After a Jewish funeral, families typically commemorate the deceased loved one by sitting shiva for seven days, during which they stay at home and welcome guests to mourn with them and share memories. It can be daunting to make a shiva call, or visit a family in mourning. But the most helpful thing you can do is bring an edible and comforting gift.
Traditionally, relatives of the deceased are prohibited from cooking for the duration of shiva. While most Conservative and Reform families don’t observe this rule strictly, they may not have the energy or desire to cook — so food is the most standard thing to bring to shiva.
There are many kinds of food you can bring, but a couple considerations to keep in mind. If the family keeps kosher, you’ll want to adhere to their dietary restrictions, either by cooking in a kosher kitchen or buying food from a kosher establishment. You’ll want to bring something that can be eaten with a minimum of preparation or fuss — no one wants to wash dishes in the middle of mourning. And since the stream of visitors and gifts often slows after a few days, consider bringing a dish that can keep for a long time. Or just stop by with a gift towards the end of shiva, to show the mourners that your thoughts are still with them.
For more guidance, we’ve rounded up the best foods to bring (and a couple to avoid!) when it’s time to attend a shiva.
In many Orthodox communities, mourners usually aren’t expected to bring food or gifts to the shiva. Close friends of the family or members of the community will organize food for mourners. If you’re not certain what to do, check with the family or synagogue before making a shiva call.
The most practical foods to bring are those that can be easily reheated — during shiva, the microwave is everyone’s best friend. Plus, a warm casserole is one of the most comforting dishes around.
Like casseroles, soups can live comfortably in the fridge for a few days before being eaten. And a hearty broth can help maintain a family’s energy.
Snacks or baked goods
Above all, you want to make sure your gift makes life easier, not harder, for the mourners. Meals that require a lot of preparation and clean-up are unwise, but snacks and baked goods can be consumed without trouble. And if you don’t have time to cook a full meal, a batch of homemade cookies is still a thoughtful gesture.
Most of the foods on this list are very comforting — and just a little unhealthy. After a few days of eating bagels and deli sandwiches, mourners might be in the mood for something lighter. Save them the effort of preparing a balanced meal by bringing a salad.
A gift card
It seems impersonal, but at a certain point mourners may prefer an excuse to go out for Chinese food than another Tupperware clogging up the fridge. This is a good way to express sympathy and be helpful if you live far away and can’t bring food in person. But if the family is observing traditional prohibitions against leaving the house during shiva, this may not be helpful to them, so make sure to check before sending.
What not to bring
There are no hard-and-fast rules about what to bring to shiva. But keep in mind that while flowers are a standard gift at Christian funerals, they are not typical at shiva calls (the reasoning: their inevitable wilting is an unwelcome reminder of death). Additionally, while some families serve liquor during shiva, others may feel it’s inappropriate to do so. At the end of the day, you can evaluate the family’s needs on a case-by-case basis — and if you’re not sure about their preferences, don’t be afraid to ask.
Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to bring to a shiva call