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A Rabbi Brings Unexpected Joy to a Woman’s Last Shabbat

A Rabbi Brings Unexpected Joy to a Woman’s Last Shabbat

A search on Chabad.org by a 94-year-old woman’s friend sets off a chain of mitzvahs

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Selma Rosenberg
Selma Rosenberg

Selma Rosenberg had lived a long and rich Jewish life. Born in 1922 in Philadelphia, she was raised in a robust Jewish milieu where Shabbat, Jewish holidays and community set the rhythm. After her marriage, she and her husband, Paul, relocated to Cheltenham, a suburb north of the city. There, she was an active member of her community and her congregation, and served two terms as president of the local chapter of Hadassah.

But all that was in the past.

Approaching her 95th birthday, home was now in an assisted-living facility in Peru, Ill., where her son had moved with his family. Surrounded by cornfields, Peru once had a Jewish community with a small but active congregation and a rabbi in nearby Spring Valley. But that had dwindled over the years.

By the time Selma had arrived in Peru—100 miles from Chicago, the nearest big city—a rabbi occasionally visited to conduct services for the few remaining stalwarts and made it a point to visit her as well. But that stopped, too, and it became rare for Selma to see a Jewish face.

Still, she had visitors. Her daughter in-law, who lived nearby, would come with the grandkids, and her son from Virginia made sure to call and see her as often as he could. And there were kindly local folks who made sure to visit residents in the facility. Among them were pastors of various Christian denominations, who included her on their rounds.

One priest, in particular, tried to convince her to convert to Christianity. “I’m happy to speak to you,” Selma told him during his last visit, “but you’re wasting your time. I was born a Jew, and if G‑d had wanted me to be something else, He would have made other arrangements.”

Recalling Her Mother’s Candles

In the spring of 2017, while on the phone with a friend, Marcia, Selma mentioned that it had been a long time since she had seen a rabbi and how meaningful such a visit would be.

Marcia conveyed Selma’s wish to her niece, Naomi, who promptly logged on to Chabad.org to find the closest Chabad center to Peru. Naomi discovered Rabbi Chaim Telsner, who had recently founded a Chabad center in Normal, Ill., about 60 miles to the south.

Rabbi Chaim Telsner
Rabbi Chaim Telsner

The rabbi called the number given to him, but there was no reply. After a few weeks, on May 6, a Friday, he decided to pop in. He took with him a pair of battery-operated Shabbat candles (most facilities do not allow real flames) and a challah baked by his wife, Chabad House co-director Rochel Telsner.

Once there, he found Selma in the dining room.

“I cannot believe it!” she gushed with an enthusiasm that belied her nearly 95 years. “It has been a long time since I have seen a rabbi.”

The two talked for more than an hour. They chatted about Selma’s childhood, about her children and grandchildren, her life experiences . . . and she clutched that challah with joy.

The Telsner children help prepare challah.
The Telsner children help prepare challah.

When he gave her the plastic candles, Selma shared memories of her mother’s own Shabbat candles and then proceeded to rattle off the blessing said before they are lit.

The two parted as friends, the rabbi resolving to visit the following Friday with his children.

But G‑d had other plans. Selma lit her candles that evening, ushering in the Shabbat Queen. The following night, after Shabbat had departed, she passed away in her sleep.



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Anonymous May 25, 2017

Amen! What a beautiful story and kiddush Hashem! Thank you! Reply

Judy Palm desert May 21, 2017

What a beautiful story, May Selma Rest In Peace.thank you Rabbi for being with her. may you bring many Challas to the Selmas of the world.
Judy Reply

Bruno Pacce Caris May 20, 2017

May God bless her soul.
Beautiful history. Just a minor correction: may 6 was a saturday. Reply

Anonymous USA May 20, 2017

By the way, people should know that they need to light real Shabbat candles except in places they are residing - like hospitals or senior living facilities - that do not allow real candles. Reply

Naomi Michigan May 20, 2017

Thank you, Rabbi Telsner for visiting Aunt Marcia's friend. It was very kind of you to visit even though Normal, Illinois is almost an hour away from Peru. And thank you chabad.org (as well as googlemaps) which helped me locate the nearest Chabad. I will think of Selma, שולמית בת דוד, when I do mivtzoim tomorrow and when I light my Shabbos candles. Reply

Anonymous Palm desert May 25, 2017
in response to Naomi:

Naomi,1 never knew Selma,
But just seeing her,1 know she was a sweet lady.

Judy Reply

Tatiana S. Moscow May 20, 2017

It's a very touching story indeed. Reply

sidney kim rancho cucamonga, ca May 20, 2017

Baruch HaShem. A wonderful story. It warmed my heart. HaShem bless you Rabbi Chaim Telsner. Reply

Jim Bilbrey Columbus, Indiana May 19, 2017

Thank you, Rabbi Chaim Telsner, for your kindness toward Selma, May her memory be a blessing. This story filled my heart with a bright warm glow. Baruch HaShem. Come House of Jacob, let us walk in the light! Reply

Denise Denise South Africa South Africa May 19, 2017




Surely a story of love undivided... Reply

Ingrid Sternberg South Africa May 25, 2017
in response to Denise Denise South Africa:

Rabbi Chaim Telsner,

This story really touched my heart. Thank you. Reply

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