Against All Odds: A Miracle of Motherhood

May 28, 2024

In Jewish tradition, names hold deep significance, often believed to be chosen in a moment of prophecy granted to parents. For Chava Willig Levy, her name—meaning “mother of all living”—carried a promise and a challenge. From a young age, despite being stricken by polio, Chava dreamed of motherhood. Her story of perseverance and faith mirrors the biblical narrative of Sarah, the matriarch who faced childlessness for decades before receiving her miraculous blessing.

Chava’s journey began in 1955 when she contracted polio at the age of three, just months after Dr. Jonas Salk announced the development of his successful polio vaccine. Hospitalized for months and attached to an iron lung, she survived the disease but suffered permanent paralysis from the neck down. Despite this, Chava vowed to live as a survivor, not a victim, and she never let her wheelchair slow her down. She earned a B.A. summa cum laude from Yeshiva University and an M.A. in counseling psychology from Columbia University. She became a writer, lecturer, podcast host, and a fierce advocate for disability rights.

Chava’s path to motherhood was fraught with challenges. At fifteen, she asked her doctors if she could have children. While they assured her that polio didn’t affect her reproductive system, they expressed concerns about her ability to carry a pregnancy due to her physical limitations. Despite societal skepticism and medical doubts, Chava remained determined.

When Chava married Michael Levy, a man who shared her values and experiences with disability, they prayed together for the blessing of a child. Despite facing many infertility challenges, they held onto hope, drawing strength from their faith.

On Hanukkah, a holiday celebrating the miracle of a small flask of oil that burned for eight days, Chava recited the blessing, “Blessed are You, our Lord, who created miracles for our ancestors, in days gone by and in our own time,” with tears, wondering if her miracle would ever come. Miraculously, Chava soon became pregnant, but the joy was short-lived as she miscarried after three months. That disappointment was followed by an ectopic pregnancy and years of fertility treatments before she finally gave birth to her daughter, Tehilah Sarah, and eventually, a son, Aaron.

Tehilah means “praise” and reflects the gratitude that Chava and Michael had for God who granted them a child. The name Sarah was given after Chava’s two grandmothers, but also the matriarch Sarah who experienced a similar miracle.

Like Chava, Sarah endured years of barrenness.

Yet, Sarah’s story did not end in despair.

At the age of 90, God fulfilled His promise and granted her a child.

Drawing inspiration from Sarah’s unwavering faith in God despite her challenges, Chava and Michael continued on their journey towards parenthood. Their faith was tested, but like Sarah, they remained steadfast. When they were finally blessed with children, Chava embraced motherhood with creativity and determination. With the help of a full-time babysitter and adaptive equipment, she and Michael created a loving environment for their children. Their children grew up understanding their parents’ disabilities not as limitations but as unique aspects of their identity.

Through her story, Chava Willig Levy teaches us that with faith and perseverance, even the most daunting obstacles can lead to extraordinary blessings. Like Sarah, who laughed with joy at the birth of Isaac, saying, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6), Chava’s life was filled with the music of gratitude, encapsulated by her daughter’s name Tehilah.

Chava’s resilience extended beyond motherhood to all her life’s accomplishments. Through her remarkable journey, Chava Willig Levy demonstrated that one need not give up when faced with obstacles. Much like the matriarch Sarah, she showed that faith and determination can lead to miracles and a life filled with meaning and joy.

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Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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