Jerusalem postal workers deal with letters to God

jerusalem | Ever felt your prayers went unanswered? Try sending a letter to God and chances are it will end up — as many do each year — at an Israeli post office in Jerusalem, where they are read and sent on to the holy Western Wall.

The letters come from all over the world in a host of languages. The elderly ask for good health. Others seek heavenly remedies for debts, relationship assistance, or help finding jobs. Children mainly ask God to spring them from homework assignments. The trickle of requests turns into a flood around Christmas and the Jewish holidays.

“We have hundreds and thousands of letters sent to either God or Jesus Christ and for some unknown reason they all come to Jerusalem,’ said Yitzhak Rabihiya, a postal spokesman.

“Dear Sir,’ begins one letter whose address reads “God of Israel’ and whose request is for assistance landing a job as a bulldozer driver.

One Israeli man used to write twice a year in the same distinctive handwriting, addressing the envelopes to “Angels above in Seventh Heaven.’

As long as anyone at the post office can remember, the letters to God have turned up at the Postal Authority’s center for undeliverable mail in an industrial zone in Jerusalem.

In the tiny warehouse, eight workers sort problem envelopes into pigeon holes labeled for junk mail, government bureaus, social security and health insurance offices and “Letters to God.’

Ten such pleas for divine intervention have arrived in the last couple of days, some from the United States, France, Nigeria, Australia and Ecuador. One came — somehow — with no stamps.

Puzzled by what to do with the letters, one worker started taking them to the Western Wall, a remnant of the ancient Second Temple compound and Judaism’s holiest site, where Jews traditionally stuff tiny notes of prayer in the cracks between its hulking stones.

“From there, it’s not in our hands,’ Rabihiya said.

Eventually, the notes and letters left at the Wall are buried on Jerusalem’s outskirts along with damaged religious texts and other materials considered too holy for the garbage dump.

The notes offer a sometimes charming glimpse into people’s private wishes. One man asks for forgiveness for stealing money from a grocery store as a child.

Another man from Saulsbury, Tenn., wrote a tiny message and asked the postmaster to deliver it to the Western Wall, because he heard a rumor that would work. It reads: “Please help me to be happy. Please help me find a nice job in Tallahassee or Monroe or some nice place and find a good wife — soon. Amen, Daryl.’

One writer asked God to answer a friend’s prayers, and in a postscript gives the friend’s address, adding, “But you knew that.’

A chain letter in Arabic from “the Virgin Mary’ called for peace in Bosnia and asked the recipient to send the letter to 20 other people.

The notes also speak of tragedy, relaying desperate prayers from people who are in trouble or lonely.

The postal workers recently suffered their own loss and grief. Yitzhak Moyal, 63, one of the workers who took the letters to the Western Wall, was killed in a suicide bombing on May 18.

Avi Yaniv, head of the undeliverable mail department, said friends have told him he and his crew are like God’s deputies because they shuttle people’s prayers to the Wall.

Some letters touch him, such as one from a Kenyan man asking God to save his marriage. “I believe in God, so I want to help these people,’ the 60-year-old Yaniv said.

The postal workers’ favorite anecdote is about an Israeli man who, years ago, wrote a letter to God describing his crippling poverty and asking for 5,000 skekels ($1,000). Postal workers were so moved they collected 4,300 shekels and mailed it back.

“After a month the same person writes again to God,’ Rabihiya recalled, “but this time he writes, ‘Oh, thank you God for the contribution, but next time please don’t send it through those postmen. They’re thieves; they stole 700 shekels.”