Making a Shiva Call

As a comforter, making a shiva call is one of the most important acts of condolence. But all too often, those visiting a mourner's home are not sure of the appropriate behavior. David Techner, funeral director at the Ira Kaufman Chapel in Detroit and a leading expert in the field, suggests that many people do not have the slightest idea as to why they even make the shiva call. "People need to ask themselves: 'What am I trying to do?' When people say things like, 'At least he's not suffering,' who are they trying to make comfortable? Certainly not the mourner. People say things like that so that they do not have to deal with the mourner's grief. The comment is for themselves, not the mourner."

Each shiva is different, depending on the traditions and beliefs of the mourning family and the nature of the loss. There are general guidelines that one can follow when making a shiva call:
 

Who Pays a Shiva Call
Mourning in the Jewish faith is a very personal process; each individual mourns and reflects differently.  In many instances, extended family, close friends, casual acquaintances, co-workers and general members of the community will pay their condolences and show support to the mourners.

 
Decide When to Visit
Listen for an announcement at the funeral service for the times that the mourners will be receiving guests. Usually, the options are immediately after the funeral, around the minyanim in the evenings and mornings, or during the day. Should you wish to visit during another time, you may want to call ahead. Some experienced shiva visitors choose to visit toward the end of the week, when it is frequently more difficult to gather a minyan.

 

Engaging in Conversation
Contrary to usual interactions, visitors should typically avoid initiating conversations during a shiva call. Visitors should generally listen and offer support only when engaged. It is important to remember that the purpose of the shiva is to comfort mourners and allow the family to grieve. Visitors making a shiva call should be attentive to the needs of the mourners as well as the atmosphere in the shiva house. The fitting topic of conversation for a shiva is the deceased.

Taking Part in the Service
If a prayer service takes place during the shiva call, it is appropriate to participate providing that an invitation to participate has been extended by the mourning family. Individuals not familiar with the prayer or service may find it helpful to observe others who may be better versed in the Jewish mourning traditions. Visitors should always behave courteously and refrain from conversation during the prayer service. If a rabbi is present and inquires about the deceased’s life, it may be appropriate to share a brief, heartfelt story that honors his or her memory. 
 
Duration of Visit
A shiva call should not last more than an hour. If the visit coincides with a prayer service, it is appropriate to arrive a few minutes before the service and stay a few minutes after. The shiva process is often lengthy and tiring for the mourners; visitors should be mindful not to overstay their welcome.
 
Excerpted with permission from MyJewishLearning.com.
 
 

 

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