Q: What is shiva?
A: Shiva is an age-old Jewish custom. Shiva is a seven day mourning period. It is done by the closest family members of the one who has passed on. The mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, son and daughter will sit on low chairs and grieve the loss of their loved one. The seven-day count begins immediately after the burial.
Q: What is the purpose of sitting shiva?
A: Sitting shiva allows the mourner to grieve. It allows others to comfort the mourner. It gives the mourner the time and space to acknowledge their pain and loss. It can allow for the beginning of emotional healing for this deep loss.
Q: How do you comfort a Jewish mourner?
A: You can physically come or call. You show up during the seven day shiva period. At the shiva house, you can sit quietly and be emotionally present, to make space for the mourner’s pain and grief. You should only speak if the mourner begins the conversation.
It is best to take the tone from the mourner himself or herself. Check what they are comfortable with and talk about that.
While getting up to leave the shiva, you say these age-old words of condolences:
“Hamakom yenachem eschem, besoch shaar avlei tzion viyushalayim”
What does this mean? We are asking that the One who fills all space, even the painful place of loss. This One, the prayer goes, should comfort the mourner. And this One should comfort all those who mourn for the losses of Our People, throughout time.
Q: Should I bring something to the shiva?
A: Food is traditionally brought to a shiva. It is usually appreciated. It takes a certain burden of the mourner, as many visitors pour into their home to visit them. Food that is ready to eat is best. By gifting food, you allow the mourner to mourn and not be concerned with other things.
Q: How can I show empathy and care to a Jewish mourner, when I cannot physically visit?
A: When you deeply feel that you should pay a shiva call, but you cannot be there physically. You can send a letter, expressing your condolences. You can also call, to say you care and are thinking about the mourner. You can also send a platter of cake or fruit, or a shiva basket to participate in the support of the mourner. ShivaSympathy.com is a very good resource for this.
Q: Can I wear jeans to a shiva?
A: There is no official dress code for a shiva. Yet, it is best to dress modestly when visiting a shiva house.
Q: How long do you stay at a shiva condolence visit?
A: In general, a half-hour to an hour is the best amount of time for an acquaintance. Otherwise, check the mourner to see for signs of tiredness, boredom or the need to be left alone. Follow their cue. After all, you are here for them and not vice versa. Be sensitive to their physical and emotional state of being and stay accordingly.
Q: Do you send flowers to a shiva?
A: Traditionally, food is sent. It is a practical help for those sitting shiva.
Q: I am too far to go visit the mourner. How do I show my sympathy?
A: You can send a condolence card or letter. You can call the mourner to share their grief. You can send a shiva platter. A wonderful resource is ShivaSympathy.com.