When a Public Funeral, Burial and Shiva is not permitted

There are a number of unprecedented measures taking place as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus that will restrict and limit certain gatherings which includes funerals, burials and shivas. Consequently, mourners will now experience a new type of grief, when the traditional and common practices observed surrounding end-of-life are abruptly changed.

When a Jewish individual passes away, notwithstanding the level of religious observances, a mourning family receives emotional and physical support from their extended family, network of friends and the community during the funeral service, internment, shiva and beyond. Generally, this expression of sympathy is received by physical embraces in the form of a hug at the funeral, burial and shiva. The shiva provides a structured period of mourning for individuals to grieve and mourn a loss. In general, the attendance of a shiva by friends and the community helps to console the spirit and deliver support. It is important to realize there will be a new grief felt with an absence of the physical interaction most commonly experienced.

How to attend a shiva when there is no shiva

There are many ways to show support and help friends and family during a time of loss. Although paying respects in the Jewish faith is most commonly accomplished when visiting a shiva, there remain many ways to offer thoughts and express condolences.

Expressing Condolences and Providing Support

The support of friends and family during a time of loss helps mourners heal and navigate the challenging times. When it is not possible to attend a funeral, burial or shiva, below are several ways family and friends can help provide comfort to those mourning a loss:

Social Interaction - Engagement

When physical presence is not an option, it remains important to engage with mourners and redefine how we support grieving families and friends. When there is a private burial, funeral, no shiva or gathering and mourners are isolated due to extreme circumstances, expressing condolences and remaining in touch through technology can be an effective and useful in advancing the grieving process. During this period of social distancing, physically being with the mourning family and friends may be difficult or not possible, so remaining in close contact by phone, text, FaceTime and other means of technology is more acceptable and appropriate.

Personal Notes and Messages

In general, writing a sympathy note, message or condolence card sharing thoughts and offering personal expressions are well received. Given restrictions, closures and limited resources, an email containing sentiments is also acceptable.

Bereavement Meals for the Family

It is a common tradition to send a condolence meal or sympathy basket to shiva, especially if you are not able to attend. The food is a thoughtful way of paying tribute and at the same time providing nourishment for the family when they are not thinking about or find it difficult to prepare meals for themselves. Although the shiva generally has large number of guests, this may change, but the family should still be cared for and this remains an appropriate way to express condolences.

Plant a Tree in Israel

Planting a tree in memory of an individual or family's loved one remains an appropriate way to express condolences. This is a time honored tradition for all life cycle events and specifically this is way to perpetuate the life and legacy of friends, family and ancestors no longer here. Together with the tree planting, a custom certificate will be created and mailed to the family to honor their loved one and also express condolences.

Your Support Can Still Be Felt

There will never be a replacement of personal interaction, however these options for expressing condolences and showing support will assist family members, friends and colleagues during their time of need.