A hug for Shani

(Courtesy of author)
(Courtesy of author)

I want to share with you a very powerful experience I had the other day at Shani Louk’s funeral. 

To remind you, Shani was 22 years old when she was captured, raped and killed by Hamas at the Nova Festival on October 7th and her body was held in Gaza for over 7 months.

The first thing that hit me when we arrived at the funeral was the beautiful diversity of the people who traveled from far and near to be with Shani as she was brought home and buried in the ground close to where she grew up and played as a child.

Religious, secular, old and young, Sefardi and Ashkenazi.

The typical beautiful mix of Jews in Israel.

But at the funeral there was another community represented that I don’t normally see. Shani’s community. The community of Nova. The free-spirited dancers and lovers of life who survived the tragedy of October 7th which Shani tragically did not.

Amongst them there was one guy who caught my eye right away. Kind of tall. Reddish hair. In his 20s. Tattoos and piercings. His face radiating love and hope together with sadness and brokenness.

Immediately a thought came into my mind, “Shani would love if he and I, two Jews, but two very different Jews, but two very-similar-Jews-because-how-different-can-two-Jews-really-be, gave each other a hug right here at her funeral as an expression of the love and peace and unity she believed in so much.”

I waited a while for the right moment, but the moment didn’t come.

Then the funeral ended and people started to leave.

I started to leave. I didn’t see him again.

And then, out of nowhere, he appeared, right next to me.

Knowing that this was my chance, I took a deep breath in, tapped him on the shoulder and said,

“Sorry to interrupt…I know this might sound strange…but I really feel that…Shani would really love if we gave each other a hug.”

His eyes lit up and he said, “Of course, brother. Please.”

And we hugged. And we hugged. We stood there hugging until we started to cry. Two strangers, but not strangers because no two Jews are strangers, hugging and crying a few meters away from Shani’s grave.

Through the tears we shared a few brief words and then the hug came to an end.

We said goodbye with one more hug. And then another.

I felt so close to this guy. Like an old friend. I could tell he felt the same way.

We blessed each other and thanked each other for that very special moment and then went our separate, but connected, ways.

It was one of those beyond moments that don’t come very often.

On some level, I felt like I had to drive two hours to the funeral for that hug.

Before October 7th, our nation was so broken. So much hate. So much anger. So much division. So much pain.

The only way forward has to be with love. With joy. With unity. With healing.

Though I never knew Shani, I know from social media and from the words that her friends and family spoke about her at the funeral that this was her path, this was her way, this was her prayer and this was her vision for the world.

But it has to be all of our paths, all of our ways, all of our prayers and all of our visions.

There’s no other way if we want to regain our national strength, heal our national pain and fulfill our national aspirations.

There’s no other way.

May we do it in honor and memory of Shani and the more than 1,500 souls who have been taken from us on and since October 7th.

May we do it in honor of the future we want to see for our people, in this land, in this world.

About the Author
Akiva Gersh moved to Israel from New York in 2004 and has been working in the field of Jewish and Israel Education for over 20 years. In 2020 he founded @Israel to share his love and passion for Israel with students, schools and communities around the world through his online classes, courses and virtual tours of Israel. Akiva is also the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (, a compilation of essays that gives an inside look at the unique experience of making aliyah and the journey of acclimating to life in Israel. He also created a social media platform called "Vegan Rabbi" through which he teaches about Jewish teachings related to health, animal welfare and environmental stewardship. Akiva lives in Pardes Hanna with his wife Tamar and their four kids.
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