Yoni Diller, a 28-year-old Israeli filmmaker, arrived at the Supernova Music Festival just hours before Hamas terrorists launched their unprecedented attack on Israel that killed 1200 people, including 401 at the music festival alone. Yoni escaped the festival on foot, walking for hours through southern Israel’s desert to safety. 

Having survived this harrowing experience, Yoni is now traveling the world to share his story with political leaders, college students, and others, providing firsthand testimony of the horrors he and his fellow festival attendees witnessed on that fateful morning of October 7th.

*The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. 

Episode Lineup: 

  • (0:40) Yoni Diller

Show Notes:

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Transcript of Interview with Yoni Diller:

Manya Brachear Pashman:

During the Grammys this past Sunday, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. remembered the 401 people murdered and 40 kidnapped by Hamas terrorists during the October 7 attack on the Nova Music Festival. 

Yoni Diller is a 28-year-old filmmaker from Ra’anana, a town outside Tel Aviv. Yoni and his friend Nadav arrived at the Supernova Music Festival just a few hours before rockets began flying overhead. At daybreak, he had expected to send up a drone camera to capture the scene of unadulterated song and dance in the desert. But he never got the chance to get his camera ready. Yoni is with us now to describe that harrowing day that started at dawn. Yoni, welcome to People of the Pod.  

Yoni Diller:

Thank you for having me. 

Manya Brachear Pashman:

Could you please walk us through what you saw that morning? 

Yoni Diller:  

So, when the sirens went on at 6:30, we saw hundreds of missiles heading our way. So we rushed back to our campsite. We packed up our stuff, we tried to leave, the parking lot was chaotic. And I suggested going a different way. This decision to head south towards Re’im, which is another village. I didn't think it would change or it will change everything, but it did. On the road, people originally told us to turn around, to do a u-turn. 

Manya Brachear Pashman:

You told me earlier that was when a car riddled with bullet holes approached you and you found yourself helping a wounded women. That was 25 year old Shani Gabay whose remains were identified seven weeks later. At that time, when you were helping her, you heard gunfire in the distance and you tried to take cover in a nearby valley. 

Yoni Diller:  

Yes. I saw terrorists from a distance and continued to hide. A short moment later, mass shooting started in the Be’eri area, north of us.  I checked my phone to assess our surroundings and our current location. At the same time, my friend's sister called him to check on him to check everything's okay. He promised everything's gonna be alright. And about that time about a dozen others had joined us and we start walking. But the best thing I could do at that moment is to scream for everyone to get down because bullets are flying up on top of our head. 

So when the gunshots stop for a second, we decided to head towards Patish, it was more than 24 kilometers away. My intuition told me that this will be safer there. 

Manya Brachear Pashman:

Did you just say 24 kilometers away? How did you make it through an almost 15-mile walk?

You're walking in fields, the open fields in the desert, without food or water for over four and a half hours. It's really really tough. The fear and uncertainty made it even harder. At some point, Nadav found a single grapefruit that gave us enough energy to finish the long walk to Patish. 

Throughout this journey we continued to hear automatic gunfire. Finally after 4 ½ hours we arrived at Patish. Emotions were mixed because we began to learn the enormity of what happened. Friends were missing and there were rumors of many people hurt and worse from the festival.

Later on around 2 in the afternoon, a bus came to take us away, bringing us to Be’er Sheva and then to Tel Aviv. Then I arrived to Ra'anana finally. Safe and sound in one piece. I hugged my family and I understood just how lucky I had been. 

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

So can you kind of explain to our audience what is so wonderful about this festival, this trance culture and this music, this experience?

Yoni Diller:  

So trance, psy-trance, electronic music, personally for me it's not a genre. It’s like you said, it's a culture, it’s the people in it. It's the free spirit people, liberal people, just all about spreading love. It doesn't have to be in a hippie way, just more in a way that everything is very simple, you know. Simply just be a good person, giving, ego’s not involved, very laid back people. And that's the whole idea behind all these festivals and that's what's for me. It's about the people, it's about the music, it’s about the art, everything together. 

I joined a group of friends, friends of friends, we were like total more than 20 people and two of them lost their lives there and two others that I know from another group that went with me to high school also. 

