Letters to God

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Audio Transcript:

Estrin: The letters come from all over....

Germany, Mexico, Armenia, Finland, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Columbia, Kenya, Panama, Hong Kong, Trinidad, the United States.

But they're meant for one recipient -- who goes by different names.

�God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. I know that I am a sinner, and I humbly ask you to forgive me.��God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. I know that I am a sinner, and I humbly ask you to forgive me.�

Estrin: That's Avi Yaniv. He heads the Department of Dead Letters at Israel's post office -- the Israeli Postal Company. A dead letter is mail that can't be delivered or returned.

Yaniv: �In these letters that we receiving every day, some letters from all over the world came, you know, its called, letters to God.�

Estrin: The Israeli Postal Company receives about 2,000 letters to God, every year. 65-yer-old Avi's been working here for more than a decade, but he says the post office has been getting these kinds of letters for as long as anyone can remember.

Yaniv: It's very surprising. Jews less and less write to God. Muslims, I can't recall that we received letters from Muslims. A lot of Christians. After that fell of the communism, the most of the letters, from the former Soviet Union countries.

Estrin: Why, because now they have a chance to express their prayers?
Yaniv: I think so.

Estrin: But how exactly do you deliver mail addressed to the Almighty? The post office's solution involved some Talmudic-style thinking.

Yaniv: �God no has an address. Do you know address of God? No. When somebody writes to God, we think that he wanted in the beginning, that this letter should arrive to Jerusalem. We think Jerusalem is the most holy city in the world. And what is the most holy place in Jerusalem? The Western Wall. So we take into consideration that his letter will reach this place.�

Estrin: It's tradition for worshippers at the Western Wall, or Kotel in Hebrew, to write their prayers on small slips of paper and stick them between the stones. So every six months, Avi and his crew take God's letters to the Wall and wedge them in the cracks. Avi figures it's the closest thing to God's mailbox.

Yaniv: Can you imagine someplace else to put these letters?"

Estrin: Before he delivers the mail, though, Avi likes to take a peek.

Yaniv: �Ah - this is from Malaysia: To God. I want to win the Big Sweep this July 30th and I want to win the Toto. Ah, this is the numbers of the lottery. 1 15 19 36 42 14.

Estrin: But not everybody's writing to God for a winning lotto ticket.

Yaniv: "Dear God, I want my son home with me. He left on September 28th and hasn't returned home and he hasn't phoned me." I start to develop sympathy to those letters. Like I was very touched � when somebody send a letter to God, his wife is passed away a few months ago. He asked God, at least to see his wife in his dream.�

Yaniv: �Dear God, I am writing you to tell you about the pain I feel inside. I am so hurt. and confused.�

Estrin: The things that people have been writing to God: have they stayed the same over the past 11 years since you've been opening these letters, or have things changed?

Yaniv: �I think there is nothing new. Forgiveness, peace between relatives�it's the same ideas that came in all the letters.�

Estrin: Do you believe in God?
Yaniv: Of course. I also write notes to God.
Estrin: You write notes to God?
Yaniv: Every ceremony that we take the notes to the Kotel, I also write a note of myself. Mostly I write about�to gain for me and for my family, you know, health, and good life.

Estrin: You don't feel any guilt reading these letters?
Yaniv: No.

Estrin: And people who learn of Yaniv's role in opening the Dear God letters don't seem to mind. Whenever there's a story published about him in the international press, Yaniv's office gets another flurry of letters.

Yaniv: Even in the note, some people write to Avi Yaniv. Because I am the address. They know.

"I am the address...""I am the address..."

Estrin: Whether or not God is reading his mail, at least people know there's an address.

For The World, this is Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.