April 10, 2024
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Confronting Disability’s Stereotypes: Kiruv Group Chesed Helped Willig Levy Survive

Teaneck—People with disabilities are not patients, children, or brave souls, Chava Willig Levy told about 75 people at a fundraising reception for the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) on a recent Wednesday at Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael. A polio survivor who spent most of her childhood in and out of hospitals, and gets around in a wheelchair, Levy said she has encountered stereotypes at every turn, from buses that wouldn’t stop for her, to physical therapists who, taking her phone calls, thought she was calling about a patient; she couldn’t possibly be calling for herself. “Being independently dependent is a right I continue to relish and frequently fight for,” she said. She has recounted her experiences about surviving polio at age 3 and growing up to become a singer, writer, motivational speaker and most importantly, wife and mother, in a recently published memoir entitled “A Life Not with Standing.” Levy read excerpts from the book and said she wrote it to keep memories of the devastating polio epidemic from “slipping into oblivion.” And to share how her parents imbued in her a life-long devotion to spreading chesed to nourish herself and the world.

Levy used the analogy of the Butterfly Effect to show how chesed can reverberate through time, space and geography to have a positive effect on the world. Originally conceived of by MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who passed away in 2008, the Butterfly Effect states that somewhere in Brazil, a butterfly can perch on a flower, flapping its wings, and cause air currents to flow that travel thousands of miles, becoming a rainstorm, and finally causing a tornado in Texas. The original theory was meant to show how a ran мdom act that will never be known, can be the ultimate cause of another action, therefore prohibiting absolute certainty about the cause of many events.

Levy said she read an essay in her shul bulletin by a man who interpreted the Butterfly Effect in a Jewish context, to show how one small act of kindness will keep multiplying for the good, and she expanded the theory. She used examples from Biblical history, and her own life, to demonstrate the Jewish Butterfly Effect. She began with Sarah Imenu, whose husband, Avraham exhorted her to make cakes when he saw visitors approaching. Four hundred years later, Hashem sent manna to three million of her descendants in the desert. The manna first fell in Aloosh. Aloosh is closely related to the world looshi, to knead, as Sarah kneaded bread for the visitors.

Closer to home, she told a story of how she had been in the hospital for months, and had had spinal surgery four days previously, when she started to feel her appetite come back and asked her father to get her a burger and fries, with nary a kosher restaurant in the vicinity of her East Harlem hospital room. Her father picked up the phone, called the Yeshiva University study hall, and asked the boy who answered if he’d like to do a big mitzvah. ‘I’m on my way,’ he said, showing up shortly thereafter with food from McDovid’s, a kosher fast food establishment no longer around. Meanwhile, thirty years later, Levy spoke at a high school in Monsey about chesed, and told this story. A week later, she was in a restaurant, when the school principal came running up to her. One of her students said she was sharing her highlight of the week at the Shabbos table, and told about the guest speaker and her tale of chesed. Her amazed father said – ‘That was me!’

Levy said the greatest act of chesed is one that is proactive, not reactive. “Don’t wait for someone to knock on your door; look around and see what you can do,” she said. “Don’t see someone at shul? Call and see if they are okay.”

She urged her listeners to perform three acts of kindness every day. “In one year, you will have enriched the world 1,000 times, and Hashem will witness the magnificent Jewish Butterfly Effect.”

The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) can be viewed through the Jewish Butterfly Effect theory. Started in 2008 by a group of eight women, to bring Jewish values into the world by bringing Jews back to their heritage, JWRP began taking groups of women on subsidized trips to Israel, where they travel and learn together, and continue to learn together when they return home. Now a national effort, over 3900 women from 15 countries have participated. Julie Farkas, co-chair of the reception, sponsored by JWRP, Beth Abraham (Bergenfield) Kiruv Committee and JInspsire, said their chapter began in 2011. They have been taking one trip per year, with about thirty women, and are raising the funds to take two trips in 2014. Farkas brought a group over last year and continues to learn with them weekly in Teaneck.

We may not be able to trace our acts of chesed; they may remain unknown like the butterfly in Brazil. But we know Hashem is the ultimate source, and the good we do reflects on Him. So start flapping.

For more information about JWRP, contact [email protected].

For more information about Chava Willig Levy, visit www.a-life-not-with-standing.com or www.chavawilliglevy.com

By Bracha Schwartz

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