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Paying for food at Memorial Service

So, I'm not sure if this is normal, as I am not Jewish, but here it is.

My boss's best friend's grandmother died. Best friend told boss that Harris Teeter (in VA, I am in CO) is providing food for the memorial service, at the best friend's aunt's home. Boss was told that instead of sending flowers, they are requesting people help contribute to the food cost. When I called Harris Teeter nobody knew what I was even talking about, and they told me to call back tomorrow.

I'm just wondering, is this a normal thing for Jewish services, to have people contribute to the food cost? I know in the past we had my grandmother's post-memorial service get together at our house, but it was sort of a pot luck kind of thing where everyone from church (Protestant non-denominational) brought dishes that they made.

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  1. Not in my experience, no. Gifts of food for the family sitting shiva are definitely welcome - similar to your pot luck tradition - but asking people to help bankroll the memorial service? Never heard of such a thing.

    1. when going to a jewish memorial event (sitting shiva), i normally bring a dish. most often the dish is a dessert that will keep well through the service (ruggula, cookies, scones, etc).

      giving money to contribute to the food is not normally how it's done.

      3 Replies
      1. re: westsidegal

        That's pretty much how it's done. People either bring food or have something sent to the home, the idea being that the immediate family is grieving and too distraught to prepare meals for themselves and certainly not able to prepare food for visitors paying their condolences. In more modern times the family might have an initial spread catered for just after the funeral but after that they usually subsist for about a week on food brought by those who bring or send something to the home.

        1. re: bobbert

          "In more modern times the family might have an initial spread catered for just after the funeral but after that they usually subsist for about a week on food brought by those who bring or send something to the home."

          I suspect when the situation is made clear, a rather typical comment ("Harris Teeter is going to be taking care of the food immediately after the funeral service") morphed into a perceived request for people to contribute to the cost of that meal. Harris Teeter is in no position to handle the administrative details of taking contributions from lots of individuals and applying that to someone's bill.

          More likely, the request for food was to deal with the need to feed many people if the mouring family will be receiving visitors for the one week period following the funeral.

          Since the Harris Teeter situation probably isn't real, here's my suggestion: Check to see if there's a Balducci's grocery store in the vicinity of the aunt's house. (The DC/Baltimore board can help with your search if the "VA" is in the Northern VA area.) This grocery chain has a nice catering department and will deliver.

          Show your boss the online catering menu and order something to be delivered a day or so after the funeral itself. Here's the link to the online menu:


          Good luck.

      2. Maybe among members of a family it's acceptable to take up a collection, but it's unusual. People usually bring something to eat, or order something to have delivered. You could end up with a lot more food than you want this way, as I imagine people will already be planning to bring stuff.

        Oh, and bring food only. No flowers.

        EDIT: It occurs to me that maybe the family in VA is expecting the Harris-Teeter catering order. Are you able to call the family?

        1. My guess is that the family of the deceased doesn't have the means to pay for the catering costs, because this is not the normal thing for Jewish families (or those of any other religion) that I know. Perhaps there will be a basket for contributing at the house where they are sitting shiva?

          1 Reply
          1. Pretty sure this has nothing to do with religion, Judeo-Christian or otherwise.

            1 Reply
            1. re: pinehurst

              +1 been to funerals of all sorts of religions and never heard of this

            2. I assume this means they are asking that people give cash to the family instead of flowers. The "contribute to the food cost" thing sounds like a very flimsy cover, especially given that Harris Teeter hasn't been informed and the only way to "contribute" is to give cash to the family directly. Tacky, IMO, and also not traditional to any religion I've ever encountered.

              1 Reply
              1. re: biondanonima

                Flimsy cover for what?
                I've never heard of a catering company or grocer acting as a coordinator/banker for donations to pay for an order, nor do I think that would be a reasonable expectation. Somebody in the chain of communication made a leap of logic.
                Assuming there will be catered food at the event, I don't think there's any scam here to cover up flimsily. Nobody is being forced to donate here.

              2. Right or wrong on an etiquette level.....i see no reason to pass judgement on the family. If they need help paying for the food for the guests who stop by the home after services, regardless of religion......If i were a family friend, i would be happy to help with the expenses. Funerals are expensive .

                When the families request donations in lieu of flowers...I generally honor it and place it in the Prayer Card. Usually it's for a charity in the name of the deceased...but if it's needed for the family, so be it. Often when a tragic event happens, the community rallies and raises fund for the family. I see this as similar circumstances.

                14 Replies
                1. re: fourunder

                  Thank you.

                  I guess no one has been to a Chinese funeral and dinner. Nobody solicits donations as we simply follow tradition. We slip some cash ($5-51)) into a white envelope and hand it to the family of the deceased to use as needed for funeral expenses, food, or to make charitable contributions as they wish.

                  In turn, the mourners are given some coins and candy.

                  Mrs Yimster's funeral

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Wow...that was before my chowhound time, but a great story and a wonderful tribute.

                    I've only been to one Chinese funeral and I recall they had Nickels and Chinese Brown Sugar/Candy wrapped in simple white paper.


                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Just out if curiosity I noticed you said $5-$51, is there a significance to the number $51 or was it a typo for $50?

                      1. re: jrvedivici

                        There's spiritual significance to the odd/uneven number.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Yes thank you that's what I assumed but wanted to know if that was correct.

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        In Hawaii, with it's longstanding and large population of people of asian ancestry, almost any occasion - baptisms, showers, weddings, yakudoshis, funerals - where people gather for some kind of event it is expected that you will bring an envelope. At most events there is a table where you sign in,and if you don't happen to have an envelope, they will have a stack handy for you.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I'm of Chinese ancestry, and was unaware of this tradition until my mother passed away. Guests at her funeral came up to me to express their condolences and give me a card. I put all of the cards in a bag and didn't think much of it. I probably left the bag laying around in several places as I was chatting with folks. Finally, my Mom's best friend pulled me aside and told me to be more careful with the bag because there was a couple thousand $ inside. It was a nice surprise and was helpful with the costs of the funeral and subsequent banquet lunch. I always was the clueless one in the family!

