Twitter allows supplicants to place a prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall without leaving home

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New service lets Jews tweet a prayer to God

JERUSALEM — For centuries, people have stuffed prayers written on scraps of paper into the ancient cracks in the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. In recent years they could fax or e-mail their prayers — and now they can tweet them, too.

The Western Wall now has its own address on the social networking service, Twitter, allowing believers around the globe to have their prayers placed between its 2,000 year-old-stones without leaving their armchairs.

The service’s founder, Alon Nil, says petitioners can tweet their prayers, and they will be printed out and taken to the wall, where they will join the thousands of handwritten notes placed by visitors who believe their requests will find a shortcut to God by being deposited there.

The 25-year-old economist started the Twitter page three weeks ago and has already received hundreds of prayers.

“It all started a while after the riots in Iran, and I realized the potential of Twitter,” Nil said. “There are an infinite number of uses for Twitter, and I thought ‘What can I do that is new and creative and might benefit the people of Israel?’”

When the Iran government shut down traditional media following the June elections and the ensuing violent demonstrations, Iranians used Twitter to share information and photos with the outside world.

Nil monitors Twitter as a hobby, but he hopes his small operation can help bring people around the world together.

“You name the country, I’ve gotten prayers from them,” he said. “I hope in some way that by tweeting their prayers, these people are helping themselves somehow. Once you figure out what you want, in 140 characters or less, you can start to take action.”

Most of the prayers are sent to Twitter in private messages, but Nil encourages his followers to make their tweets public. Only a few, like one identified only as Yonatan, have chosen to do so.

“Praise Hashem for everything he has done for me, may he bless all my endeavors and guide me to wisdom and truth,” he tweeted on Wednesday, using a Hebrew synonym for God.

The wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City, is all that remains of the compound where the biblical temples stood. King Solomon’s temple was destroyed by invading Babylonians in 586 B.C. and the second temple, built on the same site, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

No charge is made for placing a prayer at the wall. Visitors to Twitter’s companion Web site, tweet Your Prayers, are invited to make donations by credit card. The site has sponsored links to an outdoor reception hall on the nearby Mount of Olives and a publisher of custom-made prayer books.

Throughout the ages, Jews have prayed at the Western Wall, and many others have made courtesy calls.

Recent VIP visitors include Pope Benedict XVI, Barack Obama when he was a U.S. presidential candidate and film star Leonardo DiCaprio, whose bodyguards were arrested for allegedly assaulting three photographers during a scuffle at the site.

For several years, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation has operated a fax hot line and a Web site where people overseas can send their prayers and have them printed out and placed in the wall’s crevices.

Twice a year, at Passover in the spring and the Jewish New year in the fall, the wall’s rabbi clears out the accumulated notes, which are buried in accordance with Jewish custom, which forbids the destruction of writings that mention God, such as worn or damaged Torah scrolls, prayer books and other religious articles.

Nil wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming interest in his venture. On Thursday night, he had more than 1,000 unread messages.

“I’m swamped. I can’t keep up with all the tweets,” he said. “It started as a hobby, and I can’t keep maintaining it by myself. But I’m determined to not lose even one prayer.”

Nil said he hopes to find sponsorship to pay someone to help with the site or to pay for a programming service that will automatically print out the prayers.

Associated Press Writer Jen Thomas contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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