Blakeman honors Israel music festival attack survivor: “she has been a witness”

Blakeman honors Israel music festival attack survivor: “she has been a witness”
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman recognized Great Neck residents Natalie Sanandaji, a survivor of the music festival in Israel, and Shuke Ma, a cashier who donated her weeks pay to the cause, for their bravery and support during the Israel Palestine conflict. (Photo by Karina Kovac)

Nassau County executive Bruce Blakeman gave a citation to Tribe of Nova music festival survivor Natalie Sanandaji, 28, and Shop Delight employee Shuke Ma, who donated a week’s pay to support Israel, on Monday for their courage and support during the Israel/ Palestine conflict.

“She has been a witness,” Blakeman said of Sanandaji, “a witness to the terror that took place and she’s traveling around and meeting with various groups, and being on various media outlets, to tell the truth as to what happened. The savagery, the butchery of innocent civilians, young people. It’s something that should shock everybody.”

Sanandaji, a Jewish New Yorker born to Israeli and Iranian parents, narrowly escaped Hamas’s assault on the music festival celebrating the festival of Sukkot near the border with the Gaza Strip Oct. 7. At least 260 attendees at the festival were killed in the surprise attack, according to Israeli rescue service Zaka. More were taken hostage.

Sanandaji recalled camping at the festival with a few friends when one of them said some rockets had been fired in their direction and everyone should be alert, but it was a normal occurrence. But soon the rockets kept coming, the Great Neck resident said, and they realized this was not an ordinary situation with the number of rockets fired climbing to 10, then 20.

Security stopped the music and asked everyone to evacuate. Her group began walking and stopped at a restroom, only to find out that later that moments after she was there, Hamas soldiers shot into the bathrooms.

Walking to their cars, the group was unaware that Hamas terrorist were on foot with guns. While driving out of the festival grounds, security told everyone to pull over and run.

“We couldn’t understand why running would bring us to safety faster than driving,” Sanandaji said, “But that’s when we heard the first gunshots. And as soon as we heard the first gunshots, we opened our doors and started to run. We realized that being in our cars and being with so many cars in a confined space made us an easier target for the terrorists.”

As they ran, they mulled their options, thinking perhaps they should stick it out in a ditch with other festival goers. But they “decided that that was a bad idea, and that if the terrorists found us in the ditch, we would have nowhere to run,” she said.

The group found out later those who stayed in the ditch were killed.

“It just made you realize how every decision you made in that moment, every split-second decision, either saved your life or got you killed,” she said. “You had no idea of knowing which decision was the right decision.”

Four hours of running later, the group sat under a tree for shade when they saw a man in a white pickup truck driving toward them. “We kind of realized we have nowhere to run to, we have nowhere to hide,” she recalled. “If this is a terrorist, that’s it, this is the end. And we kind of all just looked at each other and sat back down and accepted our fate. Luckily for us, it wasn’t a terrorist.”

It turned out to be a man from the neighboring village of Patish, who drove towards the chaos to help those in need. After dropping them off in the village, he drove back to try and save more people, Sanandaji said.

Other men from the village also took off in their vehicles asking in which direction the fighting was happening. Sanandaji and her friends stayed in a local bomb shelter, where villagers brought them food and water, she said. She was able to return home after a friend of hers gave her their plane ticket since they had bought one for an earlier flight and had an extra.

“A lot of people have asked me since getting back to New York if I feel safe. With all the protests happening, it’s hard to feel safe…I’ve never seen this amount of antisemitism in New York.”

She told Blank Slate Media that “it’s very hard to get back to your ordinary life, especially when you’re just like waiting for the second shoe to drop, because you know, it’s only going to get worse before it gets better and we’re only going to lose more lives.”

Sanandaji said the bloodshed isn’t a fight between Palestine and Israel.

“This is a fight between Israel and Hamas,” she said, “a terrorist organization that is just as complicit in the deaths of innocent Palestinians as it is in the deaths of innocent Israelis. They’re using the citizens of Gaza as their own human shields.”

She added, “And another thing I want people to understand is that even if this was a fight between Palestine and Israel right now, killing innocent Israelis is not going to free Palestine, killing other innocent people is not going to help any other person.”

Parvaneh Khodadadian, Sanandaji’s cousin, said she was so happy that she’s back in New York safely and pointed out that they have five family members serving on the front lines in the Israeli Defense Force.

“We are not thinking about Jews and Muslims, we are thinking about humanity,” Khodadadian said. “We are thinking about all the lives that are lost. A Muslim mother suffers as much as a Jewish mother, this is a loss of human life.”

As a member of SHAI at the Great Neck Senior Center, she has been singing with seniors to take their mind off the news.

Ma, a cashier at Shop Delight supermarket in Great Neck as well as a resident, was also honored and given a citation from Blakeman. Ma, of Asian descent felt compelled after hearing stories about the war from the Great Neck community and said a prayer for those involved in the conflict.

“It’s important that all religions get together against evil,” Blakeman said. “This was evil, and we have to recognize what it was. You know here in America, we celebrate religious freedom, everybody can celebrate their religions the way they want, especially here in Nassau County we have every race, religion and ethnic group right here.”

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