Jerusalem mailmen prepare letters to Heaven for Kotel
80% of Hanukka and Christmas letters at 'sacred letter office' come from former Soviet countries.
By MAX SOCOL
For most of the year, Jerusalem's dead letter office is a run-of-the-mill place, the depot for mail that cannot be sent anywhere else. The office's only distinction, manager Avi Yaniv said Wednesday, is that it has permission to open letters that could not otherwise be returned to their senders.
But every year, as Hanukka and Christmas approach, Yaniv's small warehouse in the Givat Shaul neighborhood is transformed into the address for wishes and prayers from around the world. Letters to God, or Jesus, or Heaven, come pouring into the holy city - and Yaniv and his crew are tasked with sorting the special letters and delivering them to the Western Wall.
Two weeks ago, a ceremony was held, widely covered in the international press, in which rabbis scooped up handfuls of letters from boxes marked "Letters to God," and stuffed them into crack in the Wall. The photographs from the event are sure to warm hearts around the world.
But the letters number in the thousands, and continue to stream in well after the holidays have passed. Yaniv, now entering his 11th year on the job, dutifully picks them out.
"Sometimes people don't write to God, they write to me," he said, "asking that I bring the letter to the Kotel."
The heartwarming story of Israel Postal Company officials relaying the hopes and prayers of the entire world directly to God has naturally become a media spectacle. As a consequence, Yaniv has become, for some letter-writers, intimately associated with the process. He seemed not to mind the attention. "I've gotten used to it," he said.
The staff always open the letters and dispose of the envelopes just prior to placing them in the Wall, so that the authors remain anonymous. On occasion, Yaniv said, they'll also open a letter before taking it to the Kotel, if it is not clear from the address whether it was meant to be put there.
He recalled a particularly experience, years ago, when he opened one such missive.
"The letter turned out to be from a man from the former Soviet Union. His wife had died the previous year, and he missed her desperately. He had written a letter to God, asking that he be allowed meet her and speak to her in his dreams that year," Yaniv recalled.
Not all of the letters bear sentiments quite as sweet. Yaniv opened one letter, from someone in a hospital in Montana, in which the writer described having a vision from "Justus Christ" in which he saw a coming race war between "good people and Chinesse [sic] and devil cults." He had sent the letter to ask God to send "guns and ammo and swords" to the good people.
Yaniv said that around 80 percent of the letters came from former Soviet-bloc countries. But he also picked out others from all corners of the world, including the United States, China, Argentina and South Africa.
He called attention to one of his favorites, from a young man in Belgium.
"We call him a 'permanent customer,'" Yaniv said, laughing. "He writes to God all year round, not just for the holidays."
There are many such "permanent customers."
Yaniv said he believed he had seen just about every type of letter imaginable. Another personal favorite was a letter that contained only a list of desires, with places for someone - presumably God - to make check marks as the requests were filled.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the yearly deluge, Yaniv continues to believe that the letters can be answered by God. Though he makes many more trips to the Kotel than he might in another line of work, Yaniv said that he, too, still occasionally writes a letter of his own. "I don't want money or anything like that. I usually ask for health, for my family and myself," he said.
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