With Hazmat Suits and Sanitizer, Collecting Letters to God in the Time of Coronavirus

Tens of thousands of notes are crammed into the crevices of Jerusalem's Western Wall, and are extracted twice a year. This time, clearing out the prayers, wishes and messages requires extra protection

Reuters
Reuters
A laborer sanitizes the stones of the Western Wall as part of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus diseases, in Jerusalem's Old City, March 31, 2020.
A laborer sanitizes the stones of the Western Wall as part of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus diseases, in Jerusalem's Old City, March 31, 2020. Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Reuters
Reuters

Twice a year, cleaning teams using long sticks gouge out tens of thousands of written prayers that visitors traditionally cram into the crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

It was spring cleaning again at the wall on Tuesday. But this time, the rite was held with precautions against coronavirus infection in place.

Workers in hazmat suits and gas masks sprayed sanitizer on the wall's ancient stones while others held onto their sticks with gloves as they extracted the paper notes left in "God's mailbox."

A man clears notes placed in the cracks of the Western Wall to create space for new notes ahead of Passover, in Jerusalem's Old City, March 31, 2020. Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Religious authorities also operate a service in which people can email their prayers for placement between the stones.

One would-be worshipper, who stepped up to the wall and kissed it, was removed by police, a day after Israel tightened public prayer restrictions.

A Jewish worshipper prays in front of the stones of the Western Wall amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, in Jerusalem's Old City March 31, 2020. Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

The Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, who oversees the collection of the notes to ensure there's always room for more, offered a prayer for salvation "from this difficult virus that has attacked the world."

The papers were placed into bags for ritual burial on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives. A short distance away from the Western Wall, al-Aqsa mosque was also being sanitized.

The Western Wall is a remnant of the compound of the Second Temple that was destroyed in 70 AD. It stands today beneath a religious plaza revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

$1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN

Protesters demonstrating in front of the consulate general of Israel in New York last year.

Huge Gap Between Young, Old Americans' View on Israel-Palestine

Rep. Henry Cuellar attends a campaign event on Wednesday, in San Antonio, Texas.

AIPAC-backed Dem Declares Victory Against Progressive Challenger in Texas Runoff

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Mohammad Eslami at an event for Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran, last month.

Prospects for Reviving Iran Nuclear Deal 'Tenuous' at Best, U.S. Envoy Says

A family grieves outside the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Wednesday.

Israeli PM Offers Condolences After Texas Gunman Kills 21 at Elementary School

U.S. President Joe Biden, this week.

Biden Decides to Keep Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Terror List, Says Report

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Progressive Jews Urge ADL Chief to Apologize for Calling Out Democratic Activist