                          1. re: chococat

                            and thanks for clarifying... when i said envelope, i meant envelope with money in it. the amount determined by the event, and the relationship with the person being honored.

                        2. re: fourunder

                          It is totally tacky. And funerals need not be expensive. People do not have to go with all the bells and whistles that the funeral homes guilt people into buying. And, in fact, Jewish tradition calls for burial in a plain pine box. Some states require that it be led-lined but even then it is not one of those multi-thousand dollar things that people seem to think they should spend money on whether they can afford it or not.

                          1. re: Just Visiting

                            I'll remember not to contribute to your festivities....

                            1. re: fourunder

                              That's fine. And I would never ask you or anyone else to contribute. My husband and I both intend to do this the cheapest way possible. We don't believe in wasting money on fancy funerals.

                              Besides, what is the point of all that food if I'm not going to be there to eat it?

                            2. re: Just Visiting

                              Not sure who to respond to here but this entire thread seems strangely inappropriate.
                              Personal matters like this, discussed with varying degrees of accuracy, seems in bad taste.

                              1. re: Just Visiting

                                You obviously have never had to bury anybody.

                                1. re: PotatoHouse

                                  Actually yes I have. My father died last year. And the "shiva plate" as it is called - not from Harris Teeter but from a deli, with all sorts of expensive smoked fish and such - cost $350 including the rugelach, coffee cake, etc. People brought so much food that between the shiva plate and what they brought, we didn't even have enough room in the refrigerator for all of it. My mother also believes that funerals should not be fancy or expensive so we kept it simple and the cost was reasonable.

                            3. I'm Irish. We drink when someone dies. There's usually a spread at the bar if people want food. Nobody pays. It's usually on the house or the immediate family takes care of it.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: MonMauler

                                The immediate family probably can't afford as fancy a spread as they think their deceased member deserves. If this is the case, why not a potluck? Every Jewish family I know just lets people bring food when they are sitting shiva, even the ones who are plenty wealthy enough to pay a caterer. I think it's nice for those coming to sit with them because you want to feel you've done something, and bringing a cake makes you feel useful. Catering seems impersonal to me for an occasion like this.

                                No booze at these things though, so I think I want my passing celebrated like the Irish.

                                1. re: Isolda

                                  FWIW, the OP lives in Colorado and is trying to solve a problem in Virginia.

                                2. re: MonMauler

                                  Ditto this one: With my family (German/Irish Catholic), it's a booze-fest at a local venue, while at my husband's family (Dutch Christian Reformed) it's ham buns (sans alcohol) in the church basement, and neither involve contributions from the "guests."

                                  This does remind me, though, of a funeral quite some time ago for a friend of the family (a well-respected judge), where the children of the deceased had to take up a somewhat surreptitious (and embarrassing at the time) cash collection at the church to pay the bagpiper, who refused to take a check and had neglected to inform the family of his cash-only policy.

                                  1. re: Mestralle

                                    Someone always has to pay the piper.

                                        1. re: tcamp

                                          Outright belly laugh. Thank you, because I needed it!!

                                          1. re: tcamp

                                            tcamp, I can't believe that in 20-plus years of that story being told and retold in our family, nobody ever made that wonderful retort/observation. (I'd like to think that we're mostly pretty quick wits, but then again the booze does flow freely at family gatherings.) Thank you SO much for the laugh!

                                      1. Not only have I never heard of something (I am Jewish) but huh? Your boss's best friend's grandmother? Why on earth would that involve any of you? Even if you are for some reason close with your boss, his best friend's grandmother? Do you even know the best friend, let alone the best friend's grandmother?

                                        In any case, if you want to contribute to cost, you don't pay the vendor directly. You send a condolence card with a check. I wouldn't. Totally weird and inappropriate generally and especially in this case.

                                        Maybe you misunderstood?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Just Visiting

                                          I assumed the OP is an admin/personal assistant (or similar) and the boss assigned the assistant the task of finding out the deal with her best friend's grandmother's funeral. The OP is just the middleman.

                                        2. This request is not a Jewish tradition. Perhaps the boss had inquired about sending flowers (not traditional at a Jewish funeral) and food was suggested as an alternative?

                                          Food is always available at the home when sitting shiva. I have occasionally seen platters delivered as a gift from people unable to attend due to distance. Usually food arrives in a pot luck manner, guests arrive with a dish.

                                          Either way, times are tough. If a cash gift or food contribution helps the family then why not?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: meatn3

                                            I agree. I'm Jewish, never have heard this, and was thinking that there was a miscommunication. Agree that the best response is trying to comply with the overall concept.

                                          2. I don't think this has anything to do with the religious aspect. Several years ago, I used to work at Harris Teeters. The same situations would occur at my old store. It was usually done out of the kindness of the store manager and/or fellow employees. Believe me, "Corporate" had nothing to do with this. The most they would contribute would be a $25 gift card. Hurricane Irene hit this area hard in 2011 and a former fellow employee literally lost her home due to flooding. I know for a fact, HT's did nothing. Our entire community was hit hard and HT's corporate donated a total of $100 in food to the local food bank. More was done by current and former employees to help this women who lost everything, than HT's did.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Phoebe

                                              I don't understand, "The same situations would occur at my old store. It was usually done out of the kindness of the store manager and/or fellow employees."
                                              The OP is not saying that HT is footing any of the bill, just catering, and the family has requested $$ to help pay for that instead of flowers. The OP called, and HT didn't know about that arrangement (of payment).
                                              As I read it, HT is just the caterer that will submit a regular bill. The family wishes to receive $$ so that they can cover that expense. It has nothing to do with the perceived generosity (or lack thereof) of a catering business.

