‘From Darkness to Light’: Jerusalem exhibition tells story of women who survived Oct. 7
A image that is part of a new exhibition, “From Darkness to Light,” at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem set to open to the public on May 20, 2024. Credit: Photo Guy Sidi (Eclipse Media)

‘We can never feel the pain of those families who lost loved ones, but the Jewish people are coming together as never before in strength as a family,’ Denver-based philanthropist Larry Mizel, told JNS.

By Etgar Lefkovits
May 10, 2024

(JNS) — A 15-year-old Israeli girl from a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip who lost her father and grandparents after Hamas terrorists infiltrated the border and murdered more than 1,200 people.

A 28-year-old who was shot and seriously injured while hunkering inside a trash canister at the site of the desert music festival amid dead bodies, including that of her boyfriend, who was gunned down and murdered.

Mothers who sons were killed or kidnapped in the terrorist attacks in southern Israel.

These are just some of the stories told at a new exhibition on the Oct. 7 massacre that was inaugurated on Thursday at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. It includes the personal testimonies of 25 women whose lives were irrevocably altered during the atrocities on the Black Shabbat and Simchat Torah morning.

The $1.4 million exhibition, “From Darkness to Light,” will open to the public at large on May 20. It seeks to memorialize the worst attack on the Jewish people since World War II and the Holocaust, as well as the newfound unity among the Jewish people and supporters of Israel worldwide.

“We can never feel the pain of those families who lost loved ones, but the Jewish people are coming together as never before in strength as a family,” the Denver-based business executive and philanthropist Larry Mizel, who spent two decades developing the museum, told JNS during a press tour of the exhibition with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and other dignitaries.

“We see that the world has learned nothing from the Holocaust,” said Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. “What is happening on campuses [in the United States] is an embarrassment to America and democracy. Hitler would be saluting the protesters.”

Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Exhibit
Part of a new exhibition, “From Darkness to Light,” at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem set to open to the public on May 20, 2024. Photo: Guy Sidi (Eclipse Media).

‘The gates of hell opened’

The darkened exhibition hall serves as the backdrop for visitors to feel the semblance of what happened across scores of communities in southern Israel on the holiday weekend, starting at 6:29 a.m., when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists from Gaza stormed across the border.

Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Exhibit
Part of a new exhibition, “From Darkness to Light,” at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem set to open to the public on May 20, 2024. Photo: Guy Sidi (Eclipse Media).

“At 6:29 a.m. a siren ripped through the air and the sky filled with rockets,” the exhibition’s entry wall reads, alongside photos of the horror that would unfold. “From that moment, and for many hours, the gates of hell opened on the Israeli residents of communities along the border with the Gaza Strip.”

A note recovered from the pocket of a Hamas terrorist is affixed on the adjacent wall. “You must sharpen the blades of your swords and be pure in your intentions before Allah. Know that the enemy is a disease that has no cure except beheading and uprooting the hearts and livers. Attack them,” the translated note reads.

At the entryway, a gripping short film in English and Hebrew versions is narrated by 15-year-old Ella Shani from Kibbutz Be’eri, whose father, Yitzhak, and grandparents were murdered in the attack (and who has told her story to actors Sharon Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

A recreation of makeshift mobile shelters found in communities along the southern border, where recordings of sirens and communications devices will be heard, leads visitors to the darkened room of interactive video testimonies, currently offered in English or Hebrew of women of all ages recounting the horrors of the surprise attack.

Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Exhibit
Part of a new exhibition, “From Darkness to Light,” at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem set to open to the public on May 20, 2024. Photo: Guy Sidi (Eclipse Media).

“I’m here to tell my story and that of my boyfriend who was murdered; it’s the little I can do,” recounted Noam Ben-David, 28, of the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon. She was shot in the pelvis as she hid inside a trash canister pretending to be dead while fleeing from terrorists who attacked the Nova music festival in the northwestern Negev Desert.

Only four of the 16 who sought shelter inside made it out alive. Her boyfriend, David Yair Shalom Newman, 25, who was with her, was among those killed.

“It was like Russian roulette,” she said, ambling to the exhibition on crutches after seven months of hospitalization and rehab.

“Here you have the opportunity not just to hear the stories but to feel them,” said Malki Shem-Tov, the exhibition curator. His 21-year-old son, Omer, is still being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. “This is the craziness—we are involved in the creation of this project and also an emotional part of it.”

“No mother in the world should have to go through what we are feeling for 215 days,” added Shelly Shem-Tov.

‘The level of hardship and pain’

The decision to focus on women’s testimonies in the exhibition was taken as the most effective way to convey the full sense of the atrocities, said the museum’s managing director, Yoni Riss. The exhibition, which will eventually have as many as 65 testimonials, will run for a year in Jerusalem. It will also be shown to foreign dignitaries and school groups, and then travel around the world to the United States, Europe, South America and Asia.

“The testimonies are proof of the strength of Israel’s citizens,” he said.

Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem Exhibit
Israeli President Isaac Herzog at a new exhibition, “From Darkness to Light,” at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem set to open to the public on May 20, 2024. Photo: Guy Sidi (Eclipse Media).

“The level of hardship and pain of those who experienced the massacre cannot be quantified until you listen to their stories,” said Russel Galbut of Florida after visiting the exhibition.

Exiting the room of testimonials, an interactive map depicts where victims were killed in various communities and shows brief stories of their lives, opposite a wall with the photos of the 1,200 victims of the terrorist attacks.

The exhibition concludes with a video showing the country united with Jews and non-Jews coming together as one, along with supporters of Israel around the world. Opposite, a wall showcases the hostages that have remained in captivity in Gaza for the past seven months. In the final room, visitors can write brief messages to survivors of the attacks, whose stories were profiled on Post-It notes affixed on a board.

“And you shall choose life. The Nation of Israel lives!” wrote Israel’s president.

“For far too many months, weeks and days, the light has been blocked by the dark shadows of a cloudy day,” Herzog said. “And even though the sun seems to be shining, we wake up to the cruel darkness each morning, which stays with us throughout the day. In this harsh reality, this exhibition brings such a precious and important voice that must be heard loud and clear.”

Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Exhibit
Israeli President Isaac Herzog at a new exhibition, “From Darkness to Light,” at the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem.
Photo: Guy Sidi (Eclipse Media).

Leave a Reply