By Mara Vigevani
If you wonder what happens to the hundreds of thousands of notes placed into the cracks of the Western Wall, here’s the answer: Twice a year, before Pesach and during the period between Rosh Hashana and Sukkot, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation collects the notes and buries them on the Mount of Olives.
Foundation officials said the notes are buried instead of thrown in the garbage because it is likely that the name of G-d is written on them, and that the burial site is kept secret.
“The burial place is secret, to protect the privacy of the person who wrote the note,” said Yohanna Bisraor, director of media at the foundation.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the state-appointed Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Places, also participated in preparing the site for Passover. He said that even in an age of technology, people continue to visit the Wall and to hand-write their prayers.
“This place is (also) called the Wailing Wall because of the many tears and requests that Jews have made here. We pray here that G-d will hear the prayers of Jews and non-Jews alike,” he told TPS.
The origin of the custom to place prayer notes in the Wall is unclear. Medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin Metudela is reported to have mentioned the custom during a sojourn in the Holy Land, some 850 years ago.
Later, in the 18th century, Hayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar, also known as the Or Hachaim, did so, too, but it appears that the custom became popular only in the 19th or 20th centuries.
Around 10 years ago, a more modern addition to the ancient practice was made with the option to send the prayers via email.
“We receive hundreds of prayers a day on our site,” said Bisraor. “We print them in a very small script so that we can not read them and maintain the privacy of those who send them.
“Then we put them in the Wall.”
Every year 11 million visitors visit the Western Wall, making it the most popular tourist site in Israel. Visitors come from all over the world and represent all religions and have included figures such as US presidents and popes.