In 2009, right after learning that her beloved mother had died, Sharon Rosen, a member of Congregation B'nai Israel (CBI) in Boca Raton, Florida, felt the intense pain of loss. Knowing she needed to share information about the upcoming memorial service, she made calls to her family and close friends, and then turned to email as her most comfortable way to communicate. The phone, however, kept ringing with well-intentioned callers asking about directions, prayer services, charitable donations, and food (“Is your family kosher?” “Is anyone sending dinner on Thursday?” “Which deli is nearby?” “Has anyone sent a fruit platter?”). The stress grew as an overabundance of food was delivered; some platters had to be taken back to delicatessens for overnight refrigeration and others donated to a local shelter. Exhausted and overwhelmed, Rosen thought, “There must be a better way!”
More than a year later, after much research, design, and programming, Rosen launched ShivaConnect.com, a comprehensive, complimentary website offering Jewish families assistance, coordination, and resources throughout the bereavement period. A personal shiva registry page enables families to quickly share funeral and shiva information with relatives, friends, colleagues, and congregants (through email, texting, Facebook, and/or the search function on the homepage). Frequently asked questions are anticipated and answered in advance, sparing the mourners the stress of handling a myriad of phone calls.
On ShivaConnect.com, one can learn more information than is typically made available: not only funeral and shiva locations, times, and directions, but also the shiva food others are sending each day, local delis that will deliver shiva platters, and the family’s preferred charities for donations (synagogues and Jewish charities receive complimentary listings). Relatives and friends can also read eulogies and send messages to mourners. Additional site offerings include articles about Jewish bereavement customs, a checklist to prepare the shiva house, prayers, poems, healing songs, insights from rabbis, yizkor dates, and a yearly yarhzeit reminder email.
Rosen’s congregation is now utilizing the online shiva registry system. Rabbis Robert Silvers and Marci Bloch let mourning families know of the option, explaining that CBI will help enter their information on a private page (as the WRJ/Sisterhood representative, Rosen often does the posting). The synagogue then sends a lifecycle announcement to members with an explanation and link to the family page.
The congregation itself also used ShivaConnect.com when Linda Harris, CBI director of Early Childhood Education, suffered the loss of her beloved husband, Stan. More than 900 visitors learned about a special CBI Memorial Fund established in Stan’s memory and many sent condolence notes during the bereavement period. “ShivaConnect has helped our members do exactly what it is titled—‘connect,’” says Rabbi Bloch. “I remember one funeral where, weeks later, people were still reading the beautiful eulogies the family had posted and talking about the inspiration the person had been to our community.”
A member of Temple Beth El in Chappaqua, New York was out of the country, with limited phone access, when her mother passed away. With one call to ShivaConnect, the funeral and shiva information was posted, the temple Sisterhood added that they were sending a deli platter for 75 people after the service, and almost everyone else either selected a different day to send a platter or made a memorial donation to the synagogue or charities listed. “ShivaConnect took care of everything!” the mourner says. “Even my rabbi couldn’t believe how amazing it was!”
All synagogues throughout the United States are welcomed to follow CBI’s example. ShivaConnect.com will provide direct links to the synagogue donation page from its charity section. When a death occurs, it takes about five minutes for a volunteer, Sisterhood member, or administrative assistant to enter the mourner’s information onto the shiva registry (alternatively, the 800 number can be called). The congregation then sends the link to its members; mourners send it to relatives and friends.
“There is no time more difficult for a family than when they lose a loved one,” Rosen says. “We can’t ease their pain, but ShivaConnect is there to help.”