Chevra Kadisha, Israel's burial society, has never known a recession, which naturally makes sense, as death never takes a vacation.
Over the past few months, the burial society has invested significant resources in upgrading its technological services, in the hopes of helping those looking for a loved one's final resting place to find it 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."
Soon, Zrock promised, cemetery goers will be able to rent a PDA upon arrival, for only NIS 20 (about $5.3). The device will lead them directly to the desired gravestone and will allow them, en route, to view photos of the deceased, read about his life and access the required prayers.
Later on, the company will offer auxiliary services, such as subscribing to grave maintenance services or booking a cantor, available through the PDA as well.
The burial society's Tel Aviv district launched a new website not too long ago, with a substantial investment of NIS 500,000 ($133,000). The website allows families to host individual commemoration pages, including a special reminder system, which alerts them on coming anniversaries a week in advance.
Coming soon: Grave coordinates via GPS (Illustration: Reuters)
"The details found in the commemoration pages will also be available through the information stations in the cemeteries," said Rabbi Avraham Manlah, director of Chevra Kadisha Tel Aviv.
"Right now, the Holon Cemetery features the first station. It's a pilot program. It allows visitors to order and pay for the services offered by Chevra Kadisha and read commemoration pages on the website."
The website also provides the free option of lighting a virtual candle for the dead, or placing a virtual stone or wreath on the grave. The virtual tokens are collected on the commemoration page.
Live, from the gravesite
Chevra Kadisha Tel Aviv also offers a live internet feed of funeral services. Many of the cemeteries across Israel already sport cameras, which allow friends and family unable to attend the service to see it online. Broadcasts fees run between NIS 200-300 ($53-$80). A CD of the service is available for an additional NIS 50 ($13).
As far as the burial society is concerned, however, it is their "Genealogy Tree" project that takes the prize.
The project, which is still in the concept stages, will eventually see nearly everyone of the near-500,000 people buried in the greater Tel Aviv area have a computerized family tree.
The system will collect information about the relatives of every deceased and construct a "tree." "It will be a Facebook-type page," said Manlah. "It will have a profile picture, relatives will be able to post news and video clips and most importantly – the system will suggest who you can add as relatives and friends."
Alter Hoz, chairman of Chevra Kadisha, concluded: "We will continue to use technology in favor of the families, who encounter Chevra Kadisha at their most difficult hour and need any support we can lend them, both human and technological."
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