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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ask Shifra: The Miss Manners Edition

Dear Shifra,

My Grandfather (obm) died a couple of weeks ago. Some people have expressed their condolences to me directly (at shul and on the phone). Should I send them Thank You cards/notes?

On a lighter note, what is the proper etiquette for Chanukah gifts if the receiver isn't a give-gifts-for-Chanukah person? Is it OK to just send a Thank You card/note?

A continued refuah shleima for your brother and thank you for your time.


Dear WBS,

Thank you for your good wishes for my brother.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm am not an etiquette expert. However, I have the whole internet at my disposal a headfull of common sense plus a panel of excellent commentors with varied life experience so lets see what I can come up with on these ones.
Actually, I often find the kinds of etiquette advice dispensed by the so-called experts to be less than practical. Unless you plan to live in an etiquette book you have to figure out the way things work in the real world so that's the approach I'll be taking here.


In Judaism it is a mitzva to comfort someone who is in mourning. Surely the people who called or came by to speak to you are not expecting anything in return, they just want to be there for you. The best thing you can do in return is to be there for THEM in THEIR times of crisis as the cycle of life continues to revolve. I have heard it is customary to send thank you cards to people who have gone out of their way to help during the shiva or with funeral preparations but even those can wait a bit. People are not going to have high expectations from someone who just lost a loved one. May your memories of your grandfather always be a comfort to you.


Chanuka is over, now but these kind of sticky gift giving situations come up all year long.
I too an not much of a gift-giver. Some people have a real knack for choosing just the right gift for someone (like my sister-in-law who somehow always knows just what I need) or my grandmother who always got me just what I wanted when I was a kid. Not me though. Plus I'm usually broke, oh and did I mention cheap? Those last two kinda go together.
But enough about me.

There are some situations where gifts are expected - the birthdays of close relatives, kids' birthday parties, weddings, showers, etc... In those situations gifts really are required even for non-gifters like us. For the other more optional gift like holiday presents from co-workers or unexpected birthday gifts from friends who are just sweet and remember these things: I don't think that things necessarily need to be exchanged tit-for-tat. Certainly a heartfelt thank you and a nice thank you card would be warranted but I don't think you are obligated to return a gift of equal value. Perhaps there is something else you could do for this person like invite them over for a nice dinner sometime, or pick them up for work when their car is in the shop.
If there is good will between people these things have a way of working themselves out.


At 10:25 AM, Blogger Ezzie said...

Interestingly enough, we actually had this a couple weeks ago. Serach's grandfather passed away, and my professor (who has known their family for a long time) came during Shiva. Serach asked me to thank him, which I felt was a bit weird.

Nevertheless, I did so, and he looked at me funny. "Why are you thanking me? I went to be menachem aveil. You don't thank people for Shiva." [We're close enough to have these types of discussions, before anyone thinks he's rude...] "That's what I was wondering. Do you thank for Shiva?" "Not for stopping by."

Great post Shifra - the preparations et al make sense, but not the people stopping by. They don't expect it, and may not even want it; it's not a reminder of a happy occasion.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger chuck said...

Sorry but it's unheard of to thank for a shiva call.
The guy is dead, you pay your respects and move on.
Shiva calls are not enjoyable, I don't wanna be reminded of it with a card in the mail.

Now regarding gifts on chanuka,
thats a totally christian thing to do.
Jew traditionally gave chanuka gelt, oily food and candy.
The gifts are definately chukas hagoy.
(I love getting gift though)
Sending a thank you is note is very proper and polite. It makes the gift giver feel that his/her gift is valued.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger my bald sheitel said...

My mother did send out thank you cards after her sister passed away. She did not send them to just anyone who popped by the shiva, but she did send them to people who made food, organized things for the kids, helped in other major ways. For one thing, it really gave her something constructive to do aside from sitting and weeping for months on end (which she did anyway). She saved every single card, letter and note that was given to her or my grandparents after my aunt passed away. She still reads them. She says it gives her comfort in some way. I dunno. It has been a lot of years now.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Datingmaster, Jerusalem said...

be well be strong lots of love


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