                                            2. Not at all traditional. Not to any religion.

                                              2 Replies
                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  I apologize, Melanie. For my ignorace, and for not clarifying Judeo-Christian. I shouldn't have spoken out for all religions.

                                              1. I have never heard of such a thing and I am Jewish. Often people will take it upon themselves to send food baskets, dinners, or gift cards for dinners to the house of shiva ( mourning). On an aside, but since we are talking about a house in mourning, it is considered tremendously inappropriate to take food with you from a house when a family is sitting shiva.

                                                1. Thanks all. I thought it seemed odd. I am my boss's executive assistant so I end up getting to handle this stuff for him as part of my job. I've met the best friend once.

                                                  The whole thing turned into a bit of a fiasco. Harris Teeter does not take CCs over the phone, only online for advance orders, and does not provide delivery, ugh. My boss ended up taking over so I was relieved of the ordering duties on this lovely Saturday. I'm much better at ordering flowers. :)

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                                    I hope you read my post about Balducci's and passed this information along to your boss. Balducci's will deliver and they will take CC information over the phone. You could be a real hero to your boss given the Harris Teeter fiasco if you pass along the Balducci option.

                                                    (I have no connection to Balducci other than as a satisfied customer who has charged things over the phone and has used the delivery services -- and shops there routinely.)

                                                    1. re: Indy 67

                                                      I did but we were directed to Harris Teeter by the family so that is who we went with. Thanks for the suggestion though!

                                                  2. In general this is not traditional among the Jewish tradition - however, depending on the family's observance of kashrut, I have seen situations where money is contributed instead of more traditional potluck scenarios.

                                                    I have been in a number of social settings where kashrut levels of people attending varried, and so the most observant people would take on the role of preparing all the food and the 'not-as-observant' would financially contribute. I've never seen this on a larger scale or for a funeral - but if I was presented with that situation, I would assume that was the reason. And not think of it being for "tacky" or unheard of reasons.

                                                    14 Replies
                                                    1. re: cresyd

                                                      Thanks. I never really thought it was tacky, as its a funeral and I don't think anything should ever be considered tacky at someone else's funeral. Im surprised people went there. I was just curious if it was a normal tradition. I'm always interested in learning what people of other religions outside my own do for these situations.

                                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                                        I generally try not to pass judgement on people's choice of dress.....but what I will tell you is what I thought was *tacky*, is how some people show up dressed at a wake or funeral.....and I bet some who have commented here are precisely who I am talking about....

                                                        I admit, I was wrong on this thinking this.....and should have realized everyone's circumstances were different.....others holding a negative view on the request for donations or assistance for the food served should do the same.

                                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                                          There are many customs & traditions in Judaism and among Jews themselves. I thought it a little odd for a discussion to begin when most people don't understand them and could automatically interpret what you're describing, and how you're describing it, as 'tacky'.
                                                          For most questions, I suppose, the answers are found with a scholar, a rabbi, or someone who can give you a clear understanding of the laws and customs and how to best handle what you've been asked to do. Otherwise, as you've seen here, things can get misinterpreted.

                                                        2. re: cresyd

                                                          Varing level of kashrut had crossed my mind. I may be wrong, but I don't think Harris Teeter would pass muster for strict kosher.

                                                          I still think a suggestion of flowers was redirected and information became garbled.

                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                            <strict kosher>

                                                            ...and this is where it can become complicated & hence direction from someone who knows the family, the circumstances and the customs.

                                                            1. re: latindancer

                                                              I think we all get that.

                                                              I am Jewish and have always lived in areas where there are few Jews. While there may be bigots about, most people ask questions because they are genuinely trying to understand in order to behave appropriately.

                                                              Every group has a wide variety of ways. Perhaps I have missed posts which have been removed, but the ones I've read seem to be trying to aid in understanding.

                                                              The OP was put in a position of trying to handle an unfamiliar situation with little information. She was simply attempting to learn more so she could proceed correctly.

                                                              1. re: meatn3

                                                                <I think we all get that>

                                                                I disagree...I don't think everyone 'got that'. It's obvious with a few of the posts.

                                                                The word 'tackiness' isn't usually a word that is used to describe Jewish funerals and I suppose I find it somewhat offensive. Misinterpretations happen and it's correct to try and disavow them. It's also a good idea to get information from people who aren't speculating with few facts on a board where people don't know the family or the circumstances....especially out of the respect for the family and the deceased.

                                                                1. re: latindancer

                                                                  Well, I think the word "tacky," as it was applied was in reference not to the funeral but to the practice in question. I have to say that my hackles do go up slightly when I perceive what can sound like a stereotype being mis-applied to any cultural or religious group, but that's not what I read in any of the above posts. It's entirely possible that I missed something, but I've actually seen a high level of respect and delicacy amongst the posts here. It seemed to me to be an appropriate quest for information about cultural norms, to be taken at face value.

                                                                  1. re: latindancer

                                                                    I'm Jewish and have experienced these situations often, and like the other Jews posting, I find the request atypical, at the very least, and don't need no steenkin' scholar to tell me it's bad form, too.

                                                                    No offense taken at all by the characterization of the request, not Jewish traditions, here.

                                                                  2. re: meatn3

                                                                    "The OP was put in a position of trying to handle an unfamiliar situation with little information. She was simply attempting to learn more so she could proceed correctly."