One got killed and actually the one the other one got kidnapped. These festivals,  from event to event, you get to know people from everywhere. It's a small world.

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

Your companion who was kidnapped, has he been released, any word on where they are now?

Yoni Diller:  

No, one of them is still there. Hopefully he's still alive. I’m not even sure what's less worse, being kidnapped, or hostage, or being killed. We don't really know what they're going through over there. The best we can do is just wish for them to be released, no matter what the circumstances are.

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

Yes, my colleagues here at AJC are working to bring about the safe return of all the hostages. Listeners can go to AJC.org/BringThemHome to learn more about those efforts. 

Yoni, do you feel like people outside Israel fully grasp the gravity of what happened to people there, or really how truly innocent the festival goers were?

Yoni Diller:  

Unfortunately, you know, this generation wants to get fast news and simple news comfortably, and a lot of them consume content from, you know, platforms like Tiktok, or Instagram. And unfortunately, there's a lot of fake news out there, a lot of false accusations. And, you know, people sometimes deny that October 7 happened. And that's really unfortunate. I'll give you an example. 

I flew to the US after the event, I was part of this special delegation to do advocacy and telling the story to politicians in DC, in New York. And also, independently later after this delegation, I stayed another week in the States, and I took the train to these campuses. And I spoke and told my story. You know, campuses like NYU, Columbia, I went to Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Princeton. 

Six campuses in three days. It wasn't easy. I was really exhausted. But the fact that I had that meaning that, you know, I'm there to tell the story. 

Not for me, not telling the story for me. I’m telling that story for people to actually know what really happened, you know, the truth. I'm saying this for people who weren't lucky to tell them to tell the story themselves, or for the families. 

So what I saw, when I told the story, is a lot of people were actually in shock, like, wow, I didn't know if this would really happen. Like, how can you not know, we're in 2023. Information hasn't been easier to be delivered from place to place up until this moment, and how do you not know exactly what happened? There's videos everywhere. 

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

You mentioned that students were actually shocked that when they heard your testimony, and what happened. What other kinds of reactions are you getting, both reassuring reactions and negative reactions?

Yoni Diller:  

I would say that the positive reactions I had a lot, a lot of good reactions. I mean, most of the people I spoke to or through this Hillel organization and the campuses. And, you know, people come up to me after the event and they feel very sorry, and they sort of it was really nice, but I would say that the only time that I dealt with some, somebody that was maybe a negative was at Princeton, there was this guy, some 18 year old kid. Apparently he's not one of the Israeli supporters I would say, is an understatement. And he had a weird comment. 

It took him actually 10 minutes to ask me a question, at the end of the lecture, I asked if anyone has any questions, and he asked me something. He was very embarrassed to ask me this. But he said something about should we feel bad for the Palestinians, they've been oppressed for many years, October 7th was legitimate, it should have happened, something in that kind of way. 

So instead of attacking him and try to humiliate him, or trying to make him look really bad, make him look silly, I told him, Look, I can talk to you about it. No problem. I'm not here to talk about politics or give you history lessons. I'm just here to tell my story, this is what happen. Again, I can get into it, but I wasn't really interested,I wasn't sure it was really appropriate to just get into that, because he just wanted to find some action. 

In terms of antisemitism or just being against Israel, I see it's a very broad trend, nowadays. I had this event with Douglas Murray the other day. And he said, this generation is Gen Z, you know, everyone wants to be an activist, everyone wants to be an influencer in some way. And people calling Israel, telling them they're calling colonialist or doing genocide, all that. It's very easy to use these buzzwords, okay, but most of the people don't even know what they mean.

Most of the people when they shout from the river to the sea, don't even know which sea or which river they're talking about. But a lot of these people feel a sense of meaning, oh, we're part of something, although they don't know 100%, where they're part of part of. 

So my mission, or one of my main meanings, is to educate people and telling them in a very simple way, what really happened because I'm the proof that October 7, I'm evidence to all this all this thing happened. So no one can actually tell me that this didn't happen.

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

Yoni, I am curious, how you are healing, how you are taking care of yourself, and whether these opportunities to speak about what happened are therapeutic, and what music is playing in your healing process?

