JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel is getting ready for the Jewish holiday season and it all starts at one of the holiest sites in Jerusalem – the Western Wall.

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Before the worldwide pandemic, some 12 million people visited the Western Wall each year. Many tucked prayer notes between the ancient stones, but this year was different.

“We have here notes from all over the world. Very many are sending by technical means because this year residents of the diaspora can’t reach here to the western wall to pray here,” said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the official rabbi of the Western Wall.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation received more than 91,000 notes on its website – including from the US, Europe and even from Jordan and the UAE. 

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The Western Wall is the retaining wall of the Second Temple plaza from 2,000 years ago. When King Solomon dedicated the First Temple, God said His eyes and heart would always be there. That’s why traditionally Jews and those of other faiths put their prayers in the wall.

Rabinovitch says this year they received many requests from children living around the Gaza Strip during Israel’s 11-day war with Hamas in May.

So, what happens when those cracks get too full?

Twice a year, the prayer slips are removed. Workers collect the notes with wooden sticks, bundle them in bags and later bury them in the cemetery on Mount of Olives.

According to Jewish religious practice, it’s forbidden to destroy anything on which the name of God is written.

That means these little prayer slips are treated with the same respect as worn or damaged Torah scrolls and prayer books.

Rabinovitch says no one reads the papers because they’re notes between man and his Creator. But they ask God to answer the requests. This year, they’re praying that God would end the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He will remove the plague from us and from the whole world,” said Rabinovitch.

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