According to legend, a destitute man came to a rabbinic sage in Jerusalem in the middle of the 18th century, complaining of his economic plight. The rabbi’s advice: He wrote an amulet on parchment and instructed the man to place it between the stones of what was then called the Wailing Wall.
History does not record what happened to the poor man, but his action is the earliest known example of a custom that has grown exponentially over the years. More than a million small notes — kvitlach is their common Yiddish name — are put annually in the cracks and crevices of the site now known as the Western Wall.
Tourists and pilgrims, residents of Israel and of scores of foreign lands, Jews and non-Jews, world leaders and ordinary people write down their prayers and requests and place them in the two-millennia-old wall. Supplications arrive by mail and email and fax.
And twice a year they are removed from the wall.
In the weeks before the High Holy Days and Passover, workers under the direction of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, using brooms and wooden sticks, remove the notes, for burial in the nearby Mount of Olives cemetery.
According to halacha, a prayer is not thrown away. The pieces of paper are interred sight unseen. Jewish tradition forbids a person from reading another’s personal correspondence. For God’s eyes only.
Last week, visitors to the Western Wall began inserting their own kvitlach into the wall’s spaces.
Where they remain, until the period before Passover next year.