24 September 2010

Israel: 21st-century cemetery technology

If you've ever visited an Israeli cemetery, be prepared for an experience of a different kind.

Graves are crowded with barely a semblance of space to put down a foot between or around the headstones. At a recent burial outside of Tel Aviv, elderly and mobility-challenged relatives and friends could not reach the grave site.

Will they ever find that grave site again? I don't think I could.

However, help is on the way!

The Chevra Kadisha, Israel's burial society with branches in each town and city, is now embracing 21st century technology.

One new project - still in the idea stage - in the Greater Tel Aviv area is a Facebook-type "Genealogy Tree."

When the project is implemented, says the society, nearly each of the nearly 500,000 people buried in the area will have a computerized family tree, providing information about the deceased, his or her relatives, a family tree, a profile picture, and where news and video clips could be posted. The system will also suggest whom to add as relatives.

[CAVEAT: The last sounds like a great idea for those with uncommon names, but Tracing the Tribe would hate to try to decide which of several thousand Avraham Cohens would be the right one to add to a certain tree.]

YNetNews carried the story (English) about how the organization is upgrading its services via technology to help those looking for a relative or friend's resting place more easily.

"In the last couple of months we have developed an SMS grave-locator system," Yossi Zrock, head of Chevra Kadisha IT Services, told Yedioth Ahronoth.

"If, for example, you've arrived at a cemetery and you don't know where the gravestone is, text the name of the deceased to *4664 and directions will be sent to you within seconds."

Chevra Kadisha, he added, is currently developing a GPS grave-locater system for mobile phones. "Such technologies are required for the bigger cemeteries, like the one in Holon, which has over 220,000 graves. People can get lost."

Visitors will be able to rent a PDA - the system might also work on personal smartphones - for NIS 20 (about $5.30), which will lead them to the gravestone, view photos of the deceased, read about his or her life and access appropriate prayers. Future plans include subscribing to grave maintenance and other services via the PDA.

The Tel Aviv society recently launched a website (also in English) which allows families to host commemoration pages, a reminder system for death anniversaries a week prior to the date. The website is not accessible on holidays or Shabbat. Tracing the Tribe is not sure which of the new services will be available in English or only in Hebrew.

Information stations in cemeteries will provide commemoration page details, according to Chevra Kadisha Tel Aviv director Rabbi Avraham Manlah. The pilot project in the Holon Cemetery allows visitors to light a cyber-candle for the dead, or place a cyber-stone or wreath on the grave, noted on the commemoration page.

The society will also offer live Internet feeds of funeral services. According to the article, many Israeli cemeteries already have cameras, allowing those unable to attend a service in person to view it online. Fees to broadcast a funeral are about $53-80, with a CD available for $13.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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