For those who have not experienced the passing of a loved one and therefore learned this difficult lesson, death is a natural occurrence. We can only hope that death comes easily and at a very ripe old age. Here at Challah Connection, we have become experts at helping friends and family console their friends and family. Through our work, we have heard many stories of tragic deaths as well as those of individuals who led vibrant and meaningful lives right up to the end of a very long life. We should all hope that that is the way we will go. However, while we are still here, let’s all understand the Jewish way of mourning and Shiva.
Sitting Shiva is the tradition of mourning in the Jewish religion. Gathering together as a community is at the core of sitting Shiva, just as it is at the core of many Jewish traditions. The strength and support of friends, family and neighbors plays a key role in helping the bereaved through the process of grieving. “During a time of loss, there are heightened emotions. An awareness of traditions and customs can be very helpful,” says Michael Shimmel , Shiva.com CEO, an online resource dedicated to helping mourners, friends, family and co-workers seeking information about Shiva.
Shiva, which means “seven” in Hebrew, is the mourning period observed by the family of the deceased. During Shiva, which is a seven day period that begins immediately after the funeral, the family stays home to focus on their grief, remember their loved one and receive visitors. Many families sit Shiva for a shorter period; perhaps 1, 2 or 3 days, depending on family traditions. The Shiva period is often announced at the funeral or in the obituary.
You Can’t Attend the Shiva—What to Send?
Jewish custom discourages sending flowers since Shiva is a time to allow complete mourning, not for being uplifted. Attempts to distract oneself from the task at hand—mourning—is shunned. During Shiva, friends and family visit the mourners to support them and show their care. Food is served to the visitors and this is where the need for Shiva baskets comes in. Food is brought or sent to alleviate the need for the mourners to do any work regarding food preparation. It is best to send a Shiva basket or Shiva foods that are easy to serve and require little heating or other prepping. At Challah Connection, we make sure that all of our Shiva gifts include foods that are both soothing and easy to serve. We have also found that sending a kosher Shiva basket is optimal so that everyone who attends can enjoy the food. Additionally, we have found that even non-religious people tend toward religious practices during this time. Our most popular Shiva baskets are those that feature baked goods that are both comforting and nostalgic including Sympathy Comfort Basket and Sympathy Essentials. Danna Black, owner of Shiva Sisters in Los Angeles says “Deli still remains the most popular food for Memorial or Shiva meals however we see more requests for leaner meats, less roast beef and more turkey. Healthy salads have been added as well as vegetarian options. It does appear that the comfort of Deli, which is the most familiar, is still preferred.”
Gift Message-What to Say
Writing a gift message for a Shiva gift is perhaps one of life’s most difficult tasks. The truth is that there are no words that can appropriately console a mourner but we can try. We find that people often struggle with the words but the best advice is to keep it simple. Mourners are not going analyze each word and including a simple note that expresses your own heartfelt words is going to resonate most powerfully. Here are some messages we recommend, please feel free to use any.
“We are so sorry for your loss and send our deepest condolences.”
“With our heartfelt sympathy”
“May XNAME’s memory be a blessing to all who knew him/her.”
Or the most traditional, “May G-d comfort you among all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Please be sure to sign your note and consider a closing that includes “love.” This is the time for generosity of spirit. Please don’t be shy with your loving kindness at a time like this.
Shiva-An Act of Kindness
Shiva calls should be thought of as an act of kindness, not as a burden. Sharon Rosen, owner of Shiva Connect, a free Jewish registry service where Shiva details and more can be posted, states that “Judaism teaches us that when a member of our community feels the heart-wrenching pain of grief and loss, we should be there to comfort, console and sustain them.” The visit can be an hour or less to avoid tiring the family. Different families will observe Shiva in different manners. It is traditional for mourners to have a tear in their clothing to symbolize their loss. They may sit on low stools or even on the floor to show the depth of their sadness.
Usually a 24-hour candle burns in memory of the deceased. In some homes, mourners will recite Kaddish up to three times a day with a minyan, which is a group of 10 Jewish adults. At times it is difficult to gather a minyan, so visitors who can participate are especially appreciated.
Written by Jane Moritz, owner, Challah Connection, the premiere online kosher gift company specializing in Jewish traditional gifts. “Creating Kvells Since 2002”