162-05 Horace Harding Expressway
Fresh Meadows, NY 11365
Phone: (718) 445-0300
Fax: (718) 321-0896

Condolence Calls

What is the meaning of Nichum Aveilim?

Nichum Aveilim is a Hebrew term meaning "comforting mourners," and refers in part to the Mitzvahof visiting the house of mourning during the shivah period.

When may we begin to visit mourners?

Jewish tradition holds that friends should make no effort at consolation before the burial. Accordingly, the appropriate time for a condolence call begins after interment, and continues throughout the shivah week.

What is the purpose of a condolence call?

Traditionally, most mourners do not leave their homes during shivah. It is a time to grieve, to work through pain, and then to take a first step back toward life. The process, however, cannot be undertaken alone. The presence of a support system of friends and family is essential to healing. Your visit helps. Many people are reluctant to visit a house of mourning. They worry about what they should say or do. But what you say or do is the least significant part of a condolence call. Your presence is the greatest gift you can give to the bereaved family.

What happens when you arrive?

As you enter the house of mourning, simply take a seat in the room where the mourners are sitting. It is customary to wait to speak until after the mourner speaks. But, once you are acknowledged, all you need say is "I’m sorry." That simple phrase, a touch, a hug will mean more to the mourner than you can ever know.

What happens then?

Shivah is a time when we reminisce, remember, recapture memories of a loved one. As such, what we usually do during a condolence call is to listen to those memories that the mourner wishes to share or to share with the mourner your own memories of the deceased. Usually, you need not stay more than thirty minutes or so. During your visit, supporting, listening, and responding to the mourner should be your primary goal. Do not stay too long, especially if the room is crowded, and do not visit at hours inconvenient to the mourners.

What is an appropriate atmosphere in a house of mourning?

During the shivah week, we strive to spend the time thinking about our loved one, time spent together, relationships forged, special times shared. It gives the mourners an opportunity to speak openly about those special memories, and for others who knew the deceased to share their memories of the deceased with the mourners. It is not a time for levity or distraction, but of honor and dignity. It is inappropriate to engage in extraneous discussions, or to bring outside topics into the conversation. It is a not a time for eating and drinking (traditionally, mourners do not serve food, and visitors do not eat in a house of mourning), but for respectful memorializing.

Should we bring a gift or flowers?

No. Except for food, as we have already discussed, it is not customary to bring anything with you to the house of mourning. Again, your presence is the main thing. If you wish to "do something," make a contribution to the deceased’s favorite charity or to a synagogue fund established in his or her memory. A particularly meaningful gesture for many Jews is to plant trees in Israel through the Jewish National Fund.

What if we cannot be physically present during shivah?

It is proper and comforting to write a card or note if you cannot be present. If you were close to the deceased, or are friendly with the mourner, it is also appropriate to call.

Should we visit mourners on Shabbat?

Since one does not publically sit shivah on the Sabbath, we generally do not pay shivah visits onShabbat. If, however, you are close with the mourner, and your visit would help lift their spirits while not violating the Sabbath, there are times when it might be appropriate to visit.