According to Jewish tradition, at age 13, one becomes a bar mitzvah, symbolizing the transition from childhood to the responsibilities of adulthood. However, 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?
Thirteen years ago, on Dec. 18, 2010, Kristine Luken was murdered in a gruesome terrorist attack in Israel. 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 prey for their victims. Kristine and Kay were stabbed multiple times. Miraculously, Kay survived. In her last minutes, Kristine cried out to Jesus in pain, and probably fear and dismay.
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’ve initiated projects in her memory because, as an American Christian victim of Palestinian Arab terror, remembering Kristine was an imperative. And so was comforting her American family who were far outside of Israel’s support network which understands, consoles and offers assistance terror victims and their families.
Over the years, I’ve developed a particularly close relationship with Kristine’s twin sister, Kathleen. She has shared details about her sister, her loss, challenges to her faith, and more. I’ve written articles about Kathleen and also from her perspective. Until now, Kathleen has been hesitant, even uncomfortable, to share her views publicly.
Now, 13 years later, Kathleen is speaking out in public for the first time. While one learns to live with loss, the reality of the loss of a sister – a twin sister, no less – and murdered in such a horrible and inexplicable way, it doesn’t take much to scratch through the surface to reveal the pain. While the pain is still prevalent, our conversation this year seemed to signify a turning point.
Though Kathleen didn’t feel ready to speak with others while they listened or asked questions, she was comfortable speaking to me alone, as we have done many times before. This time, we recorded it for my Inspiration from Zion podcast, though afterwards, she was uncomfortable listening to it.
What were the takeaways, the transformations that Kathleen has gone through over the past 13 years?
Kathleen still feels that she mourns alone. As a Christian, she’s had unique challenges to her faith. She speaks about how Kristine led her to faith, something that’s challenged her, but ultimately been a bedrock of comfort to her.
As a relative of a terror victim in Israel, she feels very much alone in America. While she doesn’t know any differently, and doesn’t have expectations otherwise, it seems that neither Israel’s Foreign Ministry nor other governmental 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 will be corrected.
Kathleen related that she has no experience as to how family members of terror victims in Israel are treated, saying, “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 unchartered waters.”
Not only is she and her suffering largely unrecognized, in American culture there’s more of an expectation to get over it and move on, whereas in Israel, it’s understood and accepted that loss due to war and terror are things that become part of ones DNA.
Even though Israel’s legal and judicial system fell short, Kathleen said she is comforted to know that the terrorists were caught and sentenced to life in prison, due to Kay’s quick-thinking and bravery, as well as a speedy investigation process, indictment and trial.
Kathleen related something that would never have happened to relatives of an Israeli victim. After the trial, when Kay’s parents and brother were asked to make a victim impact statement, there was no official court representative to translate their pained words into Hebrew for the court record, let alone for the terrorists sitting meters away, so they would understand in Arabic.
Kathleen referred to the attackers as “animals” and said she was horrified that people could behave that way. She’s also horrified that terrorism is celebrated by the Palestinian Authority, with the notion that her sister’s murderers receive a monthly stipend as part of the P.A.’s “Pay-to-Slay” policy. She fears that one day, Kristine’s murderers will walk free as part of some exchange deal for prisoners. She can forgive them as a Christian – an uneasy thought for Israeli Jews and other terror victims – but nonetheless feels that they should remain imprisoned for life.
In the past, the thought of coming to Israel would create trauma for Kathleen. We didn’t discuss if she’d ever go to the site where Kristine took her last breaths. However, Kathleen indicated for the first time that she might be open to visit one day, for the closure, and maybe even to confront the terrorists. However, the trip remains a thought
From past conversations, I’ve seen that certain topics can trigger Kathleen’s grief, so when it came to discussing Kristine’s murder, I approached it gingerly.
The attack was horrific, but I feel no need to go into details.
But the point was not to recount how gruesome Kristine’s murder was…and it was. Rather, on the 13th anniversary of her death, the objective was to remember her. 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 local media honors the memory of the victims. So, if nothing else, this was an opportunity to share about Kristine: her life, her faith as a Christian and how, through that, she developed a great love for the Jewish people and for Israel, where she died among us.
May Kristine’s family continue to be comforted as we remember her and her life.
Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian websites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He is host of the popular Inspiration from Zion podcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.