Surfing to the Wailing Wall

An unanswered, digital prayer sent to Virtual Jerusalem


| July-August 1997



digital-prayer

Image by Flickr user: familymwr / Creative Commons

My father, who recently celebrated his 78th birthday, has never been much for traveling. But since his retirement, he has become a hardcore homebody, determined to stray no further from his suburban hearth than the local grocery. He has no problem with this. I do. With a worldview informed by Kerouac and Gurdjieff, by a fascination with the mythic American holiness of trains, planes, and roadside attractions, and by the boomer drive to accumulate “real experience” like mutual funds, I find his attitude simply unacceptable.

“You slaved your whole life to provide for us,” I rail at him selflessly.

“Take a trip. Thailand or something.”

He laughs in my face. “Why? If I want to see the world, I go down to the basement and turn on public television.”

As I bang my head against the wall, it strikes me that dad’s low-grade agoraphobia may be my inheritance. These days, what little physical travel I do is largely pragmatic: short treks to attend conferences, weddings, funerals, and back again. The idea of “sacred journeying” is one I can sympathize with (I too dream of the mighty pyramids of Egypt, the rolling cannabis fields of Jamaica), but not one I’ve acted on. Instead, like my father, I satisfy my wanderlust, spiritual and otherwise, mostly at home-through books, CDs, films, and the Internet.

Consequently, the Virtual Jerusalem supersite seemed right up my alley. I’ve never been to Israel—a source of some personal regret, given my Judeo-Christian heritage. The site’s most striking feature is called “Send a Prayer.” It works like this: After becoming a “registered citizen” of Virtual Jerusalem (meaning you provide demographic data along with your fax number and e-mail address), you are invited to type a prayer, which, according to the site, will be “kept completely private and confidential” and be hand-delivered to the Western Wall—where it will be stuffed, per tradition, into a chink in the masonry.