the schmooze


*"Kvitlach" are prayers placed on pieces of paper placed between the cracks of the Western Wall.  A "kvitel"/"kvittel" is a piece of paper.
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

     A prominent Rabbi wrote, "Once you have lived a moment at the [Western] Wall, you never go away."

     Originally called simply the Western Wall, it acquired the name Wailing Wall because of the nature of the prayers said there.  Rabbi Feldman at the Jewish Center of Princeton explained that the term  "Wailing Wall" is not an endearing one, not an appropriate one.  It implies that Jews go there to "wail" rather than to pray, or that the only prayers of lament are said there in that sacred place  below the Temple Mount.  He says that "It's the Western Wall.  And it's a memorable experience, standing there before that wall, looking around at the crowds, pondering the generations that have been there  before, being overwhelmed by the atmosphere of prayer, sensing that you are part of something much bigger than yourself."

     There's even a little humor about the Western Wall:

     A Jew goes to the Wall every year and puts a prayer in the crack saying, "God please help me win the lottery."  Year after year, he loses.  Finally, after several years, God speaks to him:  "Nudnik, will you go and buy a ticket."

     And the Israeli postal workers' favorite anecdote is about an Israeli man who, years ago, wrote a letter to God describing his crippling "oremkeit" (poverty) and asking for 5,000 shekels.  Postal workers were so moved they collected 4,300 shekels and mailed it back.  After a month, the same person writes again to God, 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."

     There's a Yiddish expression, "Az men lebt, derlebt men zich alts."  (If you live long enough, you will live to see everything.) asks the question, "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.  They will be read and then sent to the holy Western Wall.  The letters come from all over "di velt," and in a host of languages.  The "alt" (elderly) ask for good health; others seek heavenly remedies for debts, relationship assistance, or help finding a job.  The "kinder" asks God to spring them from homework assignments.

     One letter was from a child named Joey Winer, who left this message on the Kotel:
"I hope you take care of my aba (father in Hebrew).  Joey

     Another person wrote requesting assistance in landing a job as a bulldozer driver.  And a man asked for "mekhile" (forgiveness) for stealing money from a grocery store as a child.  A man from Tennessee wrote, "Please help me find a job in Tallahassee or Monroe or some nice place and find a good wife - soon.  Amen.

     "Ver volt dos geglaibt?"  (Who would believe it?)  Can't make it to the holy land in person?  Some companies even allow people to send their prayers to the Western Wall via the Internet.  Prayers are printed out and placed in cracks in the wall, and the person's "kredit-kartl" (credit card) is billed.  The petitioner also receives a confirmation postcard from Jerusalem.

     An Israeli startup called POIP (Pray Over Internet Protocol) makes it possible for you to broadcast your prayers over the Internet. The company sells phone cards that allow you to record your prayers in your own voice and then send them via Internet phone and webcam speakers to places like the Western Wall or the Sea of Galillee.

     And now for the latest news:  Before he left Israel, Barack Obama made a visit to the Western Wall, but his trip to the Jewish holy site was marred by heckling.  One man at the Wall began "shrayen" (to scream).
He said, "Obama, Jerusalem is our land!
Obama, Jerusalem is not for sale!"  He kept yelling this for Obama's entire 10 minutes at the Wall.  Obama chatted with the men with whom he'd come to the Wall, before walking to the Wall to place a note he had previously written between the Wall's cracks.  He put his hand on the Wall, bowed his head and appeared contemplative.  A heckler, not an Obama fan, continued yelling. 

     One person in a minyan, who usually prays loud, was asked by the police to pray more softly.  This brought on a condemnation from others to pray even louder than they have ever done before. Obama comes and his men tell us how to pray?!

     The story does not end here.  Someone, possibly a seminary student, removed Obama's note and sent it to an Israeli newspaper.  This paper then published it and ran a photograph of the note on its front cover.

     Rabbi Anchelle Perl says that disclosing the contents of the note Obama left at Jerusalem's Western Wall "is the equivalent of reading someone's diary--a gross violation of privacy."

     These "kvitlach" are, by their very nature, very personal communications.
It is "umgerekht" (wrong) and contrary to Jewish law, to read other people's mail without their explicit permission.

    Others actually believe that the publication of Obama's "kvittel" was intentionally effected by Barack himself,
in order to cash in the obvious political dividends. says, "But Obama is too much of a political animal for me to believe that he hadn't considered the very, very strong possibility that his kvittel would somehow go public."

     Others have written that Obama deserves credit for bringing attention to the Western Wall as a place of major
importance even for non-Jews, even if he is using it as a political tool.

    And, finally, one person asks, "Will Obama's visit to the Western Wall be the next "New Yorker Cover Art"?

     "Ver vaist?"  (Who knows?)


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe has visited the Western Wall twice.  She has placed a
"kvitel" between the cracks of the Wall, but will not divulge the message.


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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