Imagine this: you’re traveling through a foreign country and you wonder which holy teachers and spiritual leaders are buried in the area. A notification pops up on your phone: the yartzheit of a legendary rabbi is today and your phone gives you GPS directions to his grave.
Enter Raphael Maman, a 19-year-old French app developer with a passion for smartphone technology and the biographies of tzaddikim. Fusing his app-development abilities with his curiosity about the life and times of holy men, Maman recently launched RabbiMap, a GPS-enabled app for iOS and Android. The clever app is designed to help Jewish travellers locate graves of rabbis around the world. Maman’s app includes driving directions and information about each tzaddik.
“We have a heritage of visiting holy gravesites in Judaism, all the way back to Caleb ben Yefuna [one of the twelve spies] praying at the gravesites of our forefathers in Hebron,” Maman says. “In regions like Morocco there’s a Jewish culture to visit tzaddikim as pilgrims too.”
In order to compile the information, Maman spent seven months exploring maps and cemetery archives along with placing calls to chabad houses over Europe. His research paid off. With information on more than 1000 graves of tzaddikim in more than 35 countries, the app is a boon to Jewish spiritual travellers. In countries like Syria and Iraq where travel is unsafe, Maman includes as much information as possible about the rabbis with a disclaimer against visiting. Compiling the facts was a labour of love for Maman, he explains.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of the life of tzadikim,” Maman says. “What makes the Ben Ish Chai the Ben Ish Chai?”
The most challenging areas to research were Algeria and parts of the Middle East that are not currently inhabited by Jews or those that have dwindling populations, such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. The app includes directions to the areas believed to be the graves of Ezra the Scribe, Nachum the prophet and Mordechai and Esther along with more recent Jewish figures like the Ben Ish Chai and Chassidic rabbis in Europe.
Maman’s hope is to expand the app with more information and images. His long-term goal is to spur a movement to help clean up some of the more neglected graves as well. The app is free and available in the App Store or Google Play, or on rabbimap.16mb.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.