Making a Shiva Call

What to say and do

Sitting shiva should feel like a family gathering where, despite the sadness, life goes on.

shiva visitWhen you plan to make a shiva call, please respect the schedule the family has announced and visit at the requested times. Jewish law prohibits sitting shiva on Shabbat, so do not plan to visit at sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday or on Jewish holidays.

Dress as you would for attending a synagogue service, however in many homes more informal attire is acceptable.

If you visit immediately after the funeral, there may be a pitcher of water, basin, and towels near the door, as it is a ritual to wash your hands upon returning from the cemetery.

You may open the door and walk into the shiva house without ringing the doorbell. Most front doors will be left open or unlocked, since all are invited to comfort the mourners. Grief stricken mourners forego the social obligation to meet and greet their visitors.

It is suggested that you bring food to the home instead of flowers, and if the family observes traditional Jewish dietary laws, make sure the food you bring is kosher. When in doubt it is best to bring Kosher food to a shiva house. Food can be purchased from a kosher market or packaged food marked with a "kosher" symbol would be appropriate- it may be marked with a K inside a star or circle, a letter U in a circle, a KOF-K symbol or the word "pareve." Fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, in their natural unprocessed state, are kosher and pareve (appropriate with either meat or dairy).Take it to the kitchen, where there may be someone to receive it, identify the food and be sure to put your name on a card or on the container, so that the mourners can acknowledge your kindness.

Know that it is important to overcome your discomfort and focus on bringing sensitivity and empathy to those who mourn... your very presence is consoling. Showing concern provides comfort and helps the mourner with the long process of healing.

  • Go to the mourners as soon as possible and offer your condolences compassionately. You can simply say, "I'm sorry for your loss" or "I was so sorry to hear about ___"

  • Let the mourner begin to talk and set the tone

  • Be a good listener, it is not necessary to be overly talkative

  • Express your concern for the mourner's well-being

  • Share stories, photos and memories of the deceased, as well as humorous anecdotes

  • Kindness is important- Friends and family are obligated to tend to the needs of mourners, and may offer to be helpful by doing errands, driving visitors to and from the airport, hosting someone from out of town or taking care of children and pets.

  • It is not necessary to spend all of your time speaking with the mourners and you should socialize briefly with other guests

  • It is appropriate to bring children to a shiva house

  • When food is offered, feel comfortable eating

  • If a prayer service is conducted during your visit, participate to the extent you can or just sit respectfully and listen

  • Your visit does not have to be long, an hour or even less is fine

  • Conclude your visit with "Please accept my sincerest condolences- Let me know if there is anything I can do to help" or a traditional consolation: "May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem"

If you cannot make a shiva call in person, consider showing your concern and support \ by sending food, a comforting gift or a memorial donation.