In many cultures, funeral flowers are a way to offer condolences to the family of the deceased. Not only are flowers beautiful, but they’re a reminder of the circle of life. However, Jewish funeral traditions are different. In the Jewish faith, it is not appropriate to send flowers to funerals or the family.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Flowers Aren’t Present at a Jewish Funeral
- What You Can Send to a Shiva, Funeral, or Unveiling In Lieu of Flowers
- Honor the Family with a Considerate Gift
The good news is there are many other bereavement gifts to choose from instead of flowers. There are a number of traditions and practices that go along with the Jewish funeral process. The greater your understanding of these customs, the better equipped you’ll be to offer support to the family in need. In this guide, we’ll uncover why you can’t send flowers to a Jewish funeral or shiva, as well as what to send instead.
Why Flowers Aren’t Present at a Jewish Funeral
Jewish funerals are quick affairs. Unlike other traditions and cultures in which funeral preparations and events might last days or even weeks, the entire funeral service takes place within 24 hours of death in the Jewish faith. After the body’s burial, the family does a practice known as sitting shiva. Shiva is an intense mourning period that lasts typically between 7 and 30 days.
There are many different reasons for why there are no flowers at Jewish funerals. In some ways, this is simply because of tradition. Flowers haven’t been a part of Jewish condolences for hundreds of years, and this isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The primary reasons why there are no flowers today are:
- Tradition - Again, this is a tradition that goes back millennia. In the past, the Jewish people lived in arid, desert climates. Flowers were scarce, if found at all. The Jewish people used what they had, and that often meant using stones or small rocks instead of flowers.
- Equality - In the Jewish faith, there is a large belief in equality in death. This means everyone deserves an equal funeral free from expressions of wealth. If families could use flowers in their funeral process, wealthier people would have more to “show” on their grave than poor people. To avoid this, no flowers are present at all.
- Memorial - Finally, many Jewish families would rather have money spent on flowers go towards something that leaves a stronger legacy. Flowers wilt quickly. This is why it’s common to see small stones on Jewish graves. Stones are long-lasting compared to flowers. Leaving a lasting impact is an important part of the Jewish faith.
It’s easy to see why flowers aren’t included in Jewish funerals when you consider the points above. There are many other valuable ways to honor the family and the deceased without flowers, and these apply to any type of funeral service.
What You Can Send to a Shiva, Funeral, or Unveiling In Lieu of Flowers
Honoring the dead and supporting the family are all an essential part of the Jewish faith. While flowers are the most popular way to offer condolences for most modern funerals, they’re far from the only way. If you wish to send something to a shiva, funeral, or headstone unveiling, consider one of these options below.
Before you choose from the list below, be mindful of the family’s requests. On the funeral invite or other messaging, they might request something specific “in lieu of flowers” in honor of the deceased. Always respect their wishes whenever possible.
Attend events and memorials
The first way to show your support is also the simplest. Attending funeral events, visiting the family during shiva, or attending the headstone unveiling are all ways to offer kindness. Physically joining the family is a sign of great respect.
If you do choose to support the family with a visit during their shiva mourning period, it’s appropriate to bring a gift as well. For that, look at the list below.
Another common gift for bereaved families is food. People have been bringing food to mourning families for centuries, and it’s still a great choice today. After the death of a loved one, many families are too busy mourning to cook for themselves.
This is especially true while a family is sitting shiva. During this time, people focus on Jewish funeral prayers and reflection. Chores are not a priority. A home-cooked or restaurant meal proves much-needed sustenance.
There are a lot of ways to offer food to the family in need:
- Comfort foods - Everyone loves comfort foods because they fill us with warm, familiar feelings. When cooking comfort foods, use a disposable container that doesn’t need to be washed. Ensure they’re easy to heat and don’t require much preparation.
- Restaurant cards - If you’re not sure what type of food the family prefers, a restaurant gift card or food delivery gift card is a great option.
- Grazing foods - If you’d rather not give a full meal, grazing foods like nuts, fruits, and other healthy snacks are a kind gesture.
- Kosher - Finally, make sure any food selection is Kosher if the family is Orthodox.
Read our guide on shiva food and gift baskets for more ideas.
Families are under a lot of stress after the death of a loved one. They might not have time to do regular chores, especially if they’re still sitting shiva. Offering practical gifts might not be the first thing you think of, but these gifts go a long way towards helping the family in need. Here are some ideas for practical gift items:
- Groceries - Offer to go grocery shopping for the family. Chores like shopping can be overlooked, but they help the family return to their normal routine.
- Household essentials - Pick up a few household essentials like paper towels, disposable plates, toilet paper, etc. ensures the family doesn’t have to worry about having their essentials stocked while grieving.
- Thank you cards, stamps, and envelopes - It’s common for families to mail thank you cards after a funeral. They might not have time to get these themselves, and they might need help filling everything out quickly. Taking over this task is an easy way to step up when needed.
Finally, it’s common to make a donation in honor of the deceased or his or her family. The type of donation depends on a number of factors. Most families list the charity or cause they’d like everyone to gift to on the funeral invitation or in the obituary, but you might also have the freedom of choice. Here are some ideas:
- Consider the cause of death - If the deceased passed away due to a condition, illness, or injury, it’s common to donate towards medical research. There are tons of charities that fight for a cure and help those living with these conditions.
- Local community - Donate funds to a local community activity, organization, or group. This is especially great if the deceased was a part of one of these groups.
- Large cause - Finally, donate to a large cause in honor of the deceased or his or her family. For example, perhaps they were passionate about animal rights. Giving to an animal charity is an amazing way to pay tribute to the deceased’s time on earth.
Honor the Family with a Considerate Gift
Each family has different needs and wishes when it comes to sympathy gifts. However, in the Jewish faith, it’s not appropriate to send flowers to the funeral, shiva, or other memorial events. These alternatives above are the perfect way to show the family you’re thinking of them. From offering a lending hand to gifting a lasting legacy, these gifts last much longer than flowers.
Figuring out what to get to support a grieving family isn’t always easy. How does the deceased want to be remembered? Start end-of-life planning yourself to answer these difficult questions for those you love while you can. There is rarely a “best” gift when it comes to showing your sympathy. It really is the thought that counts. As long as you’re putting the family first, your heart is in the right place.
- Popovsky, Mark. “Jewish Ritual, Reality and Response at the End of Life: A Guide to Caring for Jewish Patients and Their Families.” Duke Divinity. May 2007. Divinity.Duke.edu.