JERUSALEM, Israel -- With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a few days away, the biannual tradition of emptying written prayers from the Kotel -- Western Wall -- began Monday morning.
Twice a year, before Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Passover in the spring, workers, under the direction of Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, remove the slips of paper stuffed in between the cracks of the huge hewn stones.
For Israelis and many diaspora Jews (those living in countries other than Israel), the Kotel -- the sole vestige of the Second Temple -- is Judaism's holiest site next to the Temple Mount itself.
It's a sacred place where Jews go to pour out their hearts before God.
Written prayers make it to the Kotel in several ways. Sometimes, they're sent by snail mail and sometimes by email to someone living or visiting Israel to be placed in the wall.
Even the Israeli postal service gets in on the act, delivering thousands of letters addressed to God to be placed in the cracks.
After collecting the written prayers, they are transported, unread, to be buried on the Mount of Olives. Jewish tradition forbids anything with God's name on it to be destroyed, which is why old Torah scrolls are buried. The slips of paper are treated with respect because they are people's prayers.
During the Jordanian occupation from 1948 to 1967, Israelis were forbidden access to the Kotel. After the Six Day War when Jerusalem came back under Jewish sovereignty, the government set to work cleaning up the area, razing the dilapidated Moroccan quarter and building a new plaza in its place.
Many celebrations take place there, including bar mitzvah ceremonies and the swearing-in of new Israeli soldiers.