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1 May, 2009 07:14

Prayers to God only an email away

Jews believe that praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem is like speaking directly to God, but those who can’t travel there themselves still have a means to pass on their wishes – through a ‘prayer agent’.

Every day Daryl Michel visits the Western Wall, Jerusalem’s holiest site for Jews. He comes for those who can’t.

Daryl is known as a ‘prayer agent’ and he prays for people whom he’s actually never met. He receives their prayers via email and, following an ancient Jewish tradition, visits the Western Wall for forty consecutive days to pray for each wish to be answered.

“Forty days is the time we see in the Torah itself, the actual forty days is special because it’s when Moses went up to receive the tablets, to receive the Torah,” Daryl Michel explains

Jews believe the Western Wall is where the ancient temple stood, and praying there is almost like having a direct line to God. While it’s better to come in person, religious Jews believe the tradition still works if the prayer is by proxy. While Daryl’s praying there, the person he’s praying for must be doing the same wherever in the world they are, and neither of them can miss one of the forty days.

Gershon Burd was his own prayer agent, hoping it would bring him lasting love. He’d already dated fifty women and was on the point of giving up when he finally met his wife.

“I had been going to the Western Wall for forty days for a few different cycles, praying and hoping and immersed in developing myself in order to be worthy of meeting my soul mate,” Gershon recalls.

His soul mate Batya was so moved by her husband’s experience that she decided to set up a website to bring people’s prayers to Jerusalem.

“The fact that they know someone is praying for them encourages them to remember to pray every day for themselves. The fact that they have somebody online, we’re coaching them through the process, we compose their prayers for them, we tailor to get them clear on what they’re looking for and to give them a sense of entitlement that it’s okay to actually ask for it,” Batya believes.

For those who don’t have email or fax, there’s still a way of getting to the Western Wall. Each day at least a dozen letters arrive in a lost and found department in Jerusalem, destination: The Western Wall.

For twelve years Avi Yaniv has been sorting letters in Jerusalem’s central post office. He puts those addressed to God, or Jesus, or Mother Mary, or simply Jerusalem, in a separate pile, and twice a year he goes to the Western Wall to bury them.

“I think I can divide the letters in two ways – one is spiritual wishes, the other is material wishes. Mostly people send wishes to get good health and good peace between the family, a good environment, a good feeling. Other people ask for material things such as a good husband and a good job and a good car,” Yaniv shared.

Does prayer by proxy really work? Conservative rabbis don’t think so:

“However we understand prayer, it requires something very personal. It requires personal involvement, it’s a human phenomenon. I think technology, not only the way in which technology is used but also the way in which it infects our society, has, to a large extent, caused the dehumanization of our society,” Rabbi Yossi Turner believes.

Whether technology aids or takes away from society, it still hasn’t stopped millions of people wanting to pay homage to an age-old Jewish ritual of putting notes in the Western wall.