For many folks, visiting the Kotel is emotional, meaningful and—more than anything—private. In fact, the single most common experience people have there is inherently personal: putting a kvittel, or note, in between its ancient ashlar stones. Whether you are a believer or not, the simple act of writing a small note, folding it up, and shoving it deep into the cracks is the closest we get to talking to God. But what happens to all those requests and prayers and hopes? Where do they go? Is the Kotel just an ever-expanding archive of notes? If so, why doesn’t it run out of space?

The short answer is the Rosh Hashanah cleanup. But while reporting on this peculiar semiannual ritual (it also happens before Passover), producer Yoshi Fields discovered that the cleanup was much more than just a cleanup. It offered him an opportunity to rethink the story he was told about Israel, and evaluate how reality measured up to myth.

Joel Shupack scored this piece, with additional music from Blue Dot Sessions. The end song is Shlomi Shaban’s Hebrew cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (lyrics translated by Kobi Meidan). This special was edited by Mishy Harman, produced by Zev Levi, James Feder, and Yochai Maital, and mixed by Sela Waisblum. Thanks to Judah Kauffman, who first had the idea for the story, and to Chaim Waxman, Shlomo Ben-Chaim, and Lee Eshel Rubinstein.

This is the first of Israel Story’s two annual listener drive specials. If the show adds something to your life, if you feel it captures unique aspects of the crazy human tapestry called Israel, please consider opening your hearts and donating.

Listen to the full special here, or download it from Apple Podcasts. You can hear all of Israel Story’s episodes in English here and in Hebrew here.