Matan Rosenberg was 17 years old when he was killed by Hamas militants outside of a music festival near the Israel-Gaza border. He was the beloved nephew of two Santa Clarita Valley residents, one of whom, his uncle, is currently in Israel to assist Matan’s parents.
He was a senior in high school and hadn’t even really begun his life, said his aunt, Lital Rosenberg. Matan had regularly visited Lital and her husband, Tamir, in Stevenson Ranch. She said her nephew loved to play soccer, had lots of friends and loved music — which led him to the Nova music festival in rural Israel on Oct. 7, near the Gaza border.
“He went to this, you know, music festival, which was all about peace and love and happiness and everybody together,” said Lital.
In the early-morning hours, Hamas fighters launched the most coordinated attack ever to take place on Israel’s soil — an attack that killed approximately 1,300 civilians and Israeli military personnel.
At the festival, hundreds of innocent people were shot and killed as they attempted to flee. Many were also taken hostage.
Matan had gone to the festival with three of his uncles. As they fled the grounds, they got stuck in traffic. This traffic jam was the site of a massacre — there was nowhere for anyone to flee, including Matan and two of his uncles. The third uncle was injured by shrapnel.
His two uncles were killed immediately but the status of Matan was unknown. With news that hostages were taken, his family held out hope that he may be alive. This hope was dashed 10 days later, after his parents submitted DNA, like so many others did to help identify the approximately 250 bodies found at, and surrounding, the festival grounds.
“For those first 10 days we still had a little bit of hope … but 1,400 people, most of them civilians, children, women, elderly people. Each of them have a story and none of them deserve this, obviously,” said Lital.
When the attack broke out in the early hours of the end of Sukkot, a weeklong jewish holiday, Tamir and Lital tried to stay in constant contact with close family members in the area; their extended family includes thousands of people living in Israel.
Their family had experienced war before, but they felt this time it was different. It was too large, too organized for something they were used to.
Tamir called his brother — Matan’s father Izik — for updates on the situation. Izik informed Tamir that he had been trying to call Matan repeatedly but that there was no answer.
“They were there in that music festival and we tried to call them and no one is calling back. They cannot contact them and as time goes, we heard what’s going on. It actually was like, (they were) absolutely executing people,” said Tamir, in an interview conducted via Zoom. “(They) just went after the kids. The kids tried to run away and they went after them … just shooting and shooting and shooting.”
Tamir went to great lengths to go to Israel as soon as possible, but after all flights in and out were canceled, he found the only way was through an Israeli airline — which was completely booked. One flight had an available seat but was flying out of Boston. His determination led him to take numerous connecting flights from Los Angeles and he was able to make the flight.
Tamir helped Matan’s parents plan and carry out the funeral. Lital worries for his safety while he’s there.
“Yes. We have his location active on his phone so I can always see from my computer screen exactly where he is. I have the news directly from Israel on 24/7. But, you know,
having said that, I totally understand that he needs to be there right now,” said Lital.
“It’s not about being afraid to be here, it’s about (being) careful here,” said Tamir. “We have a special application that’s connected to all these systems here. So if there are some missiles in some area, immediately you get a pop-up … (you have) between 30 seconds to one minute to find the shelter … It’s a daily thing. Every day, three or four times a day.”
Tamir said daily life is severely disrupted as more and more people are being called into the military reserves. Train lines are disrupted, multiple shops and banks are closed and many companies are not working as they used to due to labor shortages.
Tamir and Lital said they wanted readers to know that Israel is a modern, westernized place where something like this does not happen regularly. She reiterated that while Israel always lived under the constant threat of violence, something like what is happening now is entirely unique. The daily lives of people in Israel can easily be compared to daily life in the United States, she said.
This was evident in Matan’s father’s story of his son’s hopes, which he told The Signal about from his family’s home in Dimona via Zoom.
“All the kids that went there were very close friends, not just family but close friends. They played together, laughed together, enjoyed together, traveled together and all they wanted is just to go to a simple music festival to enjoy life,” said Izik, via Tamir, who acted as a translator. “This so opposite to what happened on the other side of the border … Matan loves to travel in the U.S. and in Santa Clarita where (Tamir and Lital) live … (We) wanted to start the next trip again in the Santa Clarita area for a few days and get to do some road trips.”