Kathleen Luken | Nashville Christian Family Magazine - Free Christian Magazine

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 prey 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 an American Christian victim of Palestinian Arab terror, remembering Kristine was an imperative, as was comforting her American family who were 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’s 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.

On the 12th anniversary of Kristine’s murder, Kathleen spoke in public for the first time. Twelve 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 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 seemed to signify a turning point. 

According to Jewish tradition, at 12 a girl becomes a bat mitzvah, symbolizing the transition from childhood to the responsibilities of adulthood.  Can 12 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 wasn’t ready to speak with others listening or asking 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 afterward, she was uncomfortable listening.

What were the takeaways, the transformations that Kathleen has gone through the past 12 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 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 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 is an oversight that’s corrected.

Kathleen relates that she has no experience as 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 unchartered waters.” Not only are she and her suffering 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.

Kathleen shared how Israel’s legal and judicial system fell short, unthinkably so. She is comforted that the terrorists were caught and sentenced to life in prison, the story behind which is one of quick-thinking bravery on Kay’s part, speedy investigations, indictment, and trial. Kathleen related something that would never have happened with the family 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, much less so the terrorists sitting meters away, would understand in Arabic.

Kathleen referred to the terrorists as “animals” and is horrified that people could behave that way.  She’s 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 some exchange of prisoners. While she forgives them as a Christian, an uneasy thought for Israeli Jews and other terror victims, she nonetheless feels that they should remain locked up for life.

In the past, the idea of coming to Israel would create trauma. We didn’t discuss if she’d ever go to the site of 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 on the tarmac or jetway upon arrival is a distant step from this point.

Knowing from past conversations that there are any number of topics that can trigger Kathleen’s grief, 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 details.  As we started, it clearly became too emotional. I asked Kathleen if she’d like me to tell what happened, to which she replied, nodding while holding back tears.

The point was not to recount how gruesome and personal Kristine’s murder was, and it was. Rather, on the anniversary of her murder, the objective was remembering 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 national media honors the memory of the victims. So if nothing else, this was an opportunity to share a about Kristine, her life, her faith as a Christian, and how through that she developed a great love for Israel and the Jewish people, where she died among us.  

May Kristine’s family continue to be comforted as we remember her and her life.

Jonathan Feldstein, President, Genesis 123 Foundation, www.genesis123.co

Genesis 123 Foundation’s mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians with Israel in ways that are new, unique, and meaningful.  

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