New York-based lecturer, author, editor and advocate Chava Willig Levy, the sister of Yeshiva University Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Mordechai Willig and Rabbi David Willig, passed away over the Passover holiday at the age of 71.
The funeral was held today (Monday) at the Eretz Hachaim cemetery in Beit Shemesh.
Chava contracted polio in 1955 at the age of three, just months after Dr. Jonas Salk announced the development of his successful polio vaccine, but before the vaccine became widely available. After being hospitalized for months and attached to an iron lung, she survived the disease, but suffered permanent paralysis from the neck down.
Growing up, she felt the discrimination and segregation which people with disabilities often experience. She became a fierce activist on behalf of those who suffer discrimination.
Chava vowed to live her life as a survivor and not as a victim, and never let being forced to use a wheelchair slow her down. She earned her B.A., summa cum laude, from Yeshiva University in French literature and her M.A. in counseling psychology from Columbia University. She became a writer, a lecturer and a podcast host, sharing both her incredible story and the things that gave her joy. She married Michael Levy, and together they have two children, Tehilla and Ahron.
She founded her own communications consulting firm, became a spirited advocate for disability rights, giving numerous lectures and writing many articles for numerous publications, including Jewish Action, Parents' Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, Women's Day, and Family Circle, as well as the books "The Complete Guide to Employing Persons With Disabilities," "Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology," "Bigger than the Sky," "American Business and the Public School and Bread and Fire."
In 2013, Chava published her memoir, "A Life Not With Standing," in which she movingly described how her illness affected her and her family, and how she did not allow her disability to prevent her from leading a full, joyful, and meaningful life.
In recent years, Chava published a podcast, 'Breathtaking,' in which she celebrated "all the things that take her breath away." Her podcast largely focused on, but was not limited to, music, lyrics, poetry, humor, children, womanhood, spirituality, and living a life with disabilities, and ran for hundreds of episodes. Her most recent episode, in which she discussed multiple songs from the musical "Hamilton," was posted on March 29.
As part of her advocacy, Chava called on people to take the polio vaccine and for parents to ensure that their children receive it, noting that the vaccine is effective and safe and has nearly eradicated the disease. She called the vaccine a "miracle from heaven."
She is survived by her husband Michael, her children Tehilla and Aharon, and her siblings Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi David Willig, and Tamar Bannett.