When a member of the Jewish community passes away, a period of mourning, called shiva, is observed for a week after the burial. During this time, the immediate family stays home and receives food and comfort from their friends and neighbors. If someone you know recently lost a loved one, and you need to make a shiva call, there are a few rules of etiquette to follow. To ensure a successful and respectful visit, the compassionate professionals at Hebrew Free Burial Association in New York City share some helpful tips below.
5 Tips to Follow When Going on a Shiva Call
1. Arrival Time
The grieving family will probably announce daily visitation windows, so you can drop by within that time frame. If they haven’t given specific information about shiva visits, you can call to find out what times they are sitting shiva. When you arrive, don’t worry about knocking—during designated shiva hours, you can let yourself in.
Everyone mourns differently, so when you make the shiva call, let the mourners set the tone for the conversation. It is customary for the mourner to initiate the conversation. Express to them that you wish to support them in this difficult time, and, if they’re open to it, talk about fond memories of the lost loved one. They may not wish to talk at all, and that’s okay, too. Follow their lead to remain as respectful and empathetic as possible.
3. Comforting Traditions
The Jewish faith emphasizes unity in many of their customs, and shiva is no exception. If you want to comfort the mourners and pay your respects, there are a few common sayings you can recite in Hebrew or English.
Ashkenazi visitors say, “HaMakom yenacheim etchem betoch sha’ar aveiliei Tzion v’Yerushalayim,” which means “May the Almighty comfort you among those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.” Traditionally, Sephardic visitors say, “Min haShamayim tenuchamu.” This translates to “May Heaven comfort you.”
4. Practical Support
Make a note of what the grieving family members need. Offer practical help, such as running errands, walking pets, or cleaning up around the house for them. Ask specific questions about what they need, and let them know you’re there for them.
5. Length of Visit
Mourning is exhausting, so don’t stay too long. A shiva call doesn’t need to be more than 15 minutes long. Just dropping by to offer a few words of comfort and to remind the grieving family members that they have a support system is enough.
Hebrew Free Burial Association, a Jewish charity located in New York City, serves the tri-state area. These caring and compassionate professionals arrange low-cost and free burials for those of the Jewish faith in the NYC metropolitan area. Organized in 1888, their mission remains the same—to provide a traditional Jewish burial for those without family or financial resources. To support their work, please visit their website or call (212) 239-1662 for more information.