Jewish memorial service and shiva for the gentile.
February 10, 2016 8:13 AM   Subscribe

My good friend's mother passed away and they are having a memorial service at a temple and a shiva. I know the Christian protocols, but am wondering how to proceed. Is sending flowers appropriate? I understand bringing food to the shiva is customary (I know they do not keep kosher), do I bring it with me or take it ahead? Any other guidance here would be appreciated. My friend is quite distressed and I do not want to bother her with these questions at this time.
posted by sarajane to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: No flowers.

Bringing food is appropriate but not necessary - bringing to the shiva house is better than sending because you're not creating extra work for anyone who's grieving. The very best thing to bring - if you are able - are photos and/or memories your friend's mother. Shiva is basically a time for your friend and her family to sit and talk about the deceased, or about themselves, or just to sit and be. A typical shiva visit lasts as long as you feel you're not intruding - anywhere from 8 minutes to an hour. The best thing a visitor can do is listen, or share your own memories if you have any.
posted by Mchelly at 8:25 AM on February 10, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a bit more information on shiva visits, if it helps.
posted by Mchelly at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2016

Contact the temple and ask them. Many congregations have comittees specifically set up to help with this issue, and organize the influx of things like food and help schedule those who wish to sit shiva, and answer any questions people might have so as not to bother those who are in mourning. If they don't have a whole system set up, they will still be able to let you know basic guidelines and if there are any preferences that have been expressed in this specific case that might not have gotten to you.

Sometimes people ask that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to a certain charity. Generally, shiva is about taking day-to-day burdens away from mourning people so that they can focus on and better process grief. Obligations like taking care of flowers can be just another thing that makes trouble. Of course this can be an individual preference, too. But instead of focusing on appropriate protocol, my advice would be to stay low-key and roll with things. If someone asks you to do something, do it. But your main job here is to be an alive person who is present and cares. What you do or do not bring is not as important.
posted by Mizu at 8:28 AM on February 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

The non- Jewish owners of Musso's sent a wreath to my grandfather's funeral (the restaurant was a block and a 1/2 away from his bookstore and one of his favorites).
posted by brujita at 8:29 AM on February 10, 2016

This was to the synagogue at the cemetery.
posted by brujita at 8:32 AM on February 10, 2016

Showing up and being there for your friend is the most important thing to bring to the shiva. There will probably be times announced for when the public shiva is (including probably right after the service). The front door will likely be unlocked during that time, and if so, there is no need to knock / ring the doorbell.
posted by Phredward at 8:46 AM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: No flowers. In my experience, typically friends band together and plan all the lunches/dinners (feeding family only) for the shiva, so person 1 will get the first lunch, person 2 the second lunch, etc, and guests come between lunch and dinner, or after dinner.
posted by jeather at 8:48 AM on February 10, 2016

My sister's fiancée's family sent flowers to the shiva -- a poinsettia, because it was around Christmas -- when my grandmother died, and it was the hardest my mother and I'd laughed in a long time. Don't send flowers.
posted by thursdaystoo at 8:50 AM on February 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I recently sat shiva, and it was super super helpful when people sent stuff we could actually eat for dinner, as opposed to cookies and cake, which is what most people tend to bring (myself included, heretofore). Of course, there's no time to make meals when you're sitting shiva, so we were really happy to have proper food that we could eat after everyone left. Nothing fancy -- just stuff like turkey and rye bread to make sandwiches and things like that. We didn't have any problem with having it sent; usually one of the guests took care of showing the delivery guy where to go and putting it in the fridge or what have you. So if it's easier, go ahead and send something.
posted by holborne at 8:54 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

You can just go to a kosher or kosher style deli and say "i need some food to bring to a shiva" and they will sort you out.

As mentioned by everyone else above, no flowers.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:00 AM on February 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

It is also very traditional to make a donation to charity in honor of the deceased. (One reason or the tradition - It counts to their merit in heaven since it shows that they lived in a way that inspired others to do good deeds). This does not have to be done right in time for the shiva - usually you rely on the charity to let the family know that you made the donation.

In my experience, there will probably be way more food than anyone could possibly eat so I would feel very comfortable not adding to the pile unless you want to coordinate with others about that is needed.

The big thing is to just show up. Even if there is a crowd and you don't get to talk, it can mean a lot to know that people cared enough to show up.
posted by metahawk at 9:31 AM on February 10, 2016

Everyone's covered the biggies, but a few small details that you may or may not encounter, depending on how traditional your friends are: it is customary to cover mirrors and remove your shoes when in a house of mourning. There also may be a pitcher or bowl of water by the door; it is for ceremonially washing hands. Unless you are coming from a cemetery, you don't need to use it. If you are, just briefly slosh a little water over your hands.
posted by prewar lemonade at 9:48 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and if there's an extra low chair, don't sit on it. That's the mourner's chair.
posted by jeather at 9:51 AM on February 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In more religious homes, it's customary to just walk in and not ring the doorbell. This is keeping with the tradition of "the people at this house are in mourning, and therefore will not be serving you in any way" (hence other people bringing the food, etc.).
posted by Melismata at 10:22 AM on February 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If your friend has a big support system, I actually wouldn't send/bring food to the shiva house. (Coals to Newcastle.)

