The Jewish practice of sitting shiva comes from the Torah. In Genesis 50:10, Joseph mourned his father Jacob for seven days.
Because of this example, parents, spouses, children, and siblings of the deceased gather together and mourn their deceased family member for a week following the burial. This is one of the customs of a traditional Jewish funeral.
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During that time, friends and other family members visit those in mourning to give their support and express condolences. Here are some ideas of things to bring to a family who’s sitting shiva. This is similar to any funeral food that’s brought to a grieving family, but there are dietary concerns to consider.
What You Should Bring to a Shiva
While gifts, presents, stories, and food for a grieving family are usually welcome, these will make your loved ones feel extra cared for during this difficult time.
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You may consider making or buying traditional Jewish cookies, or kichlach. Look up recipes for Israeli tahini cookies, peanut butter gelt cookies, or double chocolate coconut macaroons.
Cookies are not considered kosher if they include butter or other dairy products. You should be able to find recipes that replace the butter with vegetable oil. If your cookies include dairy, make sure you attach a note indicating this on the container.
2. Jewish apple cake
Google “Jewish cakes” and you’ll immediately see pages of Jewish apple cake recipes. Jewish apple cakes are made with vegetable oil instead of butter, and this means that the cake can be eaten immediately after a meal that includes meat.
Bread plays an important significance in the Jewish faith. Challah is a traditional Jewish bread that is baked in a braid. A typical Challah loaf contains both eggs and honey.
We can’t have a list of what to bring to a family in mourning without including bagels. Bagels became especially popular in the United States when Eastern European Jewish immigrants introduced this boiled-then-baked bread in the early 1900s.
People usually eat bagels with lox and cream cheese — also referred to as “schmear.”
Note: There is a discussion in the Jewish community about whether lox with cream cheese is kosher.
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You might consider bringing candy, especially chocolate, to those sitting shiva. Check the label to make sure the chocolates are kosher. Some websites specialize in delivering chocolate candy trays to Jews sitting shiva.
You may consider complementing sweet chocolates with salty nuts. Jumbo cashews and almonds could be an ideal choice. Don’t forget to include a large spoon or small tongs so mourners can easily serve themselves.
7. Lentil soup
Mourners may feel like eating comforting carbohydrates during mourning, but shiva lasts seven days. You can’t sustain yourself on chocolates and challah for very long.
Why not bring a traditional lentil soup to a family in mourning? Lentil soup was the food that Jacob made for Isaac when he mourned his father’s death. It was also the food that hungry Esau was willing to trade for his birthright.
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8. Chicken noodle soup
This traditional comfort food crosses religious and ethnic groups. Everyone finds comfort from chicken noodle soup. It would likely be very comforting to bring homemade chicken noodle soup to a family sitting shiva.
9. Deviled eggs
You can never have enough deviled eggs. When prepared well, this modest, easy-to-prepare dish is very popular.
You could also consider bringing hard-boiled eggs. The egg’s shape represents the circle of birth, life, and death. Remember, the family will need three meals a day while they are sitting shiva, and boiled eggs could make a good breakfast.
10. Kosher meat platters
Kosher meat platters usually include slices of roast beef, corned beef, pastrami, and turkey breast. The meat is generally presented nicely on a tray and may be accompanied with slices of tomatoes, onions, and lettuce, and small containers of mayonnaise and mustard.
11. Fruit and vegetable trays
Fruit and vegetable trays are not only healthy, but they’re also great finger food. They can be left out for hours and can be accompanied by delicious dips. Fruit and vegetable trays are easy to grab at any grocery store on the way to a mourner’s home.
Families sitting shiva cannot survive on bagels alone. Consider bringing a fresh salad to a family in mourning. Place salad dressing and croutons on the side so lettuce leaves don’t get prematurely wilted.
Do you know the family’s preferred coffee orders? Why not stop off at your favorite local coffee shop and purchase lattés for the group? You can also buy bulk coffee at Starbucks. It’s served in recyclable containers and would be a great way to keep a family alert during shiva.
Bring containers of flavored creamer to please those who have less of a coffee addiction and more of a “creamer addiction.”
14. Paper goods
Instead of bringing food, you may consider purchasing paper goods for the family to use over the week. Plates, bowls, utensils, and cups would be appreciated. You may also consider purchasing disposable coffee cups with lids.
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If you are attending services at the shiva house, you may consider bringing your tallit, or fringed garment traditionally worn as a prayer shawl, to wear as you express your condolences to the family.
16. Prayer book
Along with your tallit, you may choose to bring your book with Jewish funeral prayers during your shiva call. This is appropriate if you know that there will be a prayer service during your visit.
Many people bring food to families sitting shiva. This is a needed and popular tradition. But don’t forget that a family is truly in mourning. They reflect upon the life of a loved one who has passed.
That’s why bringing photos of the person who passed away may bring just as much comfort as bringing a large pot of chicken and noodle soup. Your photos will tell your friends and family that the person who departed from this world was important to you, too.
18. Your happy stories of their loved one
Again, people want to hear that their loved ones were important to other people as well as to them. That’s why you should come prepared to share your appropriate memories of the family member. Tell the mourners why their loved one was special to you.
Whether you were close to the deceased or not, families sitting shiva may remind you of times you lost loved ones. You may want to bring a small packet of tissues to dry your tears of sadness during this difficult time.
Tip: Read our guide on what to put in a shiva basket for more ideas.
Not every Jew keeps kosher, but instead of asking, assume that the attendees do. You may know the practices of the immediate family, but you may not know how extended members of the family feel about their dietary habits. Whether or not the food is kosher, label it.
Sometimes someone will meet you at the door to take your food items to the kitchen. If no one is there, place the items there yourself.
Put your name on a card next to the food. If you would like to receive your dish back, mark your name on the bottom of the container. It’s always better to place food in disposable containers or containers you don’t want again. Remember, the grieving family is busy enough without having to remember to return your bowl to you.
What You Shouldn’t Bring to a Shiva
Not everything is appropriate to bring to a shiva. Try and avoid these items if you can.
- Flowers: Although some traditions encourage sending flowers to a funeral, they aren’t encouraged
- A bad attitude: When a family is sitting shiva, they don’t want to make idle chit chat. They don’t want to hear stories about when you lost a loved one. They don’t want to hear gossip or jokes.
Remembering Your Kindness During Shiva
Even if you don’t have the time or resources to bring something to a family sitting shiva, you should still stop by the house. Those experiencing grief want to know that they are being supported. They want to know that you care so much about them and their family that you would take time out of your busy schedule to express your condolences.
Whether you are Jewish or not, express your sympathy to a family sitting shiva. They will remember your kindness for years to come.