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How to plan a shiva in less than two days

Since shiva starts right after the burial of the deceased, there isn’t much time to plan for it after someone dies. Planning a shiva at all – let alone in two days – can feel stressful or overwhelming, particularly as the news of the death is fresh and emotions are raw. This quick guide, which covers the major components of shiva planning, is a helpful place to start. Remember, as long as you’re giving people a space to gather, mourn, and share support, you’re doing everything you need to do.

Designating a coordinator

A shiva is traditionally held at the home of a member of the deceased’s immediate family, but that doesn’t mean the family should take on host duties. Pick a shiva coordinator – an email-savvy cousin or a friend who loves errands – to tackle the logistics. The family can give instructions, but they shouldn’t feel pressured to be planning anything themselves. That way, shiva can be what it’s supposed to be: a time for mourners to experience their grief without distractions or obligations.

Getting the word out

Although telling people about a death is never easy, it’s important to share the address of a shiva house and the dates and times visitors can come to pay their respects. If you send out an obituary with information about a funeral, include shiva logistics. It can help to designate a couple of people from different parts of the deceased’s life to let people know via email, phone call, or even social media. Tell the synagogue to help reach out to the person’s congregation, and make an announcement about the funeral service and the burial.

Preparing the space

Depending on the family’s desired level of observance, a shiva house can look different from a regular home. It’s traditional to cover the mirrors and have the family sit on low chairs or cushions. Oftentimes, a funeral home or a synagogue can provide the items with religious significance, including low chairs, prayer books for services, and kippahs or head coverings. It’s also practical to rent folding chairs and a table or two for food and to make sure you have enough plates, utensils, and cups for all of the visitors.

Organizing food

Whether you’re just feeding the family or offering a bagel spread to everyone who visits, a big part of shiva is food. It’s hard to anticipate how many people will bring food to a shiva call and how much you’ll need to organize. Check with the family about kashrut and dietary restrictions and go from there. Call a favorite local restaurant or Jewish deli to cater. Order fruit platters or pre-made food baskets. Coordinate a meal schedule and have friends and neighbors sign up to cook for the family. No matter what food you have, the act of taking care of the mourners will be enough.

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