Yoni Diller:  

Well, as I tell the story more, at some point I feel it comes out more easy and less challenging. As I tell it more, I feel I become stronger. You know, because you just can't keep this stuff in your stomach, you gotta share this stuff, and be very careful how you share it. 

I've read this book Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl,  I'm sure you've heard about it. And I read this book while I was doing this whole advocacy work, and, you know, doing this journey in the states, in Europe, and it gave me a lot of strength. And, and it was part of my healing process, you know, to have this meaning. 

But the main point wasn't really, you know, spreading the story everywhere. I mean, it was important, but how do I bridge that story to something more positive? So that was part of my healing process. In addition, I have friends and family that are very supportive. And I'm very lucky to have them. 

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

Do you encounter mostly Jewish audiences with whom you speak? Or do you encounter non-Jewish audiences and recipients?

Yoni Diller:  

It's mixed. It's mixed. Mostly mixed. A lot of them are Jews, though, because I was hosted by Hillel. So a lot of them were Jews. Also for security reasons. 

At that time, I decided to go to Harvard and MIT when there were all the riots. I went there by myself to speak and they had to make sure everything's secure and they had police on the outside, the inside, it really kept everything very safe. 

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

And did you get any surprising reactions from non-Jewish audience members?

Yoni Diller:  

Just from that incident in Princeton, but if the event was more like for everyone, I'm sure I would get responses from so many other people. And it would be a disaster, it would just be a mess because it would be me probably arguing with a couple of kids screaming stuff like free Palestine and stuff, things that have no connection to what I came for. And, you know, just misses the whole purpose. So we try to do something more organized, more the Jewish crowd, because let me tell you this, okay. 

A lot of Jews, Israelis that live in the States, whoever it is, the campuses, they know what happened, but most of them don't know from a survivor or someone who's really there. In addition, a lot of them don't have the self confidence to combat this antisemitism and hate in their surroundings, they feel afraid to stand up. 

I mean, if I survived it, I’m just a simple Ashkenazi guy from Ra’anana. And, you know, I survived it. You know, I wouldn't consider myself a big hero. I mean, I was very lucky. And again, you know, I've been through hell. But the last thing I should do is be silent and just stay home. I got to speak up. Hey, guys, look this is what happened, you know, get your head up. People are in a much worse situation, you have no reason to be afraid. We went through the Holocaust, we’ve been through, you know, 3000 years of hell. And we've always survived. So we're resilient. And that's kind of the message that I came to convey. 

You know, that's one of the reasons I'm there to speak. Again, you cannot fight antisemitism with the other side's kind of method, let's say, they would scream stuff, and be violent. You can't play that game. Let them yell and play that game or spread their lies. 

What you should do is, you know, you gotta really pick your crowd, like I said, You got to pick your people. You got to be more united, you got to speak, you got to spread facts. That's what you should do, every Jew in the world. Because we're stronger than ever. Nothing can break us. History has shown it.

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

Yoni, do you think that you will return to the supernova festival or any other music festival? Do you think you'll dance again?

Yoni Diller:  

I’ll even dance more. You know, this is what they want, disregarding what happened and everything. I guess that these terrorist organizations, not only they want to, like physically hurt you, they will also want to mentally break you, okay? And they want you to fear them. So the last thing you should do is be afraid of that. So you got to do the opposite. They probably would want me not to dance anymore, not to go to these festivals or just not enjoy my life. I'll do the opposite. I will go and I'll dance even more often. Or I'll just you know, create more joy. And that's one of the ways to really combat this battle. 

So to your question. Yes. I will not stop, maybe it'll take me some time. I'm not sure if I'm so ready. But slowly, you know, you got to really listen to yourself first. That’s the most important.

Manya Brachear Pashman:  

Yoni, thank you so much for sharing your story and I hope to see you dancing again very soon.  

Yoni Diller:  

Hey, thank you so much for having me. Hopefully, people can hear this and they can spread the word.

Manya Brachear Pashman:

If you missed last week’s episode, be sure to tune in for my conversation with another Supernova survivor Tal Shimony as she discusses the genesis of the exhibit 'Nova 6.29,' where the community aims to tell their story and honor those killed and taken hostage. Tal guides us through the horrors she witnessed during the deadliest attack on a music event in history.