                                                                    This was exactly my intention. Where I grew up, there were next to no Jewish people. There was not a temple in my town, and I don't think I knew a single Jewish person until I moved to Chicago. So, I was just trying to make sure we were doing the right thing.

                                                                    I was getting information third hand, from my boss, who was getting it from his best friend, who lives here in CO, and he was getting the information from his aunt who was hosting, in VA. It came up because my boss had asked where to send flowers. But in the end it got resolved. We sent two croissant sandwich platters since I figured those didn't all need to be eaten in one day, they could be wrapped up and saved for later, and when both my grandmother and father died, I appreciated having sandwiches amongst a sea of heavy dishes like lasagnas and pastas and desserts.

                                                                    1. re: juliejulez

                                                                      Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking, "I was getting information third hand, from my boss, who was getting it from his best friend, who lives here in CO, and he was getting the information from his aunt who was hosting, in VA. It came up because my boss had asked where to send flowers."
                                                                      It sounds like you did the right thing, good choice.

                                                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                                                        It's good to stagger the sendings of food, too, Julie. It goes on for seven days ("shiva" means "seven," actually). You don't want to get all the food on day one.

                                                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                                                          While I initially used the word tacky, I just want to clarrify that it really was not in reference to the OP but more the connotation of people saying that in Judeo-Christian traditions it's not the norm.

                                                                          Removing the Christian traditions, it still does not remain the norm for Jewish funerals. However, for a Jewish funeral with divergent religious expression (and I also do not know the catering firm), kosher food can cause a wrinkle. My mother does not keep strictly kosher, however during the funerals of her parents, having kosher food was important to her. So there was a sitution where most of the family (let alone friends) wasn't kosher - but it was decided that kosher food for this occasion was very important. I don't know how the catering bill was resolved given my age at the time - but I also know that "this is not a potluck like usual!" had to have been advertised because no one brought food.

                                                                          Anyways - with Jewish events in general, that's the explanation that lept to mind. Not saying that anyone was directly referring to something as tacky.

                                                                2. I have attended plenty of Jewish funerals, memorial services and shiva sittings. Have never seen attendees charged for food or even asked to contribute. During the shiva period, it is customary for attendees to bring food, though they are never explicitly asked to do so.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: taos

                                                                    I'm Jewish. I'm thinking what was trying to be conveyed is that sending food is what is appropriate and to use this grocery store.Giving food is what we do. The "contribution" is the food itself...not money. It is very nice when people bring food to the house that they prepare, but it is appropriate to send platters of food throughout the week for the family. All of our traditions are seriously food related!

                                                                    1. re: DaisyM

                                                                      <to use this grocery store.>

                                                                      Thanks for this, DaisyM.
                                                                      What you say makes total sense.

                                                                      1. re: latindancer

                                                                        Yes, they were probably just trying to make sure that they didn't get 10 cheese platters and thought it best to refer people to the same place. I believe it was stated in an earlier post...we give food so that the family doesn't have to deal with cooking and serving in their grief. We observe shiva so that family and friends visit and comfort the family and remember the deceased. Another interesting observance is that we cover the mirrors in the shiva home. The reasoning being that you shouldn't worry about your apperance while you are grieving and that it might make you upset to see yourself so sad. Having gone through shiva, I can tell you that there is great wisdom in being surrounded by friends and family in your home, at such a sad time. It really helps not to be left alone with your grief. And just a note...I'm never offended when people are curious about our traditions

                                                                        1. re: DaisyM

                                                                          <I'm never offended when people are curious about our traditions>

                                                                          Of course, and I'm not either....as long as it's done with the purist of heart.
                                                                          I appreciate your logical approach. It certainly clears alot of speculation and questions and I'm sure you're spot on with this. I didn't think of this, although I should have given my background, and it brings a clear mind, like yours, to clear up the confusion and speculation.
                                                                          Sitting shiva, and having friends take care with food and conversation, is a time when a chosen grocer could be very helpful to those who want to contribute to a bereaving family and are not sure how to do it. As you say, they take care of making sure '10 cheese platters' aren't purchased. I appreciate your thoughtfulness...

                                                                  2. I would just ask your boss for more clarification on contributing. Why guess. This isn't your family or a close relative. But the boss should be able to offer more information and comfort to your question at the very least.

                                                                    1. In our area, obituaries may state that the family would prefer memorial contributions in lieu of flowers. It is a way of saying, "hey, no insurance, this funeral costs thousands, and we need to bury dear________." It never occurred to me that this would be in bad taste.
                                                                      It seems to me, that they need to cover expenses, and would rather have the $$ directed to feeding mourners and the family than flowers.
                                                                      I think that maybe something was lost in the translation of said request. Someone is telling her best friend that they would rather have the $$ spent on catering costs. Maybe the best friend (the one whose grandma died) thought the $$ would be sent to the family to cover that bill, not directly to HT.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: wyogal

                                                                        Agreed. I've seen things like that printed in obits all the time. When my wonderful grandmother passed last spring, planning the funeral and all that went with it was my responsibility, so I did a lot of quick research on the do/don't thing. Luckily, my grandmother left behind more than enough to cover everything, but I was genuinely shocked at how much these things cost. I can imagine that plenty of people could use a little help in the $ department with it all.

                                                                      2. I have NEVER heard of anyone requesting monetary contributions to the food following a funeral or memorial service of any religion. In addition, I have been sharply warned (I am Protestant) that when attending a Jewish funeral it is discourteous not to go to the get-together afterward and EAT something as it is a symbol of life continuing. I know that in all religions friends and neighbors often bring food, but asking guests to pay the bill strikes me about like the bride who sends an IOU to be signed, along with the wedding invitation.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Querencia

                                                                          I've posted above about this - but a funeral can be an awfully miserable time to explain how a family is kosher and what level of kashrut they'd like observed during the funeral. So you may want to bring food - but the food you've brought into the house could inadvertantly be quite offensive. Having it sorted through a caterer/grocery store/etc. is a way to remove stress from the family of explaining their kashrut.

