Bereavement

The Shiva Call

by: Rabbi Simeon Schreiber

Copyright © 1999

“Shiva” – Its Meaning and Purpose

Shiva is a hebrew word that means the number seven. Used in the context of “Aveylut” or mourning, it refers to the seven day period of mourning that traditional Jews observe when a family member has passed away and begins immediately after the burial has taken place.

During the Shiva period, family, friends and members of the community visit the mourners in the hope of bringing bthem some measure of comfortand consolation, and this visit has become known as the Shiva Call.

The Shiva Call

The Shiva Call, which is a uniquely Jewish experience, presents an extraordinary opportunity for both the visitor and mourner to join one another in a truly meaningful spiritual and healing moment.

The visitor is able to demonstrate a heartfelt sense of caring, love and empathy, while the mourner is able to use this opportunity as a cathartic release of feelings that need to be expressed. Together they share a kaleidoscope of emotions – from sadness, loss and grief to comfort, solace and inner peace.

Unfortunately, because the etiquette for “paying a Shiva Call” has never been effectively communicated throughout the Jewish community, there has been a deterioration in the proper performance of this important mitzvah. This guideline is only a partial remedy. It is hoped that with proper knowledge, information and instruction, what is often perceived as a difficult chore can be transformed into a meaningful, worthwhile and elevating spiritual experience.

A Shiva Call is:

  • Often a highly emotional time for the mourners and the visitors.
  • Intended to allow the mourners an opportunity….
    • to mourn….
    • to grieve….
    • to remember….
    • to laugh….
    • to share….
    • to feel a sense of caring from friends, family and the community.
  • Often a time for tears…a time for touching, and a time for silence.
  • Always a time to listen.

A Shiva Call is not:

  • Always comfortable, pleasant, enjoyable or easy to do.
  • An occasion for socializing with friends and family.
  • A time for loud conversation, idle talk, gossip or frivolity.
  • An opportunity to discuss business, weather, fashion, sports or the stock market.
  • A time for reminiscing about the visitor’s own personal losses.
  • An excessively lengthy visit.

 

"do's and don'ts"

The Etiquette of A Shiva Call

  • Prior to paying a Shiva Call, inquire as to the meal and prayer service schedules at the place of mourning. This will allow both the mourners and the visitors the opportunity to to get the most out of the time they spend together.
  • Enter the residence without knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell.
  • Upon entering he room where the mourners are seated, try to make eye contact so that your presence is recognized and felt, without the need for greeting or introduction.
  • Because the visitor is unaware of the mods or emotional levels of the mourners, it is insensitive for the visitor to initiate any conversation. Wait for the mourners to speak first and let the mourners set he tone.
  • Focus the conversation on their feelings, emotions, experiences and remembrances about the deceased.
  • To encourage such conversation, it is appropriate (where applicable) to make statements like:
    • “I really did not know your….could you tell men what he/she was like?”
    • “How did your parents meet?”
    • “How long were they married?”
    • “What will you miss most about….?”
    • “Was….’s passing expected?”
    • “Were you with….when he/she passed away?”
    • “Did you have a chance to say good-bye?”
    • “When I lost my….it was so painful. How are you doing?”
  • Upon taking leave of the mourners face them and recite the following phrase:

“המקום ינחם אתחם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים”

HA-MA-KOWM Yeh-nah=chem Es-chem B’Towch Sha-ar Ah-vey-ley Tzion V;Yerushalayim

“May G-d confort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”:

Additional comments might include:

  • “I know this must be a difficult time for you. My thoughts and prayers are with you.”
  • “May G-d bless you only with happiness and good things from now on.”
  • “I’m sure that the wonderful memories you have of…..will be a source of strength for you during this difficult time.”
  • “There’s so little that I can say at this time. Just know that I’m with you.”
  • “Your relationship with….was so special. I know you’ll never forget him/her.”

And as a final comment….

  • “….was a wonderful human being. I will miss him/her tremendously.”

Anticipating that mourners will have difficulty preparing meals for the seven day Shiva period, many visitors send or bring foods of various types. Prior to preparing sending any foods, specific needs and dietary restrictions should be determined. Under all circumstances, scrupulous attention to the laws of Kashruth should be observed – that i, confirming that all foods are strictly kosher.

Coin boxes for charitable donations – “Pushka” boxes – are often provided at the place of mourning. It is traditional and appropriate to make a nominal donation in memory of the deceased.

frequently asked questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • If the mourner choses not to speak about the deceased, how should I respond?

After an initial attempt top focus the conversation on the deceased, the visitor should not force the issue. The visit should be brief, and words of consolation should be expressed before leaving.

  • If the visitor represents an organization or has no personal relationship with the mourner or the deceased, what should be said?

Identify the organization, adding “Though I did not know your…..personally, I want to express our feelings of sorrow on your loss”

 
Thu, August 17 2017 25 Av 5777