Inspirational Stories

The Nun Who Learned About Keeping Shabbat

“Mom!” Susie, the eldest daughter, shrieked from the kitchen. “Someone disconnected the fridge from the electricity!” If such an event does not seem a reason to panic, think again. It was Shabbat night and the family was sitting around the table after Kiddush, waiting for the salads to be served —  that of course were stored in the refrigerator.Madame Kisus rushed into the kitchen after her daughter. “I can not believe it …” she faltered. The refrigerator's power cord gloomily hung over the side, clearly disconnected. “The salads are all right. You can eat them tonight,” said Madame Kisus.”Now, yes,” Susie agreed gloomily. “But in this heat, all the food will be spoiled by tomorrow.”

The family sighed. On the hotplate, a Moroccan stew was simmering — the sachina — that would be served tomorrow at noon. The family would not starve. But the salads? desserts? not to mention the chicken and the fish stored in the freezer? They were sure to get spoiled by Saturday night. The Kisus family lives in Marseille, France. They did not have Jewish neighbors to whose freezer they could transfer the contents of the freezer. The adults sighed, the little kids wondered who had played around with the fridge, and the entire family accepted the situation with resignation. It’s Shabbat. The refrigerator will remain disconnected until tomorrow night. Madame Kisus told her children to go back to the table and resume singing songs together with the guests. The Kisus family almost doesn’t have a Shabbat without guests: The Kisus home is an attraction for Jewish students studying in Marseille who find warm Jewish hospitality there. Joy of life is never lacking in this house, despite Mrs. Kisus being a widow and having a seriously ill little girl called Selby.

Selby Kisus suffered from muscular dystrophy — a serious illness that progressed relentlessly and which they knew was going to kill her at a young age. In France, where they lived, every family with a sick child was entitled to an accompanying nurse. Most of these nurses were Catholic nuns. Sister Sophie took care of Selby. She was a quiet nun who connected with the girl immediately and punctiliously fulfilled a variety of provisions that she didn’t understand: wash Selby’s hands … say with her Modeh Ani … do not mix dairy and meat dishes. Even now, as she sat next to Selby at the table and helped her drink, she said nothing about the family’s decision not to reconnect the refrigerator. The unpleasant Friday night incident was soon forgotten. Selby's condition continued to deteriorate, and Sister Sophie continued to care for her with devotion. But one day, without prior warning, she went to Madame Kisus with a gloomy expression on her face and said goodbye. “The Mother Superior decided that I have to stop working here immediately,” she explained. To Sister Sophie, the Mother Superior’s authority was unassailable.

Years later, when the Kisus family sat shiva for young, sweet Selby after she finally succumbed to her illness, Sister Sophie also showed up in the home in Marseilles. She hugged Madame Kisus, her eyes red from crying.”Selby loved you so much,” said Madame Kisus in gratitude to the nun. “We were so sorry when you left, you know.” “The Mother Superior forced me to leave,” explained Sister Sophie. “She was afraid that I would soon turn into a Jew myself.”The room was silent. All family members looked at her baffled. Sophie hesitated for a second, and then said: “I think it's time I tell you the truth … Remember the Shabbat where you found the fridge unplugged?”

After scratching their scalp, family members remembered that yes, they definitely remember that Sabbath, and not as a pleasant memory. “I was the one who unplugged the fridge,” Sophie surprised them. “I had never known Jews, and all of a sudden I came to you, and saw Jews who live with all the rules and commandments and keep them meticulously. I had to know if your belief was the real thing — or you were just pretending. I decided to cause you serious discomfort and check whether you violate your rules because of it. You stood in the trial! You didn’t reconnect your refrigerator to the electricity.” “Of course not,” said Madame Kisus, shocked.”Now I know that,” Sophie apologized. “I realized then that you are truly religious people who are willing to sacrifice for your faith. I admired you more and more and I loved to hear your explanations about Judaism. You probably remember how much I loved to hear Jewish music on your record player … one day the Mother Superior heard me singing a song she did not know — Adon Olam. I told her it’s a Jewish song,” Sophie sighed. “The Mother Superior was very angry. She said I had to leave this job immediately, before my faith will be affected by you. I had to listen to her, so I left. But I always thought of you — and prayed for Selby.”

The Kisus family remembers well that Friday night when the fridge was disconnected from the electricity. In the short term, it was a temporary discomfort. In the long term, they discovered that this Friday night was a great sanctification of G-d’s Name which taught a Christian nun to respect Judaism and the Jewish people. May this story bring an elevation to the soul of Zahara Elchadad Kisus, the daughter of Isaac Raphael, because this story is based on a real event in her family.


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