                                                                        2. I don't know about it being a religious/traditional thing or not, but I don't think it's such a bad thing either.
                                                                          My great aunt passed recently and instead of tons of flowers, family members and close friends took up a collection for expenses relating to the service and burial--including food. Granted we kept it to just the people we knew would be OK with this, and it worked out fine.

                                                                          The fact that the supermarket had no idea about the arrangement is what sounds strange to me.

                                                                          1. the one rule I recall, is that any food brought, is not to be removed from the Shiva home. even if clearly leftovers.

                                                                            it all stays.

                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                                              For Jewish funerals I've been to, these types of traditions or mitzvahs are not set in stone particularly if you're in non-Orthodox homes. Sometimes sitting shiva is hosted in a larger house able to fit more people rather than in the 'primary' mourners home. And so customs are adapted to fit with individual family's needs.

                                                                              Like customs in many many religions there's the "way its done" and then there's what actually happens.

                                                                              1. re: cresyd

                                                                                "Mitzvah" does not mean traditions...it means good deed.

                                                                                1. re: DaisyM

                                                                                  I know - but some funeral customs are cultural traditions and others are more prescribed in Jewish law (or as mitzvahs). I was just noting the difference the between the two.

                                                                                  Editted to add that not removing food from the shiva home - I don't know whether that's custom or prescribed as Jewish law. That detail did not make it into my Jewish education.

                                                                                  1. re: cresyd

                                                                                    I believe it's customary, not prescribed; superstition-driven. I've never seen food taken from the home of a Jewish family in mourning.

                                                                                  2. re: DaisyM

                                                                                    Actually DaisyM, "mitzvah" means commandment. It comes from the root word צ-ו-ה. The letter mem at the beginning gives you the form of "something which is," hence a mitzvah is something which has been commanded. That being said, there are positive mitzvahs (commandments), negative mitzvahs (commandments), colloquial usage of the word (such as a good deed), and traditions which take on the force of commandments. Judaism has few actual commandments regarding funerals and burial. Most are local community traditions.

                                                                                    All that being said, Jews traditionally do not have flowers at funerals. "No flowers" is a common request if non-Jewish mourners are expected as flowers are so usual at American funerals.

                                                                                    1. re: rockycat

                                                                                      Since I was responding to a poster who said she wasn't Jewish, I used "good deed to try to explain that mitzvoh and tradition are not interchangeable.

                                                                                      1. re: DaisyM

                                                                                        I didn't specifically indicate one way or the other - but I am Jewish and specifically wrote the two to differentiate from tradition and halacha.

                                                                                        If it helps to understand where I come from - I was raised in the US in a Conservative Jewish community, where it was entirely possible to see congregants having bacon for brunch on a Saturday morning before requesting that their wedding a week later be held to Orthodox standards. What people did in their religious life and non-religious life could varry wildly. This also would mean that not only friends, but also family might not be as observant for the event. This would particularly apply to funerals where you'd have family members that would range from nonobservant to Conservative - but want shiva to meet an Orthodox standard. This could be particularly unobvious to friends who essentially would have never seen this family practice at an Orthodox level - and so particularly in these cases ways of informing those paying their respects how to best respect the wishes of the family I saw a lot growing up.

                                                                              2. My sister and I live in a suburb of Philadelphia where we have a lot of Jewish neighbors. When her husband passed away unexpectedly years ago, neighbors pitched in and supported the family in many ways. Although she is Catholic, many of her Jewish neighbors followed THEIR tradition by having platters and/or meals sent from the local supermarket that specializes in shiva meals. What a lovely, and much appreciated gesture! Although my sister was not sitting shiva, those weeks following her husband's death were hectic and she had no time (or inclination) to cook for her kids. Even in the days immediately surrounding the funeral, people were in and out of her house all the time & it was nice to have something to offer them to eat. The meals were a godsend. Both of us have since adopted the practice when it seems appropriate, held off on the flowers, and ordered meals instead -- usually to be delivered a bit after the first few hectic days.

                                                                                11 Replies
                                                                                1. re: PattiCakes

                                                                                  whatever the faith, the tradition of bringing 'a covered dish' easy to reheat or cold cuts or crudite seems to be a universal thing. and a good one.

                                                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                                                    I understand that, but this was the first time I have experienced food being sent from an outside source. My personal tradition (and my sister's) has always been to bring a covered dish or a baked item that I had made.

                                                                                    1. re: PattiCakes

                                                                                      When dealing with a religion that has food laws, it can really help save on an interfaith instructional moment.

                                                                                      1. re: cresyd

                                                                                        that is a good point, I think I might prefer to rely on the 'pros' in that case and I gotta admit if I were Jewish (stopped at my Dad's Great-Grandmother) I would never be able to keep truly Kosher. when I have made "condolence casseroles" they've always been at least vegetarian just in case.

                                                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                                                          I'm Jewish and can't keep any form of kosher (sorry Mom....) - but over the years my parents have ranged from various kosher-lite to kosher-like and whatever other terms you can come up with for "largely kosher but not 100%". Once you get into those gray "not Orthodox kosher but also not completely unkosher" areas, things can get really confusing.

                                                                                          1. re: cresyd

                                                                                            or try talking to someone raised in the South where there's pork in everything, the coping strategies/justifications get really convoluted...

                                                                                            fascinating stuff, why I sometimes lurk around on the Kosher board.

                                                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                                                              After living in Jerusalem for a while I have come to the assumption that nothing I touch ends up being kosher that at this point I wouldn't bring uncut fruit to a religious friend's home. Luckily there's always wine and good bakeries around.

