“Judaism, with its long history of dealing with the soul of man, its intimate knowledge of man’s achievements and foibles, his grandeur and his weakness, has wisely devised graduated periods during which [mourners] may express [their] grief, and release with calculated regularity the built-up tensions caused by bereavement. The Jewish religion provides a beautifully structured approach to mourning.”
Shiva (from the Hebrew word sheva, for seven) is the first, most intense, period of mourning after burial of the deceased. Immediately following the funeral and burial, attention turns from the deceased to the bereaved as they begin seven days of grieving, comforted and supported by their friends and community.
Traditionally, friends make prior arrangements for three observances when the family returns home from the cemetery:
- Preparing the house of mourning by covering the mirrors, providing low chairs and non-leather slippers for the mourners, and ensuring a minyan and adequate prayer books for each day’s service.
- Hand washing before re-entering the home.
- A seudat havraah, meal of condolence, traditionally consisting simply of bread, hardboiled eggs, cooked vegetables or lentils, and a beverage, which could include wine.
At Or Shalom, the bereaved decide with the rabbi how many gatherings they want to have within the week of shiva. Members of the gemilut chesed group then contact the family or their preferred contact person to ensure that the home is properly prepared, that the preparation and delivery of the seudat havraah is arranged, and that prayer books and a minyan are provided for each gathering.
If the funeral is out of town and shiva is observed elsewhere, the gemilut chesed group contacts the family about having a meal or groceries at their home when they return.
The end of shiva, the most intense period of mourning, is often marked by the mourners walking together a short distance (e.g., around the block) to signify their return to society.
Shloshim (Hebrew for thirty) is a less intense period of mourning following shiva. It lasts for thirty days after interment and is the final mourning period for all relatives except one’s parents, who are mourned for a full twelve months.
During shloshim, mourners resume many of their social and professional obligations, but refrain from attending festivities or parties. In this way, they are “eased” back into their normal routines.
The end of shloshim is often marked by a gathering of friends to remember the life of the deceased. Mourners can speak with the rabbi about their desire for a memorial gathering and the gemilut chesed group will contact the family about helping with refreshments, set-up and clean-up.