“What do you think about when you’re being murdered?” Kay Wilson asks a hushed group of women in Modi’in who have gathered to hear her recount what went through her head on December 18, 2010 during what she was certain were the final moments of her life.
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Wilson, a British-born Israeli tour guide, had been hiking in a forest outside Beit Shemesh that Saturday with her American friend, Kristine Luken, when they were attacked by two Palestinian terrorists, one of whom plunged a butcher’s knife into her 13 times and left her for dead; she heard the last cries of Luken, as she was killed by the other assailant a few meters away. Sure that she too would be dead within minutes, Wilson says she felt, even more than pain, deep sorrow. “With each plunge of the knife I found myself regretting something that I would no longer experience – music, sunsets, holding a friend’s hand.”
When the knife ripped through her lung she recited “Shema Yisrael” and prepared to die.
Wilson, 48, tells her audience – a class of women learning self-defense – how she decided to use her last bit of strength to return to the trail in the forest. “I could still choose one thing – and that was where to die.
“I wanted them to be able to find my body, to prevent my loved ones from [enduring] the pain of wondering what happened to me. I also hoped this would make it easier to track down our murderers; I wanted justice.”
Wilson, a jazz pianist, concentrated on the chords of a favorite song, “Over the Rainbow,” in order to distract herself from the paralyzing thoughts of her dying friend. Bound and gagged, with a punctured lung and shattered ribs, she trudged over a kilometer, all the while replaying chords in her head, until she encountered a couple of picnicking families who brought help.
Making her way back to the forest path was just the beginning of Wilson’s journey back to life – one that has included six months of trauma therapy, battles with bureaucracy that nearly broke her and the loss of her livelihood, anonymity, and innocence.
Yet her recovery has also been marked by a string of extraordinary gestures, some that in their goodness and wonder almost rival the power of the evil she faced that day in the woods. Sitting on the balcony of her rented apartment in Modi’in, Wilson recalls these between cigarette puffs.
“The first person to visit me in hospital was the Arab bus driver of the tour company I worked for.” The ring she is wearing, inscribed with “Shema Yisrael” is a gift from him, she notes.
Her attacker’s last act had been to remove the Star of David pendant she wore around her neck and stab her there. “Strangers heard the story and sent me Stars of David – I have a huge collection of them,” she smiles, fingering one she’s now wearing.
Perhaps the most extraordinary tale is that of the Star of David she had on during the attack. The motive of the terrorists, according to their confession, had been simply to kill Jews. To Wilson, therefore, that Star of David assumed great meaning – symbolizing both her own personal survival and that of the Jewish people. When the police returned it to her, she decided to have it displayed in a piece of olive wood, as a keepsake. When she brought the trinket to the home of an olive wood artist – whose name she got through word of mouth -- it was still in the transparent envelope of the forensic lab. The artist stared at the Star of David and said: “I’ve seen this before. I’ve held it.”
The man, who carves olive wood as a hobby, was a police officer in the forensic lab. It was his signature on the envelope. He had analyzed the DNA on the Star of David, which helped identify her assailant.
“How do you explain that?” Wilson marvels.
Her recuperation has also included grimmer episodes, like the humiliating sessions in which clerks calculated her state disability allowance by measuring the length of her scars with a tape measure. “Write down seven centimeters by two – no, make that three, Mazal,” she says in a painfully droll recollection of the scene.
Her detailed description of the attackers – and a wound she inflicted on one of them with her penknife -- led to the capture of not only her assailant and Luken’s murderer, but also to 11 other members of the same terror cell responsible for, among other acts, the murder of Zichron Yaakov resident Netta Blatt-Sorek, also killed while hiking outside Jerusalem, in February, 2010.
A talented musician, who used to do gigs in Tel Aviv, Wilson has written and recorded her very personal and powerful version of “Over the Rainbow,” which she dedicates to her slain friend, Luken, and to Blatt-Sorek.
Unable to work as a tour guide – “I don’t have the same emotional resources that I used to”– Wilson now gives lectures, including ones on survival to the Israel Defense Forces, and others in which, equipped with a keyboard, she illustrates basic elements of jazz, like improvisation, by recounting her ordeal. She is also working on a book about her experience.
“It will take me a lifetime to get over this.” But that’s more than she thought she had ahead of her that Saturday in the forest.