'What happened on Oct. 7, it’s my nightmares'

‘Beauty Queen of Jerusalem’ star opens up on Israel-Hamas war from afar

Promoting her new film ‘Kissufim’ — coincidentally the name of the kibbutz where 8 civilians, including kids, were massacred by terrorists — Swell Ariel Or says ‘my soul is sad’

The main cast of 'The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,' pictured from left to right: Rosa (Hila Saada), Gabriel (Michael Aloni), Luna (Swell Ariel Or), David (Israel Ogalbo), Merkada (Irit Kaplan). (Courtesy of yes Studios via JTA)
The main cast of 'The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,' pictured from left to right: Rosa (Hila Saada), Gabriel (Michael Aloni), Luna (Swell Ariel Or), David (Israel Ogalbo), Merkada (Irit Kaplan). (Courtesy of yes Studios via JTA)

JTA — In the month since Hamas’s attacks on Israel, Swell Ariel Or, star of the Israeli hit series “The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,” has been promoting her new film. But she admits she is not okay right now.

The title of her film is “Kissufim,” named after a real kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. Eight people were murdered at Kibbutz Kissufim on October 7, when Hamas terrorists stormed into southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking some 240 people captive. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many via horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

Or, 24, had moved to the United States just two weeks before October 7. “Beauty Queen” — which debuted in 2021 in Israel before heading to Netflix in 2022 — was her first true TV role.

Now the rising star is dealing with the traumatic aftermath of the attacks from afar, away from friends and family. She was previously a witness of a 2016 shooting on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv and has since been living through post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks.

“I don’t even want to think about the people who survived right now that got the most terrible news about their loved ones who are going to deal with the trauma of this and the echo of this for a long time,” she said.

“Kissufim” tells the story of a group of Israeli soldiers volunteering on the kibbutz in the 1970s.

Or spoke to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about her state of mind and how she is raising money for Israeli reservists.

Swell Ariel Or, left, and Odeya Rush, right, speak on a panel about Israel and entertainment at the Variety Hollywood & Antisemitism Summit in West Hollywood, California, October 18, 2023. (Araya Doheny/Variety via Getty Images via JTA)

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

JTA: How are you doing?

Swell Ariel Or: That’s become the most complicated question to answer. Physically, I’m okay. Which is a good thing. My soul is sad, like, sadness that I wasn’t aware exists in this world. And at the same, full of fire to fight. What happened on October 7, it’s my nightmares. And literally my nightmares for years, this is how it looks like. And I just couldn’t believe it’s real.

What’s it been like going through this experience abroad, away from Israel?

In Israel, you’re in a cocoon of support. And I never felt how the world sees this kind of thing, or sees us. But that was just the beginning, because I realized I’m more valuable here. I have a voice and I have to use it in the international arena of explaining to people what we’re dealing with. It opened the Pandora’s box of me understanding how the world sees us. Because, for me, Israeli people are the most honest people in the world. Sometimes too honest for a room. There are people here who are denying October 7. They say it never happened. Or if it did happen, then we deserve it because of 75 years of occupation.

I think it’s really important to focus on the fact that our war right now is not against the Palestinians. It’s against Hamas, a terrorist organization. People don’t understand it in their brains, and it’s crazy to me.

How have you been staying involved while in the United States?

A lot of my friends just got out of the army in the last few years. And due to COVID, they couldn’t travel. It’s a very Israeli cultural thing to do your big trip after the army. So I talked to them, and I realized that they had to pay for their flight back. Neither the government, nor the consul, took care of it, especially in the first few days of the war. And most of them didn’t want to wait for the government or the consul to have a solution. They just booked the flights as fast as they could.

Some of them were in small villages in India or Argentina, so far away from home, it took them two to three days to come back to Israel. And it was very expensive. And I realized it’s something that fell between the cracks, and so I found my piece of the puzzle to help people that really need it right now. So with my good friend, Leslie Schapira, we opened the Israel Reservists Fund. And our goal is to reimburse them for the tickets they already paid for. We have soldiers from all over the world, and the need is very high for it. And it’s tough, but our philosophy is to do whatever we can to bring their morale up because they left the safety of abroad and came back and dropped everything to protect us. And if we can take care of one little thing for them, we will do it.

Your new film, “Kissufim,” which recently premiered at the Orlando Film Festival, takes place near the Gaza Strip. What has it been like promoting the film right now?

The film is the story about the relationship between the kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip and the Gaza people in the 70s after the Yom Kippur War. And sadly, it’s never been more relevant than now, because it’s a mirror to what’s happening exactly right now: it’s people who want peace and freedom, and it’s been taken away from them by terrorists. And the film is very accessible, like films and cinema can do, very magically. I don’t know how films do it, but it’s like a superpower.

An Israeli soldier patrols next to a house damaged by Hamas terrorists at Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel, October 21, 2023. (AP/Francisco Seco)

We came to the premiere with hostages shirts on us. And we had police with us too, to make sure that we were safe. And honestly, we were really scared, but a tiny drop of hope: we won the best foreign film.

It was really touching to see that, especially now, there is room for hearing and seeing through the very important platform of films and art and storytelling, what’s going on right now in Israel.

How are your friends and family in Israel doing?

A lot of my friends are in the army right now, so every notification of another soldier dying, I’m getting a heart attack until I read. And not that it makes it any easier to read the name of someone that you don’t personally know — it breaks your heart exactly at the same level. And my family is in Tel Aviv and they’re physically fine. But, you know, it’s been a month of terrible news and rockets and terror and antisemitism, and I don’t think that any of us are okay.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: