The time of mourning in Jewish tradition is a time for reflection and love. But being there for our friends in grief isn’t always easy, especially when we are not familiar with the traditions and customs of their religion.
If you find yourself in need of comforting a Jewish friend but want to get familiar with appropriate etiquette and condolence messages, we’ve put together this article to help.
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In general, when offering condolences to a Jewish friend, let them speak first and respond with personal affection. Brief thoughts about the decedent's life are more favorable than endless chattiness. Mourning is not a time to socialize, rather a time to reflect. If you’re having trouble finding words to say, have a look at our guidelines below for a helping hand.
Jewish Condolence Etiquette
Judaism is filled with intricacies of ritual, including sitting shiva. Shiva is the seven days of mourning after the funeral of a loved one. During this time, people will make a “shiva-call,” which is the offering of condolences. Not only is it a sign of respect, but also support.
You have several channels or mediums from which to choose when offering condolences.
- Kosher food and condolence baskets: Mourners provide food for the family who is mourning. Shiva baskets include baked goods, desserts, fruit, dried fruit, nuts, and chocolates. Shiva trays (or platters) generally contain meats, fish, salads, fruits, and sweets.
- Make a financial donation: Donations can be made to the synagogue. They may also be sent to an agency with which the deceased was involved such as a charity, club, or youth organization.
- Plant a tree in Israel: Planting trees in someone’s memory, and in Israel, is not only common, but it is also appropriate. Over the last century, planting trees in Israel has resulted in creating over 2,000 parks. Many people even take trips to spend time among them. You can read our guide on planting a tree in memory of a loved in Israel for more.
- Create a plaque and memory page at the synagogue: Both are lovely ways to memorialize a loved one. A memory page provides people with opportunities to share or read stories. A plaque will remain on the walls of the synagogue forever.
- Send flowers: It is not customary to send flowers to someone’s home during Shiva. Instead, you may choose to send them after the period of mourning has passed.
- Send sympathy messages: Sympathy messages may be short, but poignant. They may also include quotes from the Torah.
When you offer condolences to anyone the most important thing to remember is to speak from the heart. You can’t make a mistake when you speak with love and sincerity. The Shiva is also a time wherein silence is a warm response to sorrow. So, if you are having trouble finding the right words, then sitting quietly is welcomed.
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Ideas for Jewish Condolence Messages
Jewish messages are permitted to be short or long. They may include quotes from scripture, poets, and other writers, or just reflections of personal time with the decedent. If you are attending the shiva, let the bereaved speak before you offer your condolences.
- [Name’s] friendship meant a great deal to me. I want you to know [Name] was always praising you and your family. S/he had the highest regard for all of you.
- [Name] was my favorite chess partner. Tuesday afternoons were a blessing.
- We wish you lasting memories to fill your heart now and always. [Name] left an indelible mark on all of us.
- [Name] always had the most welcoming smile. I will always remember that about her/him.
- [Name] will be fondly remembered and greatly missed. I could set my clock by her/him.
- Every time I see a beautiful garden or smell a beautiful rose, I will think of [Name].
- I learned so much from [Name]. S/he taught me to love [subject] more than any other teacher I have ever had. I have [Name] to thank for me becoming a [occupation].
- “May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” [This should be said either in English or Hebrew, or both when you are leaving the Shiva.]
On the phone
- [Name] was kind of heart and generous of spirit. Everyone here at [place] admired her/him.
- S/he was always the first to arrive when the community was in need. That was such a great lesson for us all to learn.
- We have lost a formidable member of our community. [Name] impacted the lives of so many people.
- [Name] was a person of positivity and sincerity. S/he lit up every room s/he entered.
- Our community will not forget everything that [Name] contributed. We will be honoring [Name] for all of their dedication.
- “May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” [This should be said either in English or Hebrew, or both when you are ending your phone call.]
In flowers, cards, or gifts
- With this [gift], we send our love, thoughts, and prayers to you and your family during this difficult time. [Add your name and if necessary, your relationship to the deceased.]
- This is but a small token of our continued love and thoughts for you in your time of sorrow. [Add your name and if necessary, your relationship to the deceased.]
- With this tree, may [Name’s] memory offer shade to those in need. [Add your name and if necessary, your relationship to the deceased.]
- Please accept this small gift and our sympathies during your time of mourning. [Add your name and if necessary, your relationship to the deceased.]
- With every Spring, may this tree blossom in memory of [Name]. [Add your name and if necessary, your relationship to the deceased.]
- Loved ones never truly leave us; they remain in our hearts forever. [Add your name and if necessary, your relationship to the deceased.]
On social media or digital memorial
- In loving memory of a wonderful human being. [Add a personal thought or story, and the name of your family.]
- [Name] was an asset to our faith and community. Her/his life and light will be profoundly missed. [Add a short story of their contribution and your relation.]
- “Ah, how many luxuries has the good God prepared for his Jewish children.” —Sholom Aleichem [Add the name of your family.]
- [Name] spent so much time giving to her/his community that we are left with nothing but gratitude. [Add a short story of their contribution and your relation.]
- “Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.” —Menachem Begin [Add the name of your family.]
- “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He guideth me in straight paths for His name's sake.” —Psalm 23 [Add the name of your family.]
- “You are the God that does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the people. With Your arm, You have redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.” —Psalm 77 [Add the name of your family.]
- “O God, You have been our refuge in every generation. Before the mountains came into being, before You brought forth the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity You are God.” —Psalm 90 [Add the name of your family.]
Via text or email
- [Names of surviving family members] are all in our thoughts. Our family extends our home and hearts to each of you in this time of sorrow. A small donation will be made to the [Temple’s name].
- I am sorry we were unable to attend the funeral, but we wanted to share our condolences. A tree will be planted in [name’s] honor in Israel.
- “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” —Khalil Gibran
- We are sorry we didn’t send our regards sooner. We only just found out about [Name]. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you.
- Unfortunately, we won’t be able to attend [Name’s] shiva. Please know we’ll be there with our hearts and minds. A donation will be made in her/his honor to [charity].
- “May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” [This should be written either in English or Hebrew, or both when done sending text messages, or at the end of your email.]
Offering Jewish Sympathies
Because there are so many Jewish funeral and burial traditions, it can be difficult to keep them all straight. So, the best thing to remember is to speak from your heart. Let the bereaved know how much that person meant to you.