Chava Willig Levy: 1952-2023

By Shlomo Maital

       My wife Sharona’s cousin, Chavi Willig Levy, passed away on April 6, at her home in Long Island, on the first day of Passover.   She was 71.  

       The bare facts of her amazing life story appeared on the yeshiva world  website:

      “Chava was three and a half years old when poliovirus invaded her life. Vacationing with her family in the idyllic Catskills during the summer of 1955, she suddenly developed a high fever and weakness, rendering her unable to stand. After rushing her to the hospital, her family received the devastating news that all families of that generation feared: Their precious Chavale had polio.  Chava spent the next few months hospitalized with the support of an iron lung. Ultimately although she could breathe on her own, she was left paralyzed from the neck down. She navigated life in a motorized wheelchair. “My current accommodations include a ceiling lift that transfers me to and from my motorized wheelchair and a ventilator used for about 14 hours a day, so that my overworked breathing muscles can rest. I need assistance to get dressed, go to the bathroom and bathe. I use dictation software to type. If I may say so, I’m a really good cook, but my helper becomes my arms and my partner in the kitchen.”

      Chavi just missed the salvation of the polio vaccine.  It was administered widely starting around the time she fell ill.  The result:  the incidence of polio in the United States fell from 18 cases per 100,000 people to fewer than 2 per 100,000.  Credit Pittsburgh’s wonderful Doctor Jonas Salk.

       Her husband, Rabbi Michael Levy, spoke these words in synagogue, just before her casket was put on board an El Al plane to Israel, for burial there, near Jerusalem.  One is not allowed to eulogize on Passover, a holy festival.  He found a creative way:

      “Chavi has a message for you. I’m speaking in her name:

         Chavi: “The first day of Passover was my last day on Earth. God gave me a glorious seder and welcomed me to heaven the very next day.  Seder means order. 

        “You the living — get your life in order now ! If you love someone tell him now!  Don’t wait until August.  Thank people now, don’t say well I’ll get around to it. 

        “Chavi says, do what I did, don’t let anybody stop you from forging ahead with your dreams! Many people who have big brains —  they said I would never walk, they said I would never get an education and a career,  they said I will never marry, they said I would never have children,  I would never write a book, I would never produce a podcast.

       “I did all of those things, thanks to God,  and just remember only God decides what’s possible and not possible —   so start now

      “I’m in a happy place. I know what you’re doing!  I want to see by the end of Passover that you are deeply happy within the bounds of Torah and that you have embarked on a new career, on a new dream, on a new relationship —  and at the end of Passover I want to hear, I want to hear you saying,  I did this!  I renewed my days and my dreams — because that’s what Chavi told me to do.”

= = = =

     Rest in peace, Chavi.  You touched a huge number of lives.  And we will do as you say.