Many Jews around the world memorialize their loved ones with a plaque or a candle, and now there is a 21st-century way to do so.
Blessed Memory, a website launched earlier this summer, honors loved ones who have passed on but would otherwise not have an opportunity to be remembered. It was created in part for Jews who do not live near a synagogue or belong to one.
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism spokesman Barry Mael said the idea came to him several years ago while traveling, when he noticed several congregations that were losing members or didn’t have a rabbi.
“In some of these travels I was seeing some of these communities that were isolated,” said Mael.
He came to the realization that the dying congregations would at some point need a way to maintain yahrzeit records. Mael mentioned the idea to several lay leaders and eventually collaborated with Marty Werber, who was the chair of the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem.
“We started working on this project over the last three years,” Mael said.
Mael said the original idea was to maintain a hard drive at the Fuchsberg Center, but they realized this would prevent those living outside of Israel from accessing the database.
“We found a way to develop it on the cloud, so now people can go to the site from anywhere,” he said. “If there’s a child or a grandchild in L.A. and someone else living in Philadelphia or whatever, they don’t have to be in the same location.”
On the website, found at blessed memory.org, are virtual plaques that include each person’s name in Hebrew and English as well as their dates of birth and death.
Clicking on one will bring you to more information including the synagogue he or she belonged to and the cemetery where they are buried.
“It really tries to give you a sense of who the person was,” said Mael, who added that many synagogues have
already expressed an interest in adding their yahrzeit lists to the site.
Mael emphasized that the site is not intended to compete with congregations but rather help them in preserving their history.
He anticipates a number of people from Europe will be interested, in addition to those in Israel and the United States.
Jo-Anne Tucker-Zemlak, who is the Maryland regional representative for USCJ, said the site will be open to congregations from all denominations of Judaism and that there are several in the state that are in need of the service, but none had been contacted yet because the site is brand new.
“These are smaller congregations that are in their sunset years,” she said.
One such synagogue is Congregation Shaare Tikvah in Waldorf, which has 22 families, according to Ed Halikman, the congregation’s president. Halikman said several years ago their yahrtzeit boards were stolen, and he created an electronic board using PowerPoint software in order to preserve the history of the more than 500 original plaques that were lost.
“It’s electronic. It only takes up the space of a 32-inch TV,” he said.
Halikman said he was aware of the site but did not think it would be useful to his congregation.
“I don’t know why anybody would use a website,” he said.
Tucker-Zemlak created an online plaque for her late husband, Barry, who passed away in 1993.
She feels it is important for ensuring that future generations of families know where their heritage came from.
“As an individual, when I’m no longer a member of my congregation and have moved out of state or whatever, I want to have that,” Tucker-Zemlak said.
Although she knows of no congregations in the greater Baltimore area that are in their “sunset years,” she thinks the site could be beneficial to anyone.
“Even though I’ve been a member of a congregation for 40 years,” she said, “that’s no guarantee that’s going to last forever.”