Family still hopeful after 14 years

The Misheloff family is living proof that hope never dies.

A spirit of hope has kept Dublin residents Michael and Madelyne Misheloff holding on, 14 years after the abduction of their daughter, Ilene.

That same spirit prompted Dublin police this past week to reopen the unsolved case. Says Michael Misheloff, "Periodically, the Dublin P.D. will take a fresh look. Someone new to the case just might make a connection no one thought of before."

Since Ilene's disappearance on Jan. 30, 1989, just a few months after celebrating her bat mitzvah, police have had few leads to work with, and the trail has grown distressingly cold.

That doesn't stop Lt. John Hardester of the Dublin Police Department. "Periodically we open up the case file," he says, "including every supplemental report and every piece of info that's come in. We start at the beginning and go through the entire file, making sure every 'T' is crossed."

That dedicatio has been a source of comfort to the family. Says Ilene's mother, Madelyne Misheloff: "Having a kidnapped child doesn't mean you become an expert on finding one. The police are wonderful and have taken every opportunity to look at the case with new eyes."

And so the Misheloffs keep pressing the hunt, frequently drawing on the support of the clergy and congregants of Temple Beth Sholom. The family has belonged to the San Leandro synagogue for years.

"I don't know how we could have survived without them," says Michael Misheloff. "Judaism has been a solace for us in a number of different ways. I've known people who've been through what we have, and they end up losing their faith. Not in our case."

The feelings of affection and admiration are mutual. Beth Sholom Cantor Linda Hirschhorn had just started working at the synagogue when Ilene was snatched off the streets of Dublin on her way to ice skating practice.

"They're so amazing," says Hirschhorn of the Misheloffs. "I'm always struck by how upbeat they are. Anyone else would have been torn apart, yet there's something so tender and warmhearted about them."

Though true closure has eluded the family, the Misheloffs have found other ways to keep Ilene's name and face in the public eye. Every year around the anniversary of the abduction, they lead a large gathering of friends and supporters in a candlelight vigil down Amador Valley Boulevard, the Dublin street on which Ilene was last seen. This past Jan. 30 was no different.

"Rather than let this drift away as an unresolved thing," says Hirschorn, "this is a reaffirmation of her life, which is something we do in Judaism anyhow whenever we remember someone important to us. It's different from closure, but it's important anyway."

Adds Ilene's mother: "Getting her back requires that people know about her, know that we're looking for her. On a personal level, this is the No. 1 priority every day of our lives. We're not giving up on our child. That's just not an option."

Nor is it an option for police. "Everyone that works on this case has a strong personal commitment," says Hardester. "With new minds, new technology and new information, we always hope to solve the case."

The family, in association with Vacation Discounters, is organizing a seven-day Carnival Cruise to the Mexican Riviera in November. For every cabin booked, $175 will go toward an ongoing search effort.

"What drives us is that we can't give up on her," says Madelyne Misheloff. "If I stop looking for her, how could I ever explain to her."

Despite the unimaginable trauma, the family has managed to endure. Ilene's twin, Brian, and older brother, Robert, are grown and living their own lives. Ilene's parents enjoy synagogue life and feel buoyed by the love and support that surrounds them.

"We take it one day at a time," says Michael Misheloff. "We don't give up hope; we're lucky the police have not dropped the case, and we do have each other."

Still, the incalculable pain of Ilene's loss never goes away.

"I'm numb," says Madelyne Misheloff. "I'll go along and then there'll be a burst of emotion. The only way I get through life is: I wake up, look at Ilene's picture and say, 'I've got to get up because you're coming home today.'"

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.