Funerals are stressful enough without having to wonder if you’re doing and saying the right thing. So here’s a primer for Jewish funerals.
- Step 1: Join the congregation in the tradition of throwing a handful or shovelful of dirt onto the grave after the service. Do this after the family is finished.
- Step 2: When you arrive at the grave site, do not sit in the chairs laid out; they are for the family. Stand behind or beside them. Again, do not speak to the family.
- TIP: If a shovel is being used, put it down when you’re done; do not hand it to the next person.
- Step 3: Bring a bottle of water with you, and—either after the service or before entering the home—use it to symbolically “wash” your hands. This represents washing away the impurity of death.
- FACT: In some traditional Jewish families, the dead are buried in plain wooden coffins that contain no metal.
- Step 4: Join the family in “sitting shivah”—the seven-day period of mourning that takes place in a family member’s home. Don’t worry about not knowing how to act or what to say. The Jewish faith dictates that you follow the lead of the mourners in this regard. If they want to talk about the deceased, let them. If they don’t, respect that.
- Step 5: After the service, do go to the grave site for the burial. Unlike some religions that reserve this final goodbye for the family, the Jewish faith encourages everyone to accompany the body to the final resting place.
- Step 6: Follow the funeral director’s lead as to where you should sit or stand. You may be asked to fill out an attendance card or sign a guest book.
- Step 7: Ask if you can contribute to the condolence meal—the food that is served at a mourner’s home after the burial. Learn if the family is kosher—you might have to stop at a special store to get something.
- TIP: Jews try to bury their dead within 24 hours, so don’t delay finding out about the funeral arrangements.
- TIP: Make a charitable donation in lieu of flowers, which are not considered appropriate. The recipient of the family’s choice will likely be announced at the service.
- Step 8: Dress appropriately for the funeral. If it is a conservative service, women should keep their shoulders covered and wear a dress that goes below the knee. Men need a coat and tie.
- Step 9: When you arrive for the service, keep your distance from the mourners. Approaching them at this time is frowned upon.
- TIP: When you arrive at the funeral home, the men may be offered a yarmulke, or skullcap. It is up to you if want to wear it, but doing so would be considered more respectful.
- Step 10: Find out when and where the memorial service is being held—this is the ceremony that takes place right before the burial. It can be at the funeral home, synagogue, or cemetery.