                                                                                              1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                Of course not! What if you brought strawberries!

                                                                                                I am Jewish but was raised with no concept of Kosher until my last job, at which I was responsible for planning a lot of large events that often needed to be certified kosher so that they could appeal to all people who might attend. I knew "no bacon" but was SHOCKED when a rabbi made us swap out the strawberries in a dessert and when I learned no asparagus tips. I'm amazed anyone is able to keep it straight.

                                                                                                1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                                                                                  It's easy if you keep kosher.

                                                                                                  Which I have.

                                                                                                    1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                                                                                      Wow... I just googled strawberries and I had no idea about the bugs making them not-kosher, and the cleaning process to make them kosher. Interesting stuff.

                                                                                    2. Another take.......

                                                                                      Where we live (SoCal) it is common for close friends of a bereaved family to contribute to the food ordering/ preparation, cost, and clean-up for the at-home portion which usually follows a formal memorial service (usually the first one or two nights, depending on how observant the family is).

                                                                                      I've never seen this as charity, but simply a way to provide food in a way that close family does not have to do anything, including paying for it. I'm not familiar with asking those outside the close circle of friends to contribute.

                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                                                        It was a discussion between two best friends, it wasn't "outside the circle."

                                                                                        1. re: wyogal

                                                                                          Not sure I understand why you'd make that point as your only comment on what I posted. True, the boss and the man were best friends. I was simply trying to explain my own experience on how this works here. The discussion seemed to have broadened to that point.

                                                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                                                            I'm just saying that this was not outside the circle. That's all.

                                                                                      2. To all those that have never heard of a collection towards "funeral expenses" must have never been to an old Italian wake. There always was "la bouche" (sp?) the box. Where are my paisans?

                                                                                        Kind of tacky to question whether there is some sort of a financial situation with the family at a time like this. Funerals are darn expensive nowadays and times are hard. I prefer to just give the benefit of the doubt.

                                                                                        I think it is less religion specific than financially related.


                                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                          Still traditional at the Italian wakes I go to. Sorry don't know the word, but yes a few hundred at least seems to be expected. Sometimes if I don't know them well I just give a Mass card but I'm sure they have something to say after I've gone!

                                                                                          1. re: coll

                                                                                            I'm not Italian but I grew up in an area with a big, strong Italian community and went to many Italian wakes and funerals. I never saw a box or saw anyone give any money to anyone, nor heard anyone ever mention or discuss it. So maybe it was a tradition of the older folks, from back in the days when people didn't have insurance policies that covered funeral costs. Or perhaps they thought the widow (again - no life insurance) would need the money?

                                                                                            1. re: Just Visiting

                                                                                              They give them money in an envelope, did you ever see that? It's inside a card. I never saw a box either, they usually just leave it on a table up front. Definitely not discussed, except by family members afterwards while opening the envelopes.

                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                Risking going completely off topic - it is standard for Israeli (Jewish) weddings to have a box where envelops of cash are the expected gift.

                                                                                                1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                  Maybe there are boxes at my funerals but I didn't know what they were for. It's a good idea so no one walks off with all that cash. Like I said, it's never discussed, you're just supposed to know what to do.

                                                                                                  1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                    Not just Israeli - my husband's and father's jacket pockets were stuffed by the end of our New York Ashkenazi wedding. Those gifts were so much more useful than the multiple mantle clocks we got for the mantle we didn't have.

                                                                                          2. Never heard of this in all of the gatherings after the funerals I've attended for just about every religion or ethnic group. Usually it 's a pot luck or the family picks a restaurant to gather at and pays for it. Usually donations help defray the cost.

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: flylice2x

                                                                                              The OP is about Jewish bereavement, specifically, though. The bereaved stay home.

                                                                                            2. This is not normal for a Jewish memorial. However, perhaps the aunt could not afford such a big spread. Like most said here, it is "normal" to bring a dish, usually a cake. I remember lots of sweets at the home afterward.

                                                                                              1. It's pretty normal for to bring food, homemade or not, to a bereaved family. In my experience, it is perfectly normal to order food to be delivered to the bereaved when one cannot attend services or deliver food in person. Given that, it does not seem odd to me at all for the bereaved (or their proxy) to direct others to a preferred caterer, especially when directly asked about sending flowers/food.

                                                                                                1. All this talk of rules and traditions is so confusing! I hope that by the time I meet my maker, some funeral home will have designed the "He/She is dead-they don't care whatcha do" package. Inclusive of pine box and weenie roast.

                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                    They have those, but sadly they're prohibitively expensive.

                                                                                                    1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                      allie - for me I've made it clear, there will be a wake, but nobody is invited. go take your kids to the park, play with your dog. whatever. go splurge at that restaurant you always wanted to try.

                                                                                                      although a weenie roast would be cool.

                                                                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                                                                        Good plan, but you need the weenie roast. Really.
                                                                                                        My husband joked that if he goes in an untimely manner, I should see if a funeral pyre could be arranged on Ted Nugent's ranch, followed by a bbq of animals that people shot themsleves.
                                                                                                        I'm fairly certain this could NOT be arranged.

                                                                                                        1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                          I dunno, I bet Nugent would be 'game' for that (sorry, couldn't resist the pun)

                                                                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                                                                            Haha! I bet The Nuge would be down for such an event. Let's hope I never have the need to turn in a CH trip report on this matter.

                                                                                                            1. re: alliegator

                                                                                                              allie - re a weenie roast: on a similar note, a couple of years ago a friend who was a chef died of brain cancer, and his family endowed a bonfire circle in a nearby park (he was a 'deadhead' - uhh no pun intended, and yow that sounds just wrong) anyway, after it was landscaped and all, they had an evening around it for shared stories of his hijinks and s'mores with homemade graham crackers and high-end chocolates. that was very cool.