If YOU are a major part of her support system, I would order a deli platter, crudités platter, etc., as mentioned above. The guests eat it and the family does too. But you will know if you're a major player here. If so, throw down some money, if possible, and get the nice model. It would be a nice gesture to order from the kosher store, if there is one in town, even if you know for a fact they don't keep kosher.

If you really don't want to show up empty-handed, put together a small bag of stuff that does not need to be refrigerated or frozen. (Space will be running short.) When you walk in, just take it to the kitchen and set it down. A regular grocery bag, not a gift bag.

Otherwise, there isn't much protocol.

In my experience, a non-Jew wouldn't be expected to wash their hands if coming from the cemetery.

The no shoes thing is for mourners--has nothing to do with you. Don't take off your shoes when you enter.

Walk in (the door will probably be ajar), find a seat, sit in a quiet and friendly manner, listen. Officially one waits for the mourner to say something, one doesn't greet the mourner or speak first, but in practice, people are hugging or crying or talking, anyway.

The low chairs mentioned are weird-looking folding chairs or little boxes. There is no danger of you mistaking them for a regular chair. Just sit on a regular chair.

If you go the day of the funeral, there may be a short prayer service at the house even if the family is not traditional at all. This shouldn't be too weird...just sit and listen.

Try to space out your visit to an obscure day (not a weekend, not the first or last day) so that there isn't a massive crowd or an empty house.

The time for a special greeting or blessing is traditionally when you get up to leave. Get up to leave (anything more than 15 minutes is fine), go over and hug your friend or do whatever you guys do, and then say your closing line. You could say "May her memory be for a blessing," but say whatever rolls off your tongue. "May she rest in peace" is fine, too.
posted by 8603 at 10:48 AM on February 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you really don't want to show up empty-handed, put together a small bag of stuff that does not need to be refrigerated or frozen.

Yes, this. Brownies/cookies are always good because they last a few days and the family can use them to feed visitors.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:55 AM on February 10, 2016

The family may not keep kosher, but some of their relatives and friends might. My advice would be to bring some fresh fruit or crudites without dips.
posted by mareli at 10:57 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also just want to throw this in: a lot of non-Jewish people who have never made a shiva call get nervous at the thought of going to a shiva because they think that everyone is kind of sitting in a circle talking about the person who died and they'll feel weird or out of place. It's not so heavy; it's really not that different from just visiting someone's house under normal circumstances, or for a cocktail party or something (although of course you're not actually drinking cocktails, most likely).
posted by holborne at 11:01 AM on February 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

A couple of extra details:

-- men and women may be segregated during the prayer portion and then everyone mingles
-- an appropriate greeting to the mourners is "i wish you a long life" (officially mourners are: parents, children and siblings of the deceased, but really it's appropriate to say to anyone who knew them)
-- you may notice that the "official" mourners have a tear in their clothing (background here)
posted by prettypretty at 12:41 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was recently a non-Jew at a synagogue for a friend's father's memorial service. (No shiva, though - that happened earlier and in another place.)

It strikes me that for some of these questions, you could maybe contact someone at the synagogue itself. I'm sure, especially in the case of funerals, they may have non-Jews showing up at other times who aren't sure how to behave, and they may know best how to guide you. (they may even be touched that you're asking.)

At the memorial I went to, it was like most other religious services I went to - there were prayers that most people read off a sheet they'd handed out at the beginning, my friend and one of my friends' cousins said a few things, and there was a reception in the basement after where the synagogue had ordered the food and people gathered to mingle and tell stories. In fact, I found out that I wasn't the only non-Jew there when I stumbled upon a group of guys who'd gathered from the bar where the deceased used to tend bar (they were telling the best stories so I was hanging around them). My friend and I didn't even talk about his father, we talked about kayaking or something. But - that was what I felt like my friend needed in the moment, and so I did it.

Everyone gets all flustery about funeral stuff ("omigod, what should I do, what's the right way to behave"), and even more so if it's a religion you're not used to. But really, just showing up and being supportive helps a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:31 PM on February 10, 2016

Yes, to back up holborne, depending on how old the poor lady was, and her circumstances, this may actually be a fun rather than solemn event. A cocktail party is right on. A shiva for a child (heaven forbid) or someone 50 years old is sad by definition, but in other cases, you might be essentially sitting around chilling.
posted by 8603 at 2:56 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

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