Customs & Traditions
JEWISH MOURNING CUSTOMS
Traditionally, shiva is held in the home of the deceased because it is believed that this is where the spirit of the person will continue to dwell and where memories have occurred. Shiva focuses on the mourners, and is when family and friends would come to comfort them. Time your visit to the Shiva house appropriately. Shiva services are held in the evenings, which anyone can attend. Your presence and participation is appreciated during shiva services, but always remain mindful of the family's need for private time, i.e. meals. You may enter the Shiva house without knocking; it is customary for the mourners not to greet friends at the door. There are no words to take away grief, it is best to simply listen. Your presence and acceptance is often more important than mere words. However, sharing memories and stories may help bring comfort to the family. Some guests choose to bring food with them, but this is not required. The Rabbis tell us that it is more important to donate in someone’s memory then to bring food or give flowers. Whereas food or flowers will quickly be gone, a donation to a charity will help for a longer period of time. A shiva candle is lit, because in Jewish tradition it is believed that a person's soul is like a flame that brings light into other’s lives. The candle burns for 24 hours a day for seven days. In subsequent years, a yahrzeit candle will be lit to commemorate the date of death.
The secondary period of mourning is called sheloshim, which is the first thirty days after the funeral. A torn garment or kria ribbon is worn by the mourners during the sheloshim period, with the exception of the Sabbath and during Jewish holidays. Mourners resume normal social and professional duties. During the period of sheloshim, mourners should not participate in any festivities or amusements.
The unveiling is the formal dedication of the headstone. It is customary for the unveiling to take place within twelve months after the funeral as a way to mark the end of the formal mourning period. However, the unveiling may take place any time after the thirty day sheloshim period. Jewish law requires that a grave be marked, but the type of marking and the headstone are not specified. Please contact your Rabbi, cemetery and/or monument company in advance to arrange for a proper unveiling.
The yahrzite commemorates the anniversary of the date of death based on the Hebrew calendar and is observed annually. The English yahrzite date can move up to 30 days either before or after the English date of death. This is because the Hebrew calendar is different than the English calendar that we use. On the yahrzite anniversary, kaddish is recited in the Synagogue during services. If you do not currently receive our annual yahrzite reminders, or would like to add someone else’s yahrzite you are not currently receiving, please feel free to contact us with their name, date of death (English or Hebrew), and if known, whether the death took place before or after sundown.
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