On Nov. 5, Kay Wilson shared her life changing story with congregants at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood.
It was a crisp day in December 2010, ideal for a hike. Kay Wilson was taking advantage of the weather by walking the Israel National Trail in the Jerusalem Hills with her friend, Kristine Luken, when her life changed forever.
Wilson will never be able to forget the violence that took place. In a horrifying act of terrorism, she was brutally stabbed 13 times with a machete and Luken was butchered before her eyes.
On Nov. 5, Wilson shared her story with congregants at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood. StandWithUs-Philadelphia, the local branch of the international nonprofit organization supporting Israel around the world, hosted the event. Wilson also spoke at Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion Station, the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University during her time in the region.
“We can all learn from her ability to move forward after a tragedy while remaining a decent human being and hopeful,” said Joseph Puder, the executive director of the StandWithUs Philadelphia chapter.
Wilson is a British-born Israeli tour guide and jazz musician. She and Luken, an American friend, who was Christian, had taken a break from hiking and were eating sunflower seeds. As she spit some out, she saw two Arabs about 60 feet away. The Israel National Trail runs quite close to the Lebanese and Syrian borders, and she had an uneasy feeling the Arabs may have been terrorists.
“My heart missed a beat,” she said.
One of them saw her and asked for water in Hebrew and she replied, “Oh, I wish,” hoping they would go away. She gently nudged Luken to walk to the car, praying they would not see her backpack.
As they made their way to the parking lot, Luken began to scream as the two men came up behind them.
One man wrestled Wilson to the ground and she attempted to stab him in the groin with her penknife and hit this thigh instead. He eventually overpowered her and dragged her to her feet.
Then he took out a machete.
“When I saw the knife, I was drenched in sweat,” Wilson recalled. “My tongue felt like sandpaper.”
Then the terror began. They had no idea if they would be kidnapped, raped or killed, Wilson told the audience. She tried relentlessly to convince them to let them go, but her efforts were to no avail. They were then tied, gagged and pushed down on their heads.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the light glistening off his machete and I prepared for myself to be beheaded,” she said.
He stabbed her and she collapsed on her back.
“Each time he plunged the machete into me I can hear the bones crunch,” Wilson said.
She tried playing dead and when she looked up Luken was in pieces. The men left and Wilson, lying in a pile of blood figured it was over and she would soon die as well. Suddenly, she heard footsteps, and they returned, stabbing her one last time four millimeters from her heart.
“I wasn’t sure if I was dead or alive,” Wilson said. “I knew I wasn’t in hell because I couldn’t hear any country music.”
She figured she would be dead in a few minutes, but knew she had to try to walk. She gathered whatever strength she had left and began to limp her way up the mountain. As she trekked up the hills, she heard a cracking noise and gurgling, and realized it was her lungs filling with blood and her bones breaking.
“I was aware that the next step might be my last,” she said.
Somehow, she made it to her car, where people found her and called the police. She was in unimaginable pain. She had six snapped ribs, 30 fractures in her rib cage, bone splinters, a crushed sternum and a dislocated shoulder. Because of the severity of her injuries and the time that had elapsed, she had to be operated on initially without anesthetic.
The tabloids originally said she and Luken were lesbian lovers from America, but eventually the men — along with several of their terrorist brethren — were captured.
“In a moment, I was no longer a Christian tourist lesbian — I was now a hero,” Wilson exclaimed.
Sitting in court across from her attackers was painful. They showed no remorse and were actually smirking during the trial. She felt a rush of rage and recounted that she thought of killing them right there, but she maintained her composure. Ultimately, the men were sentenced to life in prison.
“I had this sense that an evil sickness was in the room,” she said. “How could two men, who were once little boys, grow up and slaughter two innocent women with a machete without blinking an eye?”
Life has not been easy since the attack. She will never forgive them, but she does her best to move past it. Every day is a struggle and she has some good days and some bad. She is grateful to be alive and always tries to smell the roses, be nice to people, be with friends, make people laugh and treasure each moment.
“Given what I’ve seen, how can I not lose my dignity and be swallowed up by hate?” she asked. “As much as I’ve lost stuff, I’ve gained so much.”
However, she is not filled with hate towards Muslims. During Israel’s fight against Hamas in Gaza in 2014, Israeli-Arab teenager Muhammad Zoabi went into hiding because his cousin, Israeli Knesset member Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Balad Party, initiated a fatwa against him for openly supporting Israel on Facebook. Wilson was instrumental in hiding Muhammad and helping shepherd him to safety in New York.
David Dunkelberger, a resident of Conshohocken, who is a supporter of StandWithUs, was blown away by her story.
“It was astonishing,” he said. “The fact that she is here today is a testimony to her character.”