BANGOR, Maine — It is an obligation of every Jew to recite the mourner’s Kaddish, a memorial prayer, on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Yahrzeit — Hebrew for anniversary — must be observed according to the months of the Jewish lunar calendar, not the Julian calendar used in the Western world.
Meeting that obligation isn’t always easy in a modern world that doesn’t follow a calendar set by the moon.
Ben Rapaport, 18, of Bangor, an Orthodox Jew, designed a computer database as his Eagle Scout project to help current and former members of his congregation keep track of Yahrzeit (pronounced YOUR-tz-site) dates. He was awarded his Eagle Scout badge last week in a ceremony at his synagogue, Beth Abraham, at 145 York St.
The program includes the names of about 300 deceased Beth Abraham members and their ancestors, the dates of their deaths on the Julian calendar and the Jewish calendar, and the coming Yahrzeit date. Visitors to the site can sign up for an e-mail reminder of coming anniversaries.
Rapaport also has printed out hard copies of each webpage and created booklets. He gave hard copies of his work to the other two synagogues in Bangor, Beth Israel and Beth El, the Jewish Community Council, the Maine State Library and the Bangor Public Library.
“Congregation Beth Abraham has a declining and aging membership,” Rapaport wrote in his project proposal. “We are no longer able to afford a rabbi, and in a matter of decades the synagogue may close. The family members who have moved away may not recall dates of death, and with no rabbi they will have a difficult time remembering and finding the Yahrzeit date.
“When Congregation Beth Abraham is no longer in existence,” he concluded, “a record of Yahrzeit dates will be available and linked to the Jewish Community Council website so that family members always have access to the information.”
Rapaport said last week that he spent several hours every day for about 2½ months this past spring going through microfilm at the Bangor Public Library searching for the obituaries published in Bangor newspapers to include on the website. Searching papers from the late 1800s and early 1900s was the most difficult, he said, because the papers didn’t always publish obituaries as close to individuals’ death as they do now, he said last week.
“While I was working on it, I just wanted to get it done,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about what it meant as a project. But as I was wrapping it up, I realized I learned a lot about the history of the shul [synagogue]. It was really interesting how all the families here came together and where they came from.”
That is one of the reasons Rapaport decided to have his Eagle award ceremony at his synagogue shortly after evening prayers. He said the event was an emotional experience.
“My friends came who don’t see me at the synagogue and don’t know me as a Boy Scout,” he said the day after the ceremony. “All sides of my life came together in one central place — my synagogue.”
Fewer than 1 percent of the boys who become Scouts ever reach the Eagle level, Dan Lee, president of the Katahdin Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said at the ceremony.
“Great responsibility goes along with the awarding of this badge, but great respect for the Scout comes along with it,” he said.
Rapaport’s Troop 10 now meets at All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor. In earlier decades, however, the troop met at the Jewish Community Center, which was near John Bapst Memorial High School.
Rapaport, who graduated from Bangor High School in June, will attend Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., this fall. A former member of the swim team, he is working this summer as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the Pancoe Pool in Hayford Park.