As Kay Wilson prepared to stand silent for Israel’s Memorial Day siren on Tuesday night, to remember fallen soldiers and terror victims, she had a stark reflection.
“I was four millimetres from this siren being a memorial to me,” she said.
An English immigrant to Israel, Wilson’s life changed forever ten years ago, when she was the victim of a brutal machete attack by two Palestinians during a hike in a Jerusalem forest.
She remembers “seeing the sun glinting off a machete and preparing to be beheaded.” She recalls being stabbed — “butchered” — 13 times, pouring with blood, hearing her friend Kristine Luken being murdered a few steps away, and ensuring her own survival by playing dead.
Wilson later discovered just how narrow this survival was — had the knife moved by four millimetres she would be dead.
“When the siren goes off I first of all think of my friend Kristine,” she says. “And then I think of myself and how I was four millimetres away from a kaddish, four millimetres from people standing up to remember me.”
Wilson’s experience is as harrowing today as when she first told it: “It was half an hour at knifepoint, which is an eternity, not knowing if you’re going to live or die, watching someone being murdered.
“It’s not just the watching, it’s the listening, it’s the sheer helplessness of seeing a woman being murdered, praying to her God and begging for life, and not being empowered to do anything.”
Memorial Day is evocative for her, a special occasion to remember Luken — who was an American tourist and not buried in Israel — as part of the Jewish state’s narrative.
And it is a day that connects her trauma to the national story.
“I can’t see what happened to me in isolation,” she said. “Today it feels like part of a collective history, part of the story of a nation, of a people.”
The attack made her voice powerful in the discussion of Israel’s battle with terrorism, and she has spoken in many international forums including the United Nations Human Rights Council. Her interview with the Jewish News this week came just after she spoke to a American teenagers on gap year in Israel — one of many groups she is asked to address.
But it has also made her an inspiring figure for many on a personal level, for the strength she has shown, and for what she calls her “commission to choose life” and decision not to live the rest of her life “in hatred and fear.”
As she stands outside the lecture hall, smiling and joking, the teenagers approach her to express admiration. They tell her they feel strengthened by her story of pain, contrasted with her positivity.
“The attack is always present, because of my physical pain and my psychological pain,” she says. “It’s like looking through a distorted mirror, you can see it, it’s there, but as time passes memory changes.
“How has it changed me? It’s given me an appreciation of the present. It’s shaken the foundations of the belief we’ll all live until 95 and die in bed with pink sheets.
“It’s given me a mindfulness of the present, which has created gratitude for the small things and it’s put life in perspective.
“Things that I used to worry about, or which bothered me, really don’t bother me now.”
She reflects that the attack has the unexpected effect of “opening up my world,” saying that she had lived in Tel Aviv for 25 years at the time of the incident, and “hardly met a religious person.”
Telling her story, and meeting other victims, has brought her into contact with people of all faiths and none, from Israel and the Diaspora, and left her feeling “very enriched — and that’s an amazing blessing.”
The attack left her more able to connect with the pain and the challenges of others.
It has led her to take unusual decisions, including opening her home in 2014 to an Arab teen who got death threats after voicing support for the operation that Israel was fighting against Hamas at the time, and secretly hosting him for a month.
“What I have is not empathy exactly, because that infers you actually know how someone is feeling,” she states.
“I don’t. For example I’m not a mother and I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child to terror, to bury a child, but I want to be the friend of people who have gone through this.
“I want to be by their side.”
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