Long Island Survivor Of Oct. 7 Attack On Israel Speaks Out

Natalie Sanandaji, a survivor of Hamas’s attack on Israel and a Great Neck native, speaks to reporters on Nov. 21. Behind her, from left, are Reps. Andrew Garbarino and Nick LaLota.
Michael Malaszczyk/Long Island Press

Natalie Sanandaji’s world was changed forever on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group Hamas launched its attack on Israel. She was joined by Rabbi Joel Levenson, Reps. Anthony D’Esposito, Andrew Garbarino, and Nick LaLota, and other elected officials on Nov. 21 at Syosset’s Midway Jewish Center to tell her story.

Sanandaji, a native of Great Neck, was attending the Nova Music Festival in Israel when the attack began.

“We decided to go back to our campsite and take a rest to wake up for the sunrise at the festival, which is the most exciting part for all festival goers,” Sanandaji said. “At around 6:30 a.m., one of our friends woke us up to let us know what the situation was. She came up to me and she told me, ‘I just want you to be alert. I want you to know that a few rockets have been intercepted overhead. But it’s okay. It’s fairly normal for the area that we’re in.'”

Natalie Sanandaji tells her story, surrounded by various elected officials and religious leaders.Michael Malaszczyk/Long Island Press

At first, the group held out hope that Israel’s Iron Dome would repel the attacks, but it quickly became clear this was not an ordinary situation, and they had to leave the festival.

“On the way to the cars, I asked my friends if they thought it was okay for everyone to use the restrooms because we probably be stuck in traffic for a while,” Sanandaji continued. “About two weeks later, I saw a video that had surfaced of the Hamas terrorists going to those exact bathrooms, and shooting at every bathroom stall trying to kill anyone who’s hiding inside. But thankfully, I was in those bathrooms moments before they were there, and that’s why I’m able to be here today and speak.”

Festival security then advised people to get out of their cars and flee on foot, at which point Sanandaji was hiding in a ditch with some of her friends. She and a few others made the decision to keep going instead of staying there — and Sanandaji later found out those who stayed in the ditch had been killed. After running for hours, they rested under a tree, before eventually being rescued by an Israeli man in a white pickup truck.

In addition to calling for support to Israel, Sanandaji stressed the need to fight antisemitism in the United States.

“I don’t feel safe as a Jew here in New York, which is very unfortunate to say, as someone who grew up here.” she said. “I always felt that I could wear my Judaism with pride, that I never had to hide who I was I had never encountered antisemitism. But today I see my friends hiding their Jewish star necklaces under their shirts. I see my friends taking them as soon as those off their doors to protect themselves from being targets of antisemitism. We also have to fight for our rights to be Jewish here in the States.”

Rabbi Joel Levenson spoke shortly after Sanandaji, and demanded the release of all hostages. He gave a special mention to Long Islander Omer Neutra.

“Omer Neutra grew up here in Long Island, in Plainview,” Levenson said. “He actually became Bar Mitzvah here in this synagogue in October of 2014. And he turned 22, while being held a prisoner of Hamas just a couple of weeks ago. Omar is a natural leader when he was in high school, he was the captain of the soccer team. He was the captain of the volleyball team. He was the captain of the basketball team. He is a natural leader.”

Daniel Neutra, brother of Long Island native Omer Neutra who is currently being held captive by Hamas, speaks to reporters.Michael Malaszczyk/Long Island Press

Neutra’s brother, Daniel Neutra, spoke to reporters as well.

“He is probably the strongest person I know,” Neutra said. “He’s really funny, very charismatic, and just cares so deeply about everyone around him. He just, he just completely is a team player and he gives himself for everyone else whenever he can.”

Asked what he would like to say to his brother, Neutra said “just stay strong and know that we’re doing all we can.”

Reps. Andrew Garbarino, Anthony D’Esposito, and Nick LaLota all spoke of the need for the U.S. to support Israel.

“Over 1200 Israelis and other citizens were killed that day, more than any day since the Holocaust,” Garbarino said. “We can’t blame Israel for what it’s doing now. Those who committed these atrocities should be held accountable. And we should be standing right there with Israel and making sure that they can accomplish this and they can be safe again.”

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From left: Reps. Nick LaLota, Andrew Garbarino, and Anthony D’Esposito.Michael Malaszczyk/Long Island Press

LaLota likened Israel’s struggle with Hamas to the United States’ struggle with terrorists.

“America’s strongest ally is Israel, and Israel’s strongest ally is America,” LaLota said. “It’s that way, because we have two strongest things in common one, we were both nations born upon religious freedom. Those who chant Death to America are the same ones who want to wipe Israel off the map. And it’s that bond that ensures that the United States of America will always stand with Israel. What happened in Israel on Oct. 7 was wrong, Hamas is wrong, and Israel is right. Israel absolutely has not only the right to exist, but to defend herself and also to pursue those who committed those atrocities against her without any conditions whatsoever.”

D’Esposito stressed a now-or-never attitude towards aiding in the fight.

“Now is not the time to sit back,” D’Esposito said. “Now is not the time to wait. Now is not the time to wane or falter now it’s time to continue on the mission to eradicate Hamas from this earth. The atrocities that they have committed will go down in history books. Very often we say never again. Ladies and gentlemen, the only way to ensure that it doesn’t happen and that we can believe the term never again is to eliminate Hamas.”

Other elected officials who showed up to express support for Israel included Legislator Melesa Mazi Pilip, a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, State Senator Kevin Thomas, and Suffolk County Deputy Executive Jon Kaiman.