What to bring to a shiva?
August 23, 2005 10:05 AM   Subscribe

What should I bring to a shiva?

For those not in the know, a shiva is the Jewish custom of the week-long period of mourning immediately following a death, during which the mourners receive guests at home.

The grandmother of a good friend of mine from high school just died. She was the mother of his birth mother. His birth mother died when he was very young, so he and his brother are the 2 chief mourners (as opposed to his parents), and the shiva is being held at his parents' house.

It's customary to bring food to the mourners' house, and in modern times many people make monetary donations to charitable funds set up in memory of the deceased. Although my friend told me it wasn't necessary to bring anything, I'm not going empty handed.

I was thinking of bringing something from DiBruno Brothers, then once I get there, finding out what fund to make a donation to, and donating. Anyone have any suggestions, advice, or commentary on this issue? Thank you.
posted by LilBucner to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total)
I'm very sorry for your friend's loss.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing. You want to bring foodstuffs that are practical as meals since they will be mourning and will not be doing any cooking our housework while sitting shiva. I just wouldn't bring anything that requires much prepwork or dishes.
posted by tastybrains at 10:09 AM on August 23, 2005

You might also inquire as to whether they keep kosher, in which case it's very important that you don't bring milk products if they are serving meat, or vice versa. Definetly ask.
posted by captainscared at 10:31 AM on August 23, 2005

I've never seen someone bring fancy (wine & cheese) food to a shiva house. It's usually something simple and homecooked, so that the mourners don't have to worry about cooking for a while. If they keep kosher, it could be a lot more complicated than not bringing meat or dairy, so make sure.
posted by callmejay at 10:49 AM on August 23, 2005

Yeah, simple and homecooked is best - but only if you're utterly clear on the kosher requirements, and that's not something you want to bother them with asking about while they're mourning, so your best bet is bringing packaged food with a clearly marked "kosher" symbol (often a K in a circle, but there are a zillion varieties of these marks). It's also not wholly awful to show up without food - it's the act of visiting that is the important part.
posted by judith at 10:58 AM on August 23, 2005

Stop by a kosher deli. You will find lots of tasty and appropriate food.
posted by caddis at 11:45 AM on August 23, 2005

Jerusalem Post guide to charities and non-profits.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:57 AM on August 23, 2005

Don't bring/send flowers. Fruit or a salad is usually safer for food. Sometimes having a tree planted "In Memory" in Israel, would have to Google that for more information.
posted by 6:1 at 1:29 PM on August 23, 2005

Kosher is good, pareve is better. Pareve means it's okay with either meat or milk. So beyond the obvious (fruit, grain and vegetables), eggs or fish (with fins and scales) are pareve.

Why not Tzimmes? It's both pareve and tasty.
posted by Araucaria at 2:15 PM on August 23, 2005

I've never seen home cooked food. It's invariably from restaurants. There are several kosher restaurants in Cleveland that advertise specifically for such services and there are several kosher style restaurants that seem to get a lot of this type of business. I've never been more involved than showing up and eating but it always seems to work the same way. Some one is in charge. People coordinate through him so that all the meals don't come on the same day. I've also noticed that after the funeral it's usually dairy and fish. Throughout the week it's general kosher/kosher-style food. I assume the food coordinator forwards you to a suitable restaurant and they help you choose a meal based on what's already been chosen.

I generally see a complete meal provided for the extended family with enough snackable overflow to offer to those making condolence calls. So if 5lbs of sable and lox is financially impractical you can arrange to send some nice pastries.

As far as charitable contributions, the last time this was an issue in our household it was obvious where contributions should be sent. Have you read the death notice? If it's not there, I would call the funeral home and ask them. They may also be helpful in connecting you with the person in charge of meals. Also, one of these sources should have precise information on days and times. The last few times I've been involved in this, shiva has been fewer than four days and once only one and usually at restricted hours.

Remember, your heart's in the right place and your friend and his family will certainly be grateful. They're lucky to have such a thoughtful friend. Personally, in this situation I'd love some homecooked: tea biscuits, rugalach, cookies... Whatever you decide on will be perfect.

As far as kosher rules are considered I think chances are vanishingly small that you'll have a problem. Does your friend eat exclusively at kosher restaurants? If so, then don't bother cooking. It's hopeless. Find a kosher restaurant. Do they use a kosher butcher? If so, then give up on entrees and think dessert. If you don't know what food you'll be complementing make it pareve (containing neither meat nor dairy). It may be best to make the dessert pareve in any case. Otherwise: no pork, shrimp or cheeseburgers. I don't know about your friends but an overwhelming majority of Jews in this country don't even follow those rules. Still, this isn't the right time for ribs but anything kosher style would be fine.

I'm sorry about your loss.
posted by stuart_s at 6:08 PM on August 23, 2005

Or what caddis said. If you can't track down - or if there isn't - a coordinator go to a kosher style deli and get some pastry.
posted by stuart_s at 6:28 PM on August 23, 2005

A nice kugel is easy to make, delicious, appropriate, kosher, and always welcome. It will be devoured. Every shiva I've ever been to has been extremely food-centric.
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:59 PM on August 23, 2005

Cake, cookies, or dessert is best, i think. Only the very closest family and friends bring homemade food for the family to eat themselves. Others always bring food for all the people coming and going.
posted by amberglow at 7:34 PM on August 23, 2005

(you could take your friend out for a break one day to a nice meal--if he's not Orthodox or strictly observant--Shiva can be really claustrophobic)
posted by amberglow at 7:38 PM on August 23, 2005

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