                                                                                                              I think he would have liked it. I would.

                                                                                                    2. Reread the OP and am now convinced that there was a miscommunication with all the phone calls. What got to the OP was a request for money to contribute to the food cost. The FOOD cost and not the cost of the funeral. We're talking a couple hundred dollars tops for food. What would that be, $10 per person? My bet is that they were suggesting food instead of flowers and there was a suggestion that Harris Teeter might be a place that could provide it - there's probably one fairly close to the home where they're sitting shiva.
                                                                                                      The OP/boss ended up doing well with what they sent. Just a suggestion when trying to figure out what to send and from what store when you're working from a distance. I usually call the funeral home or a nearby synagogue to find food shops/caterers that deal with these things.

                                                                                                      24 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                        re "The FOOD cost and not the cost of the funeral. We're talking a couple hundred dollars tops for food. What would that be, $10 per person?"
                                                                                                        I just coordinated the catering for the post-memorial reception for my aunt. Nominally $20 for 100 guests - $2,000. Which, for some people, will be very significant.
                                                                                                        In our family/culture (third generation Chinese Canadian), a cash contribution, rather than flowers, is still typical. And frankly, when my DH died, my kids didn't like the flowers being delivered to our home every day. The $50 spent on each of those floral arrangements would have been better used on restaurant gift cards or groceries or take out.

                                                                                                        1. re: KarenDW

                                                                                                          $2000 - wow. I typically see a cold cut platter or two for immediately after the funeral (a Jewish one) and then the other food starts arriving pretty quickly. If you're unsure of how strictly the grieving family members follow the dietary laws, you can always go with fruit baskets or vegetarian and be fairly close. Definitely no pork or shellfish.
                                                                                                          The tradition of no flowers comes from burying the deceased rather quickly, usually within 24 hours of death. In many other traditions where the body might lie in state for up to several days, flowers (prior to the advent of embalming) were often used for their fragrance to mask the smell. They just stuck around after their original purpose went away.

                                                                                                          1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                            I am (obviously) not Jewish. For the memorial I mentioned, above, we did have 100+ attendees, and the service was held at an independent memorial home, not a family home. The caterer provided sandwiches, cold hors d'ouvres, fresh fruit and veg, coffee, tea, lemonade, a few sweets. Some close family members brought baked goods which are traditional family favorites, some of which were my deceased aunt's favorites. Most guests stayed for about an hour after the formal service. As we were unsure of how many people might attend, it was the wish of the family to provide sufficient food for many.
                                                                                                            If I was involved in a memorial for a Jewish family... I would probably order from the Kosher deli in our neighborhood. And complete understand the HT reference for the family mentioned by the OP.

                                                                                                            1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                              <fruit baskets or vegetarian>

                                                                                                              That's not really true in cases if the family is strictly kosher....
                                                                                                              Vegetarian food, while not being meat, must be packaged within kosher guidelines, etc. A person can't just bring a vegetarian dish, regardless if there's milk in it or not, and assume it's okay. Unless the food is made in a home that's known to be kosher then it's not okay. These guidelines are very strict.
                                                                                                              Bringing, say, halvah which is vegetarian can't just be bought from any store and taken into a kosher home. Unless there's an OU on it then it's not kosher (and in many cases if it's not Glatt) it shouldn't be brought to the home or the event. There's no question there was a miscommunication and when it got to the OP's part in this & it got very confusing. The family chose a grocer to take care of the nuances should anyone have any questions as to what to bring.
                                                                                                              No flowers, for sure, but 'contributing to food costs'? Has that absolutely been established that people should contribute to the cost of the food or was the name of the grocer given so people, who're not familiar with Jewish funerals, have somewhere to go to bring the proper food?

                                                                                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                Yeah, I know which is why I added "fairly close". Once you get away from a major city, you'll be very hard pressed to find any kind of kosher food that could be delivered locally. The best you can do in such a situation is to try your best to make it "Jewish" style if not strictly kosher. Ideally you would send something kosher even if the family is not observant.

                                                                                                                1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                                  <fairly close>

                                                                                                                  The point I'm trying to make is 'fairly close' or 'Jewish' style just doesn't work if the home/kitchen is strict.
                                                                                                                  You're better off bringing nothing if there's any question.

                                                                                                                  1. re: latindancer

                                                                                                                    Sorry if I misunderstood. You are absolutely right that one should never bring or send non-kosher to a kosher home. Growing up in NYC and now living in Maine, I can tell you that it would be difficult to find a local place that could deliver a kosher meal to a home up here. As there are relatively few people who keep strict kosher here, I think that trying to keep it as traditional as possible would be appreciated. My point was more along the lines of even if the family is totally secular; sending a suckling pig would never be a good idea. If there's any question - ask. Also why I suggested calling the local synagogue or the funeral home. They should know for sure.

                                                                                                                    1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                                      bob - that of course assumes there IS a local synagogue.

                                                                                                                      latindancer - I'd suppose with practice and diligence (and the duplicate tools required) keeping Kosher might become do-able, but I'd still fear crossing some easily overlooked line. (no asparagus tips? what if they're snapped not cut?)

                                                                                                                      ehh, maybe it'd just be easier to have a memorial tree planted in Israel or a nice donation to a regional food bank or the JCCA.

                                                                                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                        When talking about produce, it's not so much that strawberries/asparagus is unkosher - but rather concern over how bugs in produce relates to kashruit.

                                                                                                                        Either way, it is definitely complicated if you don't practice but I assume that like many things once it's a part of your life it's more routine.

