Attending a shiva (observing death in a Jewish home) is a mitzvah (commandment). This mitzvah, a positive commandment, to go to a house of mourning, to comfort the bereaved, and to assure that there will be a minyan (ten Jews) to recite the prayer for the deceased with the bereaved family is one of the highest honors a person can do for another in our community. It is not necessary that you know the deceased or the mourner for your presence to help in comforting the mourners as they grieve and heal.
The focus of a person attending a shiva minyan is to provide comfort and support for the mourner.
The rabbis are very clear that a visitor’s main job is “being there” for the mourner. A visitor is not expected to say anything because there are no appropriate words to be said. It is traditional to bring food, either prepared by you or store bought. Food represents life, and we embrace and talk of life in the face of death. It is not traditional to bring liquor, candy, or flowers. In addition it is customary to make a donation (tzedakah) to a charity in honor of the person who has passed away. To make a donation to Congregation Beth Shalom in memory of an individual you may contact the Office at (916) 485-4478.
Just walk in
Do not ring the doorbell. The front door of most shiva homes will be left open or unlocked, eliminating the need for the mourners to answer the door.
Take food to the kitchen
If you are bringing food, take it to the kitchen. Be sure to put your name on a card or on the container so that the mourners will know you made the gift.
Find the mourners
Go to the mourners as soon as possible.
What do you say?
The tradition suggests being silent, allowing the mourner to open the conversation.
It is appropriate to offer a hug, a kiss, or handshake.
If you do want to open a conversation, begin with “I’m so sorry” or “I don’t know what to say. ”
Speak about the deceased, because one of the most powerful ways to comfort mourners is to encourage them to remember who they have lost. This can be done by recalling a personal memory of the deceased.
Do not tell people not to cry or that they will get over it. Crying and being sad is an integral part of the normal grieving process. If a person cries, your job is just to be there with them you are not expected to say anything.
Participate in the service
If a prayer service is conducted, participate to the extent you can. If you do not know the service, sit or stand respectfully while it is in progress. Often times the rabbi or leader will invite people to share memories about the deceased, do not hesitate to share one, even if it is somewhat humorous. The entire purpose of shiva is to focus on the life of the person who has died and his or her relationship to the family and friends in that room.
Talk to your friends
You may see other friends and acquaintances at a house of mourning. You might be tempted to shmooze about sports or politics, but always remember the purpose of the shiva is to comfort the mourners. You are in the home to be a member of the community and the most appropriate topic of conversation is the deceased. Recall your memories about the deceased and share them. If you feel tempted to engage in small talk, don’t judge yourself; just remind yourself why you are present at the shiva.
Leaving a Shiva House
When you are ready to leave, you may want to wish the bereaved good health and strength, comfort, and other blessings.
After the Shiva
Check in with the mourner; after some months have passed, ask the mourner how he or she is feeling. Ask about a memory of the deceased.
How to Make a Shiva Call“