The Prayer Business - Jerusalem Post - Feb 7, 2008
According to a kabbalist tradition, God answers the prayers of those who visit the Western Wall for 40 consecutive days. But not everyone lives in Jerusalem, and even residents of the holy city find it a challenge to visit the Wall daily for nearly six weeks to avail themselves of divine intervention.
Recognizing this need, in 2004 Jewish Quarter resident Batya Burd, 33, established Western Wall Prayers to say proxy prayers at the Wall for those unable to do so themselves.
The requested donation? Two dollars per day, or $90, for heavenly help, smiles the petite brunette.
"Once I was told I was selling snake oil. But.," she says. "I'm not doing this for public approval. You have to believe in God to actually believe this works. Otherwise it's just superstition."
Burd herself and her Chicago-born husband Gershon are proof of the efficacy of the 40-day ritual, she continues, even as she emphasizes there is no guarantee. The two met in December 2002, a week and a half after Gershon had completed his own 40-day stint at the Wall - where his prayers had focused on finding his beshert (God-given match).
After five dates in a whirlwind 15 days, the couple became engaged, and were married two months later, she smiles.
A son and daughter quickly followed. While Gershon works as the executive director of the Yeshivas Bircas Hatorah seminary, money is tight, Burd acknowledges.
"In our first year of marriage before this service was started, we had to rely on miracles almost weekly just to survive," she recalls.
Indeed Burd's biography reads as an extended miracle of Jewish survival. In 1973, her parents Efim and Anna Fefer escaped Ukraine, then part of the USSR, on exit permits for Israel. Like tens of thousands of Soviet emigres, the Fefers were disappointed with the reality of life in the Jewish state. Indeed, their arrival coincided with the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
In 1976, with their new-born daughter in tow, the Fefers decamped to Ostia Lido, Italy, outside Rome where they waited three difficult years for a visa to Canada. Raised in the Toronto suburb of Thornhill, . Batya - then called Lisa Fefer - came to Israel on a life-changing birthright israel trip in January 2001. The rest, she says, is history.
[Burd] is also a certified therapist trained at the Jerusalem Therapy Psycho-Spiritual Institute. Besides composing the prayers to be said verbally at the Western Wall, [she] does a lot of counseling.
"It's easier for a third party to see straight. Often people can't see beyond their suffering," she explains. "I use a lot of [therapist] skills."
In May  Burd . set up her personal prayer [organization's] not-for-profit status. Today the charity employs herself and another half-time worker, and pays 35 prayer agents "99 percent of whom are either teaching or learning Torah."
Each surrogate worshiper spends a minimum of 10 minutes of prayer per party, while some remain for hours at the Wall.
Burd declines to reveal her income. "It's a sensitive subject," she says, adding that the largesse is well-appreciated and well-spent by her Torah team, all of whom are spirituality rich but cash-poor.
Bottom line . Western Wall Prayers has served more than 700 people seeking divine intervention on matters such as fertility, health or marriage. Burd points to a raft of success stories of prayers answered, the most moving of which are posted online at www.westernwallprayers.org.
Unusual requests have included divine help in being released from prison, losing weight and obtaining American citizenship...
Though the majority of donors live in New York and Toronto, others are from the Philippines, South Africa, Australia and Britain. Three-quarters are Jewish. Promoted by word of mouth and advertisements on Google and the haredi newspaper Hamodia, numbers are increasing, Burd adds.
"We pray for you out of gratitude for your donation," she says. Burd says donors feel very satisfied with her service, and have reported "nearly 140" stories of prayers answered, ranging from love discovered to health regained. Many donors are repeats.
"Even people who didn't see open miracles feel very grateful for how connected they feel during the process," she explains. "It's not magic, but it is a Torah recipe for success."