Dead ahead: App aims to be a ‘Waze’ for cemeteries

‘Gravez’ provides detailed directions to the burial sites of loved ones, and, eventually, other services including lighting of memorial candles

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An ultra-Orthodox couple at a cemetery (illustrative photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox couple at a cemetery (illustrative photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Paying respects to loved ones who have passed is not always an easy task, especially as they don’t have a real address and can’t help you find your way.

Now, a new app called Gravez aims to enable users to locate burial sites with detailed directions of how to get there.

“Our app works like Waze, to navigate within a cemetery,” said 39-year-old Israel Gold, who studied Industrial Engineering and Management at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Gold developed the app together with his partner Guy Liany; their company is called Corido.

Waze is an Israeli-founded GPS navigation app for drivers that provides turn-by-turn navigation instructions and updates in real time, acquired by Google in 2013.

ILLUSTRATIVE — A man walks through a cemetery in Jerusalem (Nati Shohat /Flash90)

It’s especially hard for those who visit once every few years, he said, for example those who come from abroad. But even for those who visit yearly, say for the anniversary of the death, the task can be arduous because the tombstone landscape changes so often.

“People found it very hard to get their bearings and we often had to get workers to help them find the graves in question,” said Orit Masamy, CEO of the Chevra Kadisha Forum, a nonprofit umbrella organization of the burial societies operating around the country. The landscape of the cemeteries changes all the time, she explained, because the cemeteries expand and more and more graves are added.

“It is like a labyrinth,” she said. Now, even the cemetery workers use the app, rolled out in September, to find their way to the various sites, she said.

The Forum initiated the search for such an app, she explained, because of the real need felt on the ground.

“It was a complicated process,” she said. The technology needed to have a high navigational resolution — down to a half-meter precision — as the subject matter was grave sites rather than residences. Data needed to be collected from the various burial societies — each one stores data in a different manner — and all of the graves had to be photographed.

Gold said that most of the mapping is done via drones and image processing tools. Corido has mapped out some 1.3 million graves at 28 cemeteries in Israel, providing both walking and driving instructions, in Hebrew and in English, and giving users real-time updates of what is happening on the ground in the cemetery at that moment. Some 30,000 people have downloaded the app, Gold said.

The app covers only Israel, he said, but eventually the firm will seek to expand its services to cemeteries overseas as well. “There is much scope to expand in this area,” Gold said.

The app — as well as the website, which serves the same function — is free. To search for a grave, type in the name of the deceased into the search section; additional information including date of death, which cemetery they’re buried in and father’s name can be used as for assistance in locating the gravesite.

This reporter searched for the name of a relative buried in Jerusalem’s Har HaMenuchot cemetery, but the name and burial site did not appear as a result. That is because not all the plots are mapped out yet, said Gold, and the mapping process is ongoing.

Also, the English-Hebrew matching can be hit-or-miss — the company is working to improve this feature — so for now it is better to use Hebrew in a name search.

In addition to helping users find graves, Gold said, the website and the app also help burial societies map out their plots to see what is occupied and what is still vacant, bringing greater efficiency to their work.

“If you can see the cemetery plots from your office, it makes a big difference,” said the Forum’s Masamy.

Among the major cemeteries mapped out are the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery in Tel Aviv, Yarkon in Petah Tikva, Holon, Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot, and Darchei Shalom in Haifa, according to the Gravez website. Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives is in the process of being mapped and the company is in talks with the Defense Ministry to add Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery.

“The aim is to get to all of the cemeteries in Israel,” said Masamy.

The Chevra Kadisha pays Corido a monthly fee to use the app, said Gold. But he believes the real revenues are yet to come. The firm is hoping to offer app users a variety of services for their deceased, including tombstone cleaning and maintenance, graveside memorial wreaths, transportation services to the cemetery, memorial prayers in the name of the deceased at anniversaries, and the placement of a memorial candles at the grave.

Corido hopes to launch these services in about a month, with subcontractors offering their services via the app and Corido getting payment from the subcontractors.

Especially for people living abroad, Gold said, being able to get someone to light a candle at the burial site of a loved on the memorial day can be a “very powerful experience.”

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