                                                                                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                          <no asparagus tips?>

                                                                                                                          In this particular situation the rabbi was making his own determination about what was kosher for that event and what wasn't.
                                                                                                                          That would require another new conversation.

                                                                                                                2. re: bobbert

                                                                                                                  Adding to latindancer - essentially anything prepared or packaged in a nonkosher kitchen (regardless of what it is) is essentially not kosher. If the desire truly is to put something together, then a fruit basket (where no fruit is cut) is the best way. But sticking to a kosher caterer/store/deli/etc. is the safest way.

                                                                                                                  At least if the event is at home, even if you err on the milk/meat side it's something they can keep in their kitchen until doing that type of meal.

                                                                                                                  1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                                    When my mother died it cost about a thousand to keep enough food around for just a couple of days of family and visitors. A small bit of that was sent as gifts from distant folks, and some local... It was good food, plentiful, but not overkill, either. Many families will sit shiva for much longer, a couple hundred would last maybe an hour on the first day.

                                                                                                                3. re: bobbert

                                                                                                                  That's more or less how I'm seeing it... To me it reads more like the friend called and asked about flowers, was told that flowers are not part of traditional Jewish funerals, but food would be much appreciated instead, and by the way, Harris Teeter is a convenient way to order food to be picked up/delivered to the family. Not even a formal request to contribute money towards catering, just food instead of flowers and here's the best way for out-of-town friends to send food.

                                                                                                                  1. re: mpjmph

                                                                                                                    So the meta-message here is that clear communication is REALLY important. Aside from all the fascinating discussion, look how long it took to decipher the OP!

                                                                                                                    1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                                      I agree 100% with Bobbert's interpretation that there was a miscommunication: The initial inquirer was inclined to send flowers, which is not done for a Jewish funeral and so food was suggested as an appropriate alternative offering. That somehow got garbled into a perception that there was a collection being taken up at H&T for catering.

                                                                                                                      Not true however that the costs of food would have been at most a couple of hundred dollars. The post-funeral mourning, i.e. Shiva, for orthodox & conservative Jews is 7 days not merely a single post-funeral lunch or reception. (Reform Jews typically sit shiva for 3 days). Not only do family and friends come to the home to express condolences, but a formal religious service is conducted each day, requiring "minyan" -- i.e., quorum if you will -- of 10 people over the age of 13; if you are Orthodox, that minyan must be all male. So, over that period of 7 days there is a constant stream of visitors to the home to sit Shiva, (with the exception of the on the Jewish Sabbath, when the practice is to attend synagogue rather than sit Shiva at home). Feeding that number of people over that time period is likely to run up. And, as others have noted, if the food is strictly Kosher, that too will contribute to cost.

                                                                                                                      1. re: masha

                                                                                                                        Gosh I hope it didn't need to be strict Kosher. Some of the sandwiches we ordered were ham :-P

                                                                                                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                          If they specified or suggested HT as the caterer, I'm sure they were not expecting a Kosher or even Kosher-lite food. I'm sure that what you sent was appreciated.

                                                                                                                          I was addressing Bobbert's suggestion that the food cost for accomodating mourners for a Jewish funeral could not possibly be more than a couple of hundred dollars. And, in doing so, was referencing (perhaps clumsily) the comments of some of the other posters that some Jewish families in mourning would prefer that catering be outsourced to a professional (Kosher) caterer, rather than home-made potluck contributions, because they would want the food to be strictly Kosher.

                                                                                                                          1. re: masha

                                                                                                                            As for the initial costs, after my father passed away (many years ago), I remember getting an "initial spread" for just after the funeral at my mother's home. After that, we were completely swamped with food for about 5 days (we did't sit for an entire week) and actually ended up throwing a lot away. Of course, this was in NY and a great many visitors and those who sent food were Jewish and very familiar with the traditions.
                                                                                                                            After my mother's death and spending the first day at my brother's in upstate NY, definitely less food arrived - coincidentally a lower percentage of Jewish friends paying their respects. When I sat shiva in Maine, even less. Maybe I need to put aside a larger sum for my wife to have an appropriate spread for guests when I pass... if anyone comes.
                                                                                                                            If one gets real hard-core traditional, the grieving family would not be expected to feed anyone. Food brought or sent to the home of someone sitting shiva is meant for those grieving who are too distraught to cook for themselves. It's not there to feed guests.

                                                                                                                            1. re: bobbert

                                                                                                                              "Food brought or sent to the home of someone sitting shiva is meant for those grieving ... It's not there to feed guests"

                                                                                                                              that is indeed not the time to be concerned with the appetites of well-wishers.

                                                                                                                              "this ain't no party, this ain't no disco" - Talking Heads

                                                                                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                "Food brought or sent to the home of someone sitting shiva is meant for those grieving ... It's not there to feed guests"

                                                                                                                                This is apparently a practice that varies. In our area the food that's brought in is PRIMARILY for those grieving, but is provided in quantity with the knowledge that it will also be set out for everyone there during the evening service as well. How many days that service is held varies as well.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Midlife

                                                                                                                                  True and good use of the word primarily. The purpose of the food is for the family sitting shiva (after all they are not supposed to cook, groom themselves, put on make-up, etc.) BUT I certainly agree that the food is often set out and offered to guests but that is certainly not the purpose for the food. Usually, there's enough or even too much, so it is shared. I certainly would not make a shiva call with the expectation that I was going to be fed and would never consider it bad form to not be offered something to eat by the grieving family.

                                                                                                                          2. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                            My point further upstream was that HT is not a Kosher Caterer...

                                                                                                                            1. re: meatn3

                                                                                                                              the Teeter is definitely not K, but most usually rate as more than a decent store. that the family recommended it, does give one a clue as to their adherence to the 'Rules' - as in asking for "nice but just not treyf"