(Sermon from Rabbi Neil S. Cooper: The Journey of the Soul An Introduction to the Study of Death, Mourning and Comforting – Parashat Terumah)
I. Outreach to Mourners
When a family member dies, the family in mourning must make all the arrangements necessary for the funeral and shiva, at a moment of sorrow, grief and, perhaps, shock. Although these arrangements must be made by family members, there are other arrangements which could be considered. Beyond the funeral arrangements our Chesed Network functions as a team to help and support the family during their period of mourning.
A. Preparations for Shiva
When the mourners and family return from the cemetery, there are preparations which can be made at home on behalf of the family. Our Chesed Committee is able to help in the following ways.
1. When a person enters the home after having been at the cemetery, it is customary to wash one’s hands as a way of making a separation between death and mourning. It is traditional, therefore, to have a pitcher of water and towels outside the front door to accommodate those who are coming directly from the cemetery.
2. It is traditional in a house of shiva for mirrors in public areas of the house to be covered.
3. Upon their return from the cemetery, it is customary for the family to eat a meal. This meal is called Seudat Havra’a, a meal of condolence. That meal is generally a dairy meal. It is customary, as well, for the meal to include hard boiled eggs.
4. Finally, each family in our community which suffers a loss receives an easy to follow book about customs and practices of shiva. One of our committee members will present this book to the mourners on behalf of our synagogue.
B. During Shiva
1. Traditionally, shiva begins as the family leaves the cemetery and continues for seven days. For a variety of personal reasons, many families decide to shorten shiva to three days. The decision regarding the length of shiva is a personal one. Our Committee and community will support whatever decisions the family makes.
2. Services (Minyan/Minyanim)
a. During the days of shiva, most families prefer to have services held in their home. Most often, therefore, evening services (minyan/minyanim) are orchestrated on behalf of the family. If desired, we can also help to organize morning services. Our committee, working in conjunction with those who organize minyanim for our synagogue, helps to arrange to provide leaders for each service.
b. In cases in which the funeral home does not provide for the family prayerbooks/siddurim for services, our committee will deliver prayerbooks for services.
c. Also, when there is doubt regarding the requisite number of people (10) at services, our committee will try to recruit other members of our community to a sure that we have 10 Jewish adults for each service.
3. Meals during Shiva
It is often difficult for families to prepare the meals necessary to sustain the mourners in the house. Our Chesed Committee can arrange for meals to be delivered from other homes in our community during the days of mourning.
Finally, our committee will be there to visit and to comfort.
C. Following Shiva
1. Shortly after the conclusion of a period of mourning, our committee will deliver some soup, which we call “Soup for the Soul.” This soup, prepared in our synagogue’s kitchen, is our way of extending our love and comfort beyond the days of shiva.
2. There are a number of bereavement support groups in our community. Our committee will be able to give to the family information about these groups.
II. Outreach to Others
1. For those recovering from illness, recently had a baby or requiring some extra assistance, our Chesed Committee can try to help.
2. As we provide meals and support to mourners, similar acts of kindness can be extend to others as well.