Poking into crevices between the ancient stones of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, a senior rabbi and his helpers on Tuesday removed thousands of handwritten notes placed there by visitors who believe their requests will find a shortcut to God by being deposited at Judaism's holiest site. The operation is carried out twice each year: before the Passover festival which begins this weekend and at the Jewish New Year in the fall. "Millions of people place notes here at the Western Wall with their requests, we take them out in order that more people can place these notes," said the site's rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz. "So that these notes are not defiled and don't fall out, we collect then in a seemly and respectful way and bury them on the Mount of Olives," just across a valley from the Old City. Rabinowitz and a squad of helpers coaxed the pieces of paper from the crevices with sticks. The notes fell to the ground and were scooped in handfuls into plastic-lined garbage bins for later transfer to the ancient Jewish cemetery. As Jewish religious practice forbids the destruction of any written material that includes one of the names of God, worn or damaged Torah scrolls, prayer books and other religious articles are buried. "We treat these notes as holy, as something that people wrote to the creator," Rabinowitz said. "We treat them according to Jewish law and inter them along with all holy writings." He said neither he nor his staff read the notes. "It's like a prayer, it's an expression of a person's request from the heart to the Creator," he added. For those unable to reach the wall in person, religious and postal authorities deliver notes that arrive by mail, e-mail or SMS. Postal authorities say letters, some addressed simply to God, come from all corners of the globe, including a few from predominantly Muslim nations like Indonesia. Rabinowitz said the ancient temple, built by King Solomon, was intended as a house of prayer for all nations. "God promised that every prayer uttered here would be heard in heaven, from Jews and gentiles alike," he said.