Rena Arshinoff, Nurse and Rabbi, Guides Couple Through Delivery of Stillborn Child

Far From Pulpit, Quiet Solace Helps Parents Cope

Renan Levine and Mira Perry, along with their 4-year-old daughter, Ziva Perry
courtesy of renan levine
Renan Levine and Mira Perry, along with their 4-year-old daughter, Ziva Perry

By Hody Nemes

Published March 22, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In November 2012, Renan Levine and Mira Victoria Perry were eagerly awaiting the birth of their second child. Two days before the scheduled C-section, the Toronto couple received the news expectant parents dread most: their child had died in utero.

With no family in the area and their synagogue rabbi out of town, the couple hesitantly turned for support to a chaplain whom they had never met: Rena Arshinoff, a rabbi, nurse, and epidemiologist, who appeared on the Forward’s recently released list of Most Inspiring Rabbis.

Click for more Inspiring Rabbis

Arshinoff met Perry and Levine during the dark hours of childbirth, providing the couple an unexpected source of comfort during their ordeal.

“It’s a lonely thing to think you’re about to have a living child. And now all of a sudden you have to think about funeral preparations not, ‘Do we have diapers ready? Do we know where we’re going to put the crib?’” Levine said. “To have someone you can draw strength from like Rabbi Arshinoff was immensely valuable to my wife and me.”

Though she is an experienced chaplain, Arshinoff is still moved when families are willing to allow her to help them. “I arrived at the hospital a complete stranger to them,” Arshinoff said of the couple. “That takes a lot of trust for both of them to allow me into their lives in such an intimate situation. And what a privilege that is for me.”

Rabbi Rena Arshinoff
Rabbi Rena Arshinoff

Today, Arshinoff is one of just two certified rabbinic chaplains in Canada, but her journey to the rabbinate was a long one. She spent nearly three decades working in health care, first as a nurse and later as an epidemiologist.

But after the deaths of her father and her sister, Arshinoff began to rethink her career path. She became more connected to Judaism, saying kaddish (a prayer of mourning) for her loved ones and holding a bat mitzvah as a 48-year old.

“I was able to crunch numbers and analyze statistics until the cows came home,” she said. “But one day I was thinking, ‘Maybe I would like to go back to my roots after 18 years, maybe I’m tired of working with numbers so much.’”

In 2003, Arshinoff decided to enroll at Hebrew Union College, the flagship seminary of the Reform movement. “I really did feel in going to rabbinical school that I was still studying health – just a different side of it,” she said. “I wanted to work with people and now I was looking at the spiritual not the physical component of health.”

Read All of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis 2014


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.