Prayer by proxy at the Western Wall
By Martine Berens
There was a time appealing to God at the holiest place on earth for Jews - the Western Wall - was only for those physically in Jerusalem. Now anyone can say a prayer at the Wall while in the comfort of their own home, office or anywhere in between, thanks to a new Web site.
Set up by Batya Burd in 2003, www.westernwallprayers.org, aims to give people a chance to have their prayers answered at the Western Wall, bringing religion right into the home.
People e-mail Batya with their problems, hopes and fears, regarding marriage, health or business success, and make a donation toward families and selected Torah institutions in Jerusalem. In return, Batya [arranges for] an Orthodox man [or woman to act] as a proxy and pray for the donor at the Western Wall, for 40 consecutive days. Parallel to this, the donor is expected to recite a short psalm and to undertake a mitzvah (good deed) to further strengthen the power of the prayer.
Burd says that the project was initially the idea of her husband, Gershon. "He gave me a Web site program, told me the idea and I took off from there."
When asked about the motives behind the Web site, Batya relates, "When my husband was in yeshiva [religous school], his roommate was given money to go to the [Western] Wall and pray for 40 days on someone else's behalf. That's when he first thought it was a good idea."
It was later on, after Gershon prayed for 40 days on behalf of someone else, that he met and married Batya. He was convinced that they as a couple needed to make this mystical act, or "segula," available to the world at large. Batya says, "He was just very grateful that he had the opportunity and wanted to share it with others."
What seems like a most unlikely collaboration; ancient prayer and modern technology, has also proved to be a successful one. To date, Batya says, there have been over 130 success stories, the majority of which are written up as a form of testimony on the Western Wall Web site.
Apparently the miracles show no sign of ending. Batya estimates that there are at least 175 of these stories of wishes coming true, and that "just this month I heard about 15."
Stories come in from all over the world, but it appears that a majority of those making contact with the divine at a distance originate from North America, particularly seekers in Los Angeles, New York, Oregon, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Yet they have also been flooding in from Canada, South Africa, the Netherlands and Australia.
One such story, sent in by Paulina Aguilar from Chile, mentions how she prayed for 40 days to become pregnant. Almost exactly one year later, her daughter Aurora was born. Paulina states that she is "very, very happy and will always be grateful." And she goes on to send her regards to her "prayer agent."
To the cynical among us, these successes may be construed as being "coincidences." When asked whether this could be so, Batya comments, "There is no word in Hebrew for coincidence because the Torah doesn't believe in coincidence. Everything, including when a leaf drops in a particular place is divine providence and divinely construed, it's just that people tend to write things off as unconnected."
Batya believes that everything that happens is connected and when asked whether she thinks the stories happened because of the prayers she gives a humble answer: "I'm too small to speak on behalf of God, but I can only offer a lot of successes, in very close proximity to when the prayers ended, and you be the judge.
"I think it speaks for itself that it's worth a try!"