Sympathy Etiquette Guide: The Jewish Faith

August 21, 2013    |    By +
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Choosing sympathy gifts is never easy. How can any gift fill the void of a missing loved one? It’s a tall order, but remember, no one actually expects a sympathy gift to eliminate the grief. Still, a gift adds a bright touch to an otherwise dark time, so my suggestion is to always give when the opportunity arises. But, there are some guidelines that you need to be aware of so that you don’t offend the people you care about and are trying to help. Being sensitive to friends’ and acquaintances’ cultural traditions is always a must, but it’s especially crucial at this fragile time. Some gifts or gestures that are your go-tos may turn out to be big no-gos, depending on the culture. With this in mind, I’m doing a series on sympathy etiquette by tradition to help you navigate sympathy gifts. First up? Jewish sympathy traditions.

Following the funeral, Jewish people sit shiva. Shiva is where family and friends visit the home of the deceased while they mourn. It lasts for seven days. Never ring the doorbell if you attend shiva. Visitors should quietly enter the home and sit with the mourners. Don’t speak unless you are spoken to; if those sitting shiva choose to honor the deceased in silence, you must honor that. Flowers are considered too flashy, so don’t bring them to the funeral or shiva. Traditionally, the view is that the family of the deceased shouldn’t be bothered with preparing meals. So, bring kosher foods for the family members to eat. Round foods such as eggs and bagels symbolize the circle of life and are welcomed at the shiva table. You can also make a donation to a Jewish charity (or any charity related to the cause of death), or a contribution to the family’s synagogue in the name of the deceased. Sympathy cards are always appropriate as well.

With these notes, you’re assured you won’t make a regrettable mistake during a tough time. See’s other sympathy etiquette by tradition posts and shop all of our handpicked sympathy gifts with these guidelines in mind.




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Kathryn D.W.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is the senior manager of content at She was formerly the executive editor at Honolulu Magazine, and is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Shopping on Oahu. Her career has included staff positions at Country Living Gardener and Power & Motoryacht. Her latest book is "Hawaii's Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!"

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Gwen is the Editorial Curator at In addition to writing blogs, she creates gift guides, curates the site, and produces content for our social media channels. As a freelance writer, she created blogs on fashion, art, travel, health and lifestyle. A talented jewelry designer, she's also a yogi and a hospital volunteer with her therapy dog, Lilo, a Pomeranian.