Penina Taylor
Penina Taylor
Inspirational and Motivational Speaker, Author and Coach

The witch hunt

As a professional kiruv (Jewish outreach) worker and counter-missionary, I take my duty to keep Jews Jewish very seriously. So, when stories began to come out recently about a victim of terror who has become an in-demand speaker for pro-Israel groups and is also a missionary, you better believe it got my attention. If someone were using her position and access to Jewish people to reach out to them with the Christian faith in any form, I would need to do something about that.

I was already living in Israel – in Beit Shemesh, in fact – when the news broke. It was December 2010 and two women had been out hiking in a forest near Beit Shemesh when they were attacked by two Arab terrorists. The two women were Kay Wilson and her friend, Kristine Luken. Luken was an American Christian missionary visiting Israel and Kay was a Jewish immigrant from England who was a tour guide. Kristine was brutally murdered – stabbed multiple times, and Kay almost so. Kay attributes her survival to pretending to be dead already and not moving as the attacker continued to thrust his knife into her.

This is not the stuff for wimps. Every time I even think about the scene I get chills and want to cry. I cannot understand, even in the smallest amount, the barbarity of some people. And I certainly cannot begin to understand what Kay went through, watching her friend butchered, being attacked herself and then being pretty sure she was about to die.

But what is worse than even the physical scars and the memories that she retains from the attack are the wounds that others have inflicted on her since the attack. At first she was accused of committing the murder herself – no clue how her accusers thought she got the wounds she sustained. And then there was all the controversy around how the state of Israel should be treating these “missionaries” who although victims of terror, really had no business being in Israel in order to convert Jews.

And now, almost exactly four years later, Kay is again being attacked. This time it’s not by Muslim extremists who want her dead, but by well-meaning Jews who think they know what they are doing, but they don’t.

Just a couple of weeks ago I began to see Kay’s name coming up in Facebook threads, and quite honestly I didn’t know what to think. I happened to have a conversation with a mutual friend who mentioned what was going on and suggested I have a look into it. I actually found some disturbing information – Kay has worked for several missionary organizations as a teacher and a tour guide. Teaching Christian tourists about the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Showing them Israel from within the New Testament, among other things. Pretty damning evidence, no?

Maybe, but maybe not. Not being one to listen to loshon hara (negative speech), I decided to take matters into my own hands and speak with Kay directly – something her accusers should have done before writing extensive “reports” recently published about how dangerous she is to our people. What I found out is quite different than the picture these reports are painting.

In order to appreciate a work of art, one must understand nuances – shades, shapes, brushstrokes – there’s a lot that goes into art besides the picture at the end. Human beings are also works of art, wonderfully complex and about so much more than what things may look like on the outside.

What I discovered is that Kay is a Jewish woman who has a love for the land of Israel, hence why she became a tour guide, and a fascination with the Second Temple period, which happens to coincide with the stories in the New Testament. Being a mostly non-observant, open-minded, egalitarian type of person, she has no problem with Christians being Christian or anyone for that matter, believing in whatever way makes sense for them.

In that, Kay and I diverge significantly. To her faith is fluid, truth uncertain and life too short to be dogmatic about anything. Kay has said that faith is the freedom to say “I don’t know” – definitely different from my own definition – I believe that Faith is the ability to say “I know” because I have what to rely on – a history of divine intervention which tells me that I can know, I can know that there is a G-d and I can know that He loves us, and I can know that He is actively involved in our lives and that because of that I can know that even the bad has a divine purpose.

So why then would I jump to her side, pick up her cause? Why then would I be interested in challenging her attackers, many of whom are my colleagues of many years, trusted associates?

Because fourteen and a half years ago I moved into an Orthodox Jewish community with the goal of converting my Orthodox Jewish neighbors to “Messianic Judaism”. And fourteen and a half years ago, I learned some things that turned my faith upside down. In the end, I rejected the Christianity/Messianism that had been with me for half of my life and embraced Torah Observant Judaism.

I am a person who is very transparent – what you see is what you get. I am not good at lying, I couldn’t play poker to save my life. So, as I attempted to figure out my Jewishness and integrate into the local Jewish community, I was open about where I had come from – and that I needed the support of the community. A support that was not offered freely.

I was eyed with suspicion – after all, I had admitted that I had infiltrated the Jewish community with the goal of converting Jews, who is to say that I am telling the truth now? As a result, my daughter was kicked out of the local Jewish Girl Scout Troop and rabbis were handing down rabbinical rulings that no one was to have anything to do with me or my family. They did this without ever knocking on my door, or asking me who I was or what I believed.

If not for the inner courage that I had but was completely oblivious to, I would have packed up and left the community and Judaism for good. Instead, I confronted the Rabbis who were ruining my life without so much as lifting up the telephone before judging me and we met.

They changed their mind about me, and my standing in the community changed. Eventually my husband converted and all my children embraced Torah Judaism. We are now seeing the next generation being raised to love God, Torah, the Jewish people and Israel.

That experience taught me a very important lesson about getting all the information about someone before saying things that could permanently affect their lives. About giving people room to grow and be who they need to be – we are all on a journey in this life and no too people stand on the same place on the map.

So I investigated Kay Wilson. I found her to be a warm, spiritual, struggling, lost soul. She has been through a lot. She is not an Orthodox Jew, in fact there’s little about Kay that is “orthodox”. I know this bothers many of my colleagues. But she is also not a missionary, nor a threat to any Jewish people, vulnerable or otherwise.

Does she believe in Jesus? Yes, actually she does. She believes in him the way Rabbi Shmuely Boteach believes in him – a good Jew who, if the accounts are true, gave some good examples of how to live. She believes that its okay for a Christian to be Christian, and in that regard, she stands among Giants. Rabbi Boteach, Rabbi Riskin, and many others have held some of the same beliefs she does. Are they right? I don’t think so.

But that does not make her a Christian or a Missionary, and certainly she does not deserve the treatment she is getting from my esteemed and well-meaning but misguided colleagues. With all that she went through simply because she was a Jew living in Israel, she deserves a certain amount of respect. At least she deserves to be contacted by those who would accuse her.

But the truth is that she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology for being who she is. Except for God, and that’s between Him and her.

About the Author
Penina Taylor is a Jewish motivational and inspirational speaker, author, and coach. Although most well known for sharing the story of her spiritual odyssey to discover her Jewish faith, Penina's journeys of overcoming abuse, morbid obesity and health problems, as well as challenges in marriage give her a perspective on life that few can rival. Dubbed the Jewish female Tony Robbins by many, Penina has helped empower tens of thousands of people around the world.
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