“The wife of my building doorman recently died. The building doorman is Jewish; I am not. Is it appropriate to enclose a check with my sympathy card? What amount is considered appropriate?”
Firstly, I want to acknowledge your compassion and sensitivity. When someone dies, it’s most appropriate to reach out to his/her family and close friends to offer comfort and support, and yet when we’re dealing with someone else’s faith or culture, it can be hard to know the “right” thing to do.
It’s always a warm gesture to send a note or card to let your friend know you are thinking of him during this difficult time. In the Jewish community, it’s not at all necessary, expected or usual to enclose a gift—monetary or otherwise. The only exception I’ve seen is when a young parent dies and the family might create a fund to support the education and other needs of the surviving children.
That said, many times people do choose to honor the deceased by making a charitable contribution, and often the family will designate or suggest a particular charity that’s meaningful to them, or they will invite donations to the charity of the giver’s choice. If you do choose to make a gift to charity, any amount is appreciated; in most cases the loved one’s family won’t be notified of the dollar amount of a gift made in memory of their loved one.
It’s also customary to bring or send a gift of food to the family home. But in this age of prolific food allergies and varying kosher food practices, it’s wise to ask in advance about special dietary needs. If you plan to deliver a meal, it’s better to send something that need not be consumed immediately but that can stay fresh for a few days in the refrigerator.
You would also be welcome to attend the funeral and burial service and to visit with the family in their home during the days after the funeral. Your presence would be appreciated but not expected. I’m sure when your building doorman returns to work he will certainly be grateful for your expressions of interest in his and his family’s well-being.
For resources on death and mourning, please visit InterfaithFamily.com.
Rabbi Julie Zupan is the clergy liaison at Reform Jewish Outreach Boston, which welcomes interfaith couples and individuals exploring Judaism. She also works with young families at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston and is an instructor for Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, a program of Hebrew College.