survived to Tell' Tour underscores the critical role of education amidst increasing attacks on college campuses," said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said.

The "Survived to Tell" tour recently made stops at the University of Florida, University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University. The event is held at the local Hillel, a Jewish campus organization.

Or Elmakias of Tel Aviv uses a walking stick to get around after being shot in the leg by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. She came to South Florida on the "Survived to Tell" speaking tour in April 2024.
Verónica Zaragovia
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WLRN
Or Elmakias of Tel Aviv uses a walking stick to get around after being shot in the leg by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. She came to South Florida on the "Survived to Tell" speaking tour in April 2024.

One survivor, Hadar-Or Elmakias, 27, remembers when rockets first started flying overhead, just after dawn on Oct. 7, 2023. She was working at the Nova music festival in Re'im and took off with a stranger, running eastward. At least 360 festival attendees were killed, scores wounded and at least 40 kidnapped by Hamas militants.

"We saw the sun rising in the sky. It was beautiful, but it was basically a nightmare," she told WLRN, sitting outside of her hotel in Hallandale Beach.

Gunfire from Hamas militants suddenly killed the man fleeing with her.

"In that moment I felt intense pain, near my right knee," Elmakias said. "I realized that I had been shot."

She used a shirt to wrap her bullet wound tightly and managed to keep running over a long period of time. Eventually, she found a group of Israelis who drove her to safety at a kibbutz, a communal living situation unique to Israel. Then she made it to a hospital. After being discharged, she's used a wheelchair, then crutches and now depends on a black walking stick to get around.

She joined the tour while on sick leave from her Hebrew-language teaching job at an elementary school in Tel Aviv.

"I have privilege to be here, to share my story because I have nine friends that [were] murdered on Oct. 7," she said, remembering her friend, Adi Margalit, 24, who was working with her scanning tickets at the music festival, and was killed inside of a bomb shelter.

Elmakias also wants people to remember the roughly 130 hostages still held in Gaza, some of them are not alive. She believes their release would stop the war.

"I believe in peace, of course," she said.

READ MORE: "Emotional rally in support of Israel draws hundreds in Aventura"

The war in Gaza began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage. The conflict has left nearly 33,000 Palestinians, according to the latest count by the territory's Health Ministry. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Omer Zimmerman works for a non-governmental organization called ISRAEL-is as the head of the global division. He's also heading the "Survived to Tell" tour in the U.S., which is a partnership with the Seed the Dream Foundation.

He explained that Jewish and non-Jewish students are invited to participate in each session, which includes intimate group discussions with each survivor as well as a larger panel session.

"We decided we have to bring it live for people to hear first-hand from people who’ve been there," Zimmerman said, adding that they are willing to talk about the most personal details of their experience. "More than to tell their story, we want them to answer questions."

By bringing Israelis here and having conversations, tour organizer hope they can help reduce the spike in antisemitic incidents across the United States.

"Seeing protesters against Israel right now has been so challenging for many of us in the Jewish community, regardless of our politics," said Adam Kolett, the executive director of Hillel Broward and Palm Beach. "We just don’t feel understood or heard."

FAU student Jordann Ondo said she's felt unsafe in public since the Oct. 7 attack in Israel. Attending an event like this one, though, made her feel like her experiences as a Jew have been validated.

"I've had to hide my Jewish identity especially in the wake of Oct. 7 because I felt generally unsafe. I didn't wear my Jewish star at all. More in recent times I'm being more proud and not hiding it anymore."

By the end of the tour, the group will have visited 12 college campuses, across several states, including Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and California. It began March 26 and runs through April 19.

Since launching Survived to Tell, tour organizers have attracted more than 120,000 followers on Instagram.

Copyright 2024 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Verónica Zaragovia