What happens to your digital footprint when you die? Today, people's whole lives are documented, digitized and archived online. Photos, comments and posts can remain forever as a memorial for the deceased. However, what is to ensure that people continue to remember and look for a person's memories years after they die?
Wall Street Journal tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler sought to answer this question. When his friend passed away, there was nothing online to remember him by. The blank, white space in the Google search results only added to Mr. Fowler's pain. After researching various online memorial sites, Fowler decided to create a page dedicated to his friend where people can read about him and leave comments.
When my friend died, it was eerie yet comforting to see his Facebook still up. The pictures, messages and posts were there for friends and family to remember him by. Every year on his birthday, they write posts for him. "Happy Birthday in Heaven," "We miss you," and the like.
Thousands of years before the Internet, Judaism established a way to mourn for and remember the dead. The Hebrew date that a Jewish person is buried is marked on the calendar every year, forever. This is called a yahrtzeit. We remember our forefathers, the sages of old, and the dearly departed in this way. A candle is lit, people do good deeds, and talk about his or her virtues. The Kaddish prayer is also said.
The seven-day mourning period, and the yearly anniversary, ensure that the memory of our dearly departed remains. Whether a person donated millions to charity, had no friends or wasn't even famous, Jewish law establishes a yearly memorial for that person. Jewish people believe that eulogies, Torah study and charity help elevate a dead person's soul in Heaven. Our good deeds elevate the souls of loved ones who can no longer earn merits on their own.
Also, good deeds in this world help ensure us a place in Heaven, and through the yahrtzeit, that legacy continues.
Edgar Bronfman, an entrepreneur and philanthropist in the Jewish community, recently passed away. He was remembered as a kind-hearted, charitable person by friends and the media. Many charitable institutions were helped and continue to be helped through this man. Around the time of his death, another individual in the community died. This man had no relatives and left all his money to a prominent Jewish institution. He was not praised in the media and you probably do not even know his name. Yet his whole life's work is going into the work of keeping Jewish education alive.
With the death of this almost-anonymous individual comes the assurance from his synagogue that the anniversary of his death will be remembered every year. A candle will be lit and prayers will be said. For generations, when people ask, "Who was this man?" someone will be there to say that this was a devout member of the community who left all his money to charity. He did not ask for honors, plaques or dinners. Children will be helped, and his memory will be remembered through the simple, yet meaningful services allotted to every Jew who has died.
We can all make a difference, and that difference made in the world can be remembered forever. Whether you write a Facebook post, light a candle or write an article, you are making a testament to the soul of someone who has died. And that is what matters in the end.