Chaplain Aviva Levin, D.Min. ’95, ’21 is the Lead Chaplain at Providence Little Company of Mary, Torrance, CA. As an ICU and PCU Chaplain, she is responsible for 61 beds and also is on an on-call night rotation along with the rest of the chaplain team. In addition to working with patients, Aviva also offers support to staff and sits on the hospital’s bioethics committee. This is a relatively new area of work for Aviva who began her career as a Jewish educator.
Aviva with patient’s family member in Rwanda.
Aviva completed a MA in Jewish Education from our Rhea Hirsch School of Education in 1995 and worked in Jewish day schools and synagogues. After 35 years, she wanted to figure out the next step in her career, and the Interfaith Doctor of Ministry degree for Pastoral Care was recommended. She says, “Through the support given to me by Jennifer Harper, director of the program, and all of the educators in that program, I discovered this unbelievable new path that I am so grateful for. It’s everything I’ve always wanted.”
Aviva continues, “I get to support people by helping them identify what is at the core of who they are as a person. My own theology guides me, but I am not standing on a pulpit or in a classroom. I help patients find faith and strength that is already in them and I guide them to elevate those when they are in need.”
As a board-certified chaplain working at a hospital specializing in strokes and heart attacks, Aviva sees patients of all faiths. She explains, “Our chaplains provide whatever care is requested and sometimes that is a simple conversation or song session that distracts them from their medical situation. We are, mandated to discuss patient and family goals of care which has to do with what they find acceptable and unacceptable within the confines of what medicine is capable of doing, in other words, knowing where your boundaries are so when you cannot speak on your own behalf, the doctors will know how to proceed in your best interest.”
Aviva with her D.Min. classmates and Program Director Jennifer Harper
She continues, “When I am with a patient, it is all about them and their faith. One of the beauties of being welcomed by a true interfaith department is that there is no reason for my faith identity to be part of any conversations. I ask or confirm what a patient’s faith is so I can provide care in the vocabulary that is best appropriate for them while making sure they receive elevated care when necessary. From my experience, the Muslim community is so grateful to have their faith elevated. I ask them if they want to hear verses from the Quoran. I pull up Spotify and put on surahs that are for healing and strength, and just let it play. They are blown away and so grateful.”
Aviva is part of an interdisciplinary team of various healthcare workers and finds that her documentation is very important to the overall care of the patient. She says, “There were studies done that state that doctors and nurses can have goals-of-care conversations with patients, but when the same conversation is had with a chaplain, patients identify feeling truly heard and seen. The trust in a representative of a spiritual community is inherently different than with a member of the medical and science worlds.”
Aviva served as a chaplain at the height of the pandemic.
Aviva says that despite working for a Catholic healthcare system, “so long as you are true to the teachings of interfaith work, and uphold the mission and values of the ministry, you are blessedly welcome to be here. I get to do special things for the Jewish community and it’s beautiful that the hospital supports that. I created a Faith-full Friday during which we distribute bags with electric candles, juice, challah, and a prayer sheet. Friday is also a reflective day for Muslims, so they receive prayer beads and a prayer sheet that aligns with their faith. On Fridays, our two student residents and I visit every Jewish and Muslim patient in the hospital. It is amazing. When you walk into a hospital room where there is a crucifix over the door, if you are not Catholic, you tend to keep to yourself about the private and personal stuff that matters to you, but then someone comes and knows who you are as a person and wants to help you celebrate it, it can really make an impact.”
Aviva with a medical student in Rwanda
Aviva will soon be joining, for the second year in a row, a medical mission of surgeons going to Rwanda to serve as the chaplain for a surgical team. She shares, “I go to serve the families and the patients who are entrusting themselves to a surgical procedure by people they’ve never met, who don’t speak the same language or look the same. Addressing that fear improves the outcomes for the patients. It is a life-transforming opportunity. Last year, I made arrangements with the director of the genocide museum in Kigali, Rwanda and we brought the surgical team after hours for a private tour. We learned the story behind the genocide from those who survived – and it is not the story we were told in the United States.”
You could do this inspirational work too. Learn about the program Aviva most recently completed.