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How to Set Up a Shiva House

There are many traditions for a shiva home and we will list some - though certainly not all - of them here. First and foremost, as much as the immediate mourners (spouse, siblings, children, parents) may feel like doing things around the house to help, traditionally they are not supposed to be in the role of host or hostess. They should be free to share memories of their loved one, as an important part of grieving.

It is customary to leave the door unlocked so family does not have to greet people at the door, and it is traditional to enter without knocking. If you are not comfortable with leaving the door unlocked, delegate a non-family member to let people in.
Delegate one person or a small group of people to:

  • Make sure the family lights the memorial candle immediately upon returning from the cemetery, and make sure the candle is placed in a safe area.
  • Place a pitcher of water and hand towels or paper towels outside the door for people to do a ritual cleansing of the hands when returning from the burial
  • Establish and safeguard times the family will need breaks for meals or rest
  • Label the kitchen early on, so any volunteers know where to find (and return) any dishes used
  • Arrange for any cleaning that needs to be done prior to the service
  • Hire someone to set up food, if desired
  • Clarify any food restrictions the family may have (kashrut, food allergies, dietary restrictions)
  • Coordinate shifts of helpers
  • Purchase disposable plates, cups, napkins
  • Determine the point person for any food contributions, when deliveries should be made, and when food contributions should be saved as credits for future needs (this is a good way for families to ensure food after the shiva period or for an unveiling, if they are overwhelmed by contributions). Also, ask anyone bringing food to provide it in a disposable container so the family does not have the burden of returning it.
  • Coordinate beverages (coffee, cold drinks, etc)
  • Set up places for people to dispose of trash and recycling, and put someone in charge of making sure the trash and recycling are taken out often, then set out in the appropriate place on the correct day for pick-up
  • Wash dishes
  • Keep a neat and organized list of the names (and addresses) of people who have made contributions made to charities, as well as food contributions to the family. This is in case a family decides to send acknowledgement cards (many observant Jews do not send acknowledgement cards, as it is seen as an unnecessary burden on a mourning family and the contribution is not something that requires thanks)
  • Cover the mirrors - this is traditionally done because it is believed that the immediate family should not be overly concerned with their own appearance and should instead be focused on mourning. Very light linens or the “fake snow” spray which can be found at hardware stores are often used. Shaving cream is not recommended. Some even cover pictures of people.
  • Create a shopping list for any items the family might need, and assign people to go shopping when needed
  • Check with family to ensure they have the medications they need and are taking them at the right times!
  • Call Sol Levinson & Bros. at 410-653-8900 when shiva has ended, to coordinate pickup of items such as chairs and prayer books.