Guidance on what you may encounter when first arriving at the shiva home, along with appropriate ways to enter the apartment or house.

One of the biggest and most uncomfortable unknowns surrounding a shiva call is how to enter the home. Whether an individual has attended a Jewish shiva before or if it is the first time, the act of paying respect through a condolence call can feel awkward and uncomfortable. For every shiva call that is made, the circumstances will be varied depending on the location of the shiva, your relationship to the deceased or to the mourning family and other factors. This type of discomfort is normal and generally surfaces when you first approach the shiva home.

Ideally, when arriving at the shiva, the front door will be unlocked and visitors can enter quietly without ringing the doorbell or knocking. From a traditional standpoint, the open door is a symbol of the shiva home’s invitation to the community to provide support to the mourning family. It is best to not disturb the shiva while entering, but there may be instances where you are unsure of what to do when you first arrive. Not all shivas will be located in an open home on a public street, and there are some modern contexts that must be taken into account. Some may be located in a gated community or an apartment complex. This kind of complicated access may be uncomfortable when you first arrive, especially if you have never previously visited the mourners’ home or attended a shiva. But, that discomfort will quickly pass as your presence will be immediately recognized as a kind gesture, which should put you at ease. 

If You Have Never Been to the Shiva Home

If this shiva call is the first time you have been to the mourning family’s home, take into account some additional steps you may face when finding the shiva home. If the home is located in a gated community, all you will need to do is mention the shiva and the family name when you are stopped. The family will have already granted access for shiva visitors. Arriving at an apartment or condominium complex may be more complicated. When approaching the gate, let them know that you are a guest of the shiva, and be sure to ask about guest parking options. Some complexes may have open guest parking and some will have valet parking for a fee. When you enter the building, tell the concierge what apartment number you are visiting: They may need to grant you elevator access to that floor.

Although it is traditional for the door to be unlocked, there may be modern security concerns for the family that will warrant them to not follow this shiva tradition. If you arrive at the door to the home only to find it locked during the stated shiva hours, it is encouraged that you try a discreet knock before using the doorbell. If you are still unsure what to do or are feeling uncomfortable, it is okay to contact someone who may know better. If all else fails, try contacting the organizer for the shiva, but avoid contacting the mourning family directly during shiva hours. Keep in mind that it is your presence and comfort at the shiva that matters most to those who are sitting and that too much stress should not be placed on your arrival.