Kristine Luken was murdered in a gruesome terrorist attack in Israel on December 18, 2010. She and her friend Kay Wilson were victims of a calculated Palestinian Arab plot: The terrorists had been hiding on a popular Judean mountain hiking trail, armed with massive knives, lying in wait for their victims. Kristine and Kay were stabbed multiple times. Miraculously, Kay survived.
I’ve become friends with Kay, a survivor on every level. But as a survivor, her scars run deep. Through Kay, I felt like I knew Kristine. Over the years, I initiated projects in her memory because, as she was an American Christian victim of Palestinian Arab terror, remembering Kristine was imperative, as was comforting her American family – who are far outside Israel’s support network that understands, consoles and supports terror victims and their families.
I’ve developed a particularly close relationship with Kristine’s twin sister, Kathleen. Over the years, she has shared details about her sister, her loss, challenges to her faith, and more. I’ve written articles about her and from her perspective. Until now, Kathleen has been hesitant, even uncomfortable, to share her views publicly.
Now, on the 13th anniversary of Kristine’s murder, Kathleen spoke in public for the first time. Thirteen is not a significant number per se, not more than 10 years, or 15 or 20 years. While one learns to live with loss – the reality of the loss of a sister, a twin sister no less, who was murdered in such a horrible and inexplicable way – it doesn’t take much to scratch through the surface to reveal the pain. Although the pain is still prevalent, our conversation seemed to signify a turning point.
According to Jewish tradition, at 13 one becomes a bar mitzvah, symbolizing the transition from childhood to the responsibilities of adulthood. Can 13 years also be a milestone in the healing from loss in general, and specifically in the case of a brutal murder by terrorists?
Though Kathleen isn’t ready to speak if others are listening or asking questions, she was comfortable speaking to me alone, as we have done many times before. This time, however, we recorded it for my “Inspiration from Zion” podcast, though afterward she was uncomfortable listening to it.
WHAT WERE the takeaways, the transformations that Kathleen has gone through in the past 13 years?
Kathleen still feels that she mourns alone. As a Christian, she has had unique challenges to her faith. She speaks about how Kristine led her to faith, something that has challenged her but ultimately has been a bedrock of her comfort. But as a family member of a terror victim in Israel, she feels very much alone in America.
While she doesn’t know differently, and doesn’t have expectations otherwise, it seems that neither Israel’s Foreign Ministry nor other government representatives have been in touch all these years. This bothers me as an Israeli Jew. I know the kind of support network that others in Israel have, and this is missing. I don’t know if and how other American, or non-Israeli, families of terror victims are integrated into the national mourning in Israel, but I vowed to make sure that this oversight is corrected.
Kathleen relates that she has no idea how family members of terror victims in Israel are treated. “I’ve never met anyone who has lost a loved one to terrorism. I searched to find someone who could understand and relate [to my loss, to] help me navigate these uncharted waters.”
Her suffering has been unrecognized, since in American culture there tends to be an expectation to “get over it and move on.” In contrast, in Israel it is understood and accepted that loss due to war and terror are things that become part of a person’s DNA.
She is comforted that the terrorists were caught and sentenced to life in prison, due to Kay’s quick-thinking bravery, as well as speedy investigations, indictment and trial. But she shared how Israel’s legal and judicial system fell short, unthinkably so.
She related something that would never have happened with the family of an Israeli victim. After the trial, Kay’s parents and brother were asked to make a victim impact statement, but there was no official court representative to translate their pained words into Hebrew for the court record or into Arabic for the terrorists who were sitting meters away.
Kathleen referred to the terrorists as “animals” and is horrified that people could behave that way. She is also horrified that terrorism is celebrated in the Palestinian Authority, as well as the notion that her sister’s murderers receive a monthly stipend as part of the PA’s “pay to slay” law. She fears that one day Kristine’s murderers will walk free as part of a prisoner exchange. While she forgives them as a Christian – an uneasy thought for Israeli Jews and other terror victims – she nevertheless feels they should remain locked up for life.
IN THE PAST, the idea of coming to Israel would create trauma for her. We didn’t discuss if she would ever go to the site where Kristine took her last breaths. However, Kathleen indicated for the first time that she might come to Israel one day, to have closure, and maybe even confront the terrorists. However, taking the first steps upon arrival is a distant thought for her at this point.
I knew from past conversations that there are several topics that can trigger Kathleen’s grief, so when it came to discussing Kristine’s murder, I approached it gingerly. Her murder was horrific, but I felt no need to go into details. Partly to avoid triggering something that would make her uncomfortable, I asked if she’d walk through the details. As we started, it clearly became too emotional. I asked Kathleen if she’d like me to recount what happened, to which she replied, nodding while holding back tears.
The point was not to describe how gruesome and personal Kristine’s murder was, and it was. Rather, on the anniversary of her murder, the objective was to remember Kristine. As much as I feel I knew Kristine, the best one to talk about her and her life was her twin, her “womb-mate.”
On the anniversaries of terror attacks and wars, as well as our national Memorial Day, Israelis come together to remember. Our national media honors the memory of the victims. So if nothing else, this was an opportunity to share Kristine’s life, her faith as a Christian, and how she developed a great love for the Jewish people and Israel, where she died among us.
May Kristine’s family continue to be comforted as we remember her and her life. ■
The writer is president of the Genesis 123 Foundation and RunforZion.com, which builds bridges between Jews and Christians. [email protected]