The Western Wall, in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, attracts thousands of visitors each year. As it is considered a gateway for prayer, many of those visitors pour out their hearts before its stones, sometimes in writing.
With Passover around the corner, the Western Wall got a twice-annual cleaning this week.
According to Jewish tradition, the Western Wall is a retaining wall left from the Second Temple. It was built to hold up the Temple Mount and allow for the Second Temple’s expansion in the days of Herod. It is valued particularly for its proximity to the site of the Holy of Holies atop the mountain.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is the rabbi of the Western Wall, or the Kotel, as it is known in Hebrew. He is responsible for, among other things, supervising the site’s Passover clean-up.
“We are now cleaning the stones of the Western Wall, we’re collecting the notes, notes from Jews and non-Jews from Israel and abroad that were inserted in the past six months in the cracks of the wall, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of notes if not more, if not millions, we as you can see are ensuring that no one can open these notes. We’ll collect them in bags and then we’ll bury them, God willing, in the Mount of Olives,” Rabinowitz said.
Rabinowitz’s team uses sticks and brooms to extract the notes from the cracks and crevasses in the wall, making room for the next six months’ notes. They respect the privacy of the writers, never reading the notes themselves.
Though many of the notes are placed in person, a significant number arrive by fax or mail, both electronic and traditional. Some people even pay for the service. Rabinowitz said he personally places hundreds of notes into the wall, addressed merely “God in Jerusalem”.
Although the Western Wall is a Jewish holy site, the practice of placing notes has spread to other communities as well, with Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem often stopping there for that purpose, Rabinowitz said.