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Voice of Faith

Riki Goldstein

When the disease continued to progress, Rav Segal pronounced: “Your avodah now is to be mekabel b’ahavah.” His words became the Wagschal credo

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

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Life had changed in so many ways, but the love and understanding remained a constant in the Wagschal home. “We spoke about everything, we were very open,” her daughters explain. “Feelings were allowed. Our mother allowed us to get angry and upset and she sometimes shared her own sadness, too.” Despite Chavi’s great burden of worry and illness, she did not lose her empathy for others’ smaller problems, which had endeared her to so many women. “Each person’s suffering is his whole world,” she used to say, quoting the Steipler in the sefer Chayei Olam

T wenty-eight years ago, Mrs. Chavi Wagschal had her first attack of MS on the walk home from her eldest son’s bar mitzvah. From the early days of her illness until her passing last month, Mrs. Wagschal courageously reached out to the community, infusing others with her hard-won spiritual strength

When the clock struck six in the Wagschal home in Manchester, the telephone greeting changed from “good afternoon,” to “good evening.” For years, Chavi Wagschal was the queen of an exemplary, well-run home. “We were eight children born in thirteen years,” says her oldest daughter, Malky Roth, “and my mother ran everything like clockwork.” Family dinner was at 6:30 every evening, with soup, salad, and dessert, and each child had his own timely bedtime.

It was a house of dignity, discipline, and high expectations — accompanied by “oceans of love,” as the Wagschal daughters say. Mrs. Wagschal was very involved in her children’s lives and affectionate, adding her own personal brachah to her children after her husband bentshed them Friday night.

“My mother used the most dignified and ladylike of language. For example, she never called the housekeeper a goyta. She addressed everyone with utmost respect,” says Malky.

This blend of discipline and love drew many guests: children whose mothers were after birth, Shabbos guests, seminary girls, a little girl with epilepsy whose parents had to go away. Every unfortunate soul was welcome in the Wagschal home, many extending their visit well beyond their intended stay.

The chesed coordinator for Manchester Seminary recalls: “I was once trying to place a girl with a hearing impairment. It seemed that no one wanted her help. Then I tried Chavi Wagschal, and she replied in the affirmative. ‘There is just one issue; this girl is deaf,’ I told her.

“ ‘All the more reason to send her to me,’ Mrs. Wagschal replied. ‘I’ll look after her.’ And she did.”

The most important thing in the home was Torah: Rabbi Wagschal was an esteemed member of Manchester’s Kollel Harabbanim and later a rebbi, and Chavi kept her husband’s learning time absolutely sacred. He regularly learned with his sons at home, and every siyum was celebrated as a special occasion. “We loved those siyumim! There was a full fleishig meal, divrei Torah, a lot of singing,” recalls Chumi Meiselman, the Wagschals’ second daughter.

Building Homes

In 1991, Rebbetzin Tehilla Abramov visited Manchester and gave a course for kallah teachers. Mrs. Wagschal became one of the town’s most active kallah educators. Soon, she realized that her style was more suited to married ladies, and hundreds of women attended her “Ladies’ Refresher Courses.”

When the disease continued to progress, Rav Segal pronounced: “Your avodah now is to be mekabel b’ahavah.” His words became the Wagschal credo

Her approach was broad: as well as halachah and hashkafah, she taught women about respect, closeness, and emotional maturity, communication skills, giving and receiving, self-esteem, and many other foundations of a successful marriage. When more kallah teachers were needed in the community, Chavi trained them, walking them through the material step-by-step.

One attendee of these classes recalled her experience: “At the first shiur, I saw that there were 15 participants: two or three had no head covering, the others ran the gamut from partially covered hair to full chassidish double covering. How is she going to do this? I thought. And then she began, ‘All of us are here for one purpose: to become better wives to our husbands.’ With those words, she united us.”

Mrs. Wagschal was phenomenally successful in encouraging people to invest in their marriages. Her practical advice was sought by both younger and older women. As a master of the human psyche, she knew what women needed to hear. A Holocaust survivor was captivated by a shiur Mrs. Wagschal gave in a family vacation camp in Wales, and became a close friend and mentee. She had survived the war and raised a family, but confided in Mrs. Wagschal that she felt she was just going through the motions — she felt frozen and unable to connect with her children on an emotional level. Chavi explained that if she took care of her own emotional needs, working on self-love and self-care, she would be able to nurture others, too. “At 60 years old,” this lady confided, “I received a new lease on life from Chavi Wagschal.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 549)

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