Temple Emanu-El clergy and congregants are there for our members in times of joy and sorrow. When someone is sick, our rabbis and members provide support. In the case where death is expected or has occurred, our rabbis are there to help give guidance and comfort in a loving and caring way.
Our clergy perform funerals and memorial services, as well as spiritual counseling for the grieving family. If available, our clergy can perform on-site non-member funerals/memorial services but there will be an officiating fee and a facility usage fee.
Mourning Customs of the Temple Emanu-El community
Members of our community typically hold one, two, or three nights of Shiva Services or a Shiva Minyan in their home. This is a time for our community to show support to those who are experiencing deep grief. We gather in support to share and listen to stories, and to hold a short service which concludes with the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish.
It is customary to light a shiva candle in the home that will burn for 7 days. Dresslers can arrange for you to receive a candle.
Customs you may have heard of: Covering the mirrors in your home so that you can focus on your mourning and not worry about your outward appearance; Sitting low to the ground as a signal of mourning and needing to feel quite literaly grounded to something. These are appropriate observations of tradition, but are not obligatory.
After the funeral of your loved one, it would be appropriate to attend services on Friday nights and/or Saturday morning, most especially in the first 30 days after the funeral.
The first seven days after the funeral are known as “shiva,” from the Hebrew word “seven.” The period of 30 days after the funeral is known as “sh’loshim,” Hebrew for “thirty.” Finally the period of “yod-bet,” the Hebrew letters used for the number twelve, refers to the first year of mourning. Although the number twelve is used to represent the 12 months, mourners traditionally complete their recitation of Kaddish on a daily/weekly basis after 11 months. The traditional purpose for the recitation of Kaddish is to help our loved one’s soul enter olam habah, the world to come (the afterlife). However, in honor of our loved one, we only recite Kaddish for 11 months, as a testament to their goodness, that they would not need all 12 months for their soul to be moved.
Our congregation invites members to rise and be recognized by the community in the moments before the mourner’s kaddish. The rabbi will invite those in the period of shiva, the first seven days after the funeral to rise; followed by those in the period of sh’loshim, the first thirty days; followed by those in yod-bet, the first year of mourning. The rabbi invites those who have a custom of rising to join the mourners to then rise. Finally, the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited.
Traditionally, one recites Kaddish for a parent, spouse, child, or sibling. However, many in our community recognize the death anniversaries of other beloved members of their life with the recitation of Mourner’s Kaddish. After the Holocaust, when so many members of the Jewish community died without anyone to recite Kaddish for them, the American Reform Jewish Community instituted the communal recitation of Kaddish.
Furthermore, many people feel a deep sense of loss and mourning for friends and family members who do not fit the traditional categories, and the recitation of Kaddish for these losses brings great comfort and a sense of connection to Jewish ritual. You will see a variety of observations for this custom at Temple Emanu-El. Some will remain seated, others will rise but not recite the words, and others will rise and join the mourner’s in the recitation of Kaddish.
In a more traditional sense, the period of shiva, the seven days of mourning, is set aside as a time for the mourner to grieve. One might choose to take the week off from work, and in turn spend time inside the home surrounded by loved ones. It’s a time to be with family and community. For many, taking off work for a week would be more of a burden than taking a few days and then heading back to the office (financially, with schedules, or with personal preference for work-life balance). As such, many in our community find it fulfilling to take only a few days time, rather than the entire week, though that is also practiced.
For members of our community, sitting shiva is most often connected to the time in which a member of our clergy team visits the family, along with friends who have come to be present and help make a minyan. Judaism demands ten people be present for certain prayers and is a built-in system for raising up the importance and impact of being in a community in both joyous and somber times.
Together with friends, family, and a member of the clergy team, familiar prayers are recited and stories of the deceased may be shared. The service concludes with Mourner’s Kaddish.
Prior to and after the service, people will likely nosh on the various foods that have been brought into the home by guests. Those in mourning often find it difficult to eat, but friends provide nourishment as a signal that life must go on.
Attending a house of mourning in the first seven days after burial can be both a meaningful and also a tough experience. It’s hard to know what to say when someone is experiencing the pain of a death, the loss of a loved one in their own life.
Out of respect for the mourner, Jewish tradition is rich with “expectations” at a house of mourning. These were set up so that the mourner could be supported during this difficult time. Most importantly, the point of our mourning customs is to let the bereaved know that they are not alone and that there is a community who supports them.
When speaking with a mourner, instead of making comments like “at least he is no longer suffering,” try “I’m so sorry to hear about ____.” This second phrase seeks to acknowledge the loss, while the first can make the mourner uncomfortable. You want to say something, but you should always ask yourself, “Will what I say help the mourner’s grief?” If the answer is no, a quiet presence provides great comfort. Our tradition even recommends being silent, allowing the mourner to start the conversation.
Here is a list of other customs to keep in mind, though every shiva house will vary:
- Just walk in, the door is often unlocked, and this allows the mourner to not feel the need to greet people at the door.
- If you’ve brought food — which is a lovely thing to do since cooking during these days can be an added stressor, especially since the mourner may have a limited appetite — drop it off in the kitchen. Label your pot or pan if you will be leaving the dish.
- Participate in the shiva service, if you are unfamiliar with the service, follow along with the crowd regarding times for sitting and standing. If the service leader invites people to share stories during the service, don’t hesitate to share.
- If you encounter your friends while you are there, it is appropriate to chat. It is most appropriate to reminisce about your relationship with the deceased or the mourner.
Remember, we are God’s partner in comforting the bereaved.
We refer to the first year of mourning as yod-bet, the letters representing the number twelve. As such, we would expect the period of mourning to take place for all twelve months. The traditional purpose for the recitation of Kaddish is to help our loved one’s soul enter olam habah, the world to come (the afterlife). However, in honor of our loved one, we only recite Kaddish for 11 months, as a testament to their goodness, that they would not need all 12 months for their soul to be moved. In the same framework, we also hold an unveiling service before the first year of mourning is complete.
The unveiling is the ceremony in which the stone, in memory of the deceased, is revealed. This is a brief ceremony in which psalms are read, beloved memories of the deceased are shared, El Maleh Rachamim, and Mourner’s Kaddish are recited.
Your clergy are available to help with this ceremony, with advance notice.
Giving Tzedakah to Remember a Loved One is a Mitzvah
Please consider making an additional donation to Temple Emanu-El in gratitude for the services our clergy provided during these profound moments. This makes it possible for all members, no matter their economic circumstance, to have the services of the clergy during these transitional times in their lives.
The Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society) is a group of dedicated men and women who, when called, meet at the funeral home to prepare a recently deceased member of the community for burial. This ritual washing of the deceased, known as Tahara, is the highest Mitzvah that a Jew can do. One never knows which Chevra Kadisha members lovingly and respectfully cared for their loved ones as identities are never discussed or disclosed. Our members can be known to the congregation if they choose. Please contact Reba Herzfeld for more information on how to join.