A British-Israeli woman is mourning her “angel and hero” boyfriend who returned three times to the massacre at the Supernova rave to extract people before being murdered himself”.
Law student and model, Jessica Elter, 27, had been inseparable from her boyfriend, Ben Shimoni, 31, since they began dating six years ago. She decided not to attend the rave in southern Israel for the first time this year.
She told the JC: “From the first minute we met, he was my 24/7. We did absolutely everything together, and now, suddenly, it’s gone quiet.”
Active in Israel’s party scene, Jessica and Ben had gone to them regularly together. They had been to the annual Nova festival in Re’im several times before. “Nova was for everyone, it included everyone; all kinds of people, of all ages, backgrounds and countries, all just coming together to hear good music and for peace,” she said.
Jessica decided to skip this year, staying at home in their apartment in Ashkelon — the first time they had not attended a party together.
She had grown closer to Judaism in the last few months and felt “a calling” to keep Shabbat, a decision which ended up saving her life.
On that Saturday morning, October 7, Jessica was woken up by sirens which continued to blare throughout the morning. Terrified in her safe room, she decided to break Shabbat to call Ben.
Jessica said: “In the first few hours of chaos, the television was telling us there were between 40 and 50 terrorists who had come over from the Gaza border, which is what I relayed to Ben. But actually, we found out later, it was much, much more, at over 2000.
“I asked him to go away from there, but he was in his car alone at that point. He decided he was not going to leave the area by himself and drove back to take five people with him. It was the kind of person he was.”
After evacuating five strangers from danger by driving them further up north, Ben went back to retrieve more. He drove back into the carnage three times that morning to save people, all the while on the phone to Jessica.
She said: “While he was driving, I would hear shooting and rockets exploding, one which landed very close to the car, but still he was more worried about me. He told me to shut the doors and be careful, and to take care of his mum who was staying with us.”
During his third trip, carrying three girls in the car, a helpless Jessica heard her boyfriend’s last moments.
“Suddenly, I heard Ben asking, confused but not afraid, if some people in the road were Hamas terrorists or Israeli police.
“I heard the girls in the back screaming and pleading with Ben at the top of their lungs to ‘Drive, drive, drive’.
“I heard a lot of yelling in Arabic and a big crash, some shooting and, after a minute of quiet the phone just hung up.”
It took five days before Jessica and Ben’s family got confirmation that he had been murdered. He and the woman in the passenger’s seat had been shot, found some ways away from the car. Ben saved the lives of at least nine people.
The bodies of the two women who were in the back of Ben’s car were never found and are assumed to be hostages within Gaza.
Jessica now wishes for their safe return, and through whom she might eventually learn more about Ben’s final moments.
“He was shy, loyal, very honest with every person he met, and never said no to someone in need. He always put others before himself, truly. He had the best heart ever. And the thing he did that morning testifies to the person he was,” Jessica said.
Ben and Jessica had plans to move to London to open a restaurant, meetings for which he had had just earlier in the week before his death.
Jessica was born and grew up in Israel, but her father, dental surgeon Dr David Elter was born in Liverpool and lived in Leeds and Manchester. He made aliyah in 1986.
Jessica now feels it is her “mission” to keep Ben’s memory alive by sharing his story. “The love I have felt from all over the world by those willing to listen, from New York to Paris and India, has kept me strong.
“This is the only thing I can do for him now,” she said. “He was like an angel, and my hero, nobody else I know would risk their lives like that.”