from the March 2007 issue

Prayers via Internet

On a recent wintry afternoon in the Old City, Orthodox Jews in black coats and hats huddled at the Western Wall, bobbing their heads as they prayed at one of the world's holiest sites. Some wedged prayers on crumpled pieces of paper, with their prayers, in the crevices of the ancient wall, a practice stretching back centuries.

The News: An Israeli start-up offers people a way to have their prayers broadcast at holy sites through speakers in Webcams.

The service, sold through phone cards, reflects a trend of using the Internet for religious purposes.  Behind them on the ledge of a nearby building, a small Webcam carried the scene live on the Internet. Speakers inside the camera played the sound of prayers, mostly from people thousands of miles away in the U.S.

The camera is owned by a start-up in Tel Aviv called Pray Over IP (the IP stands for "Internet protocol"). It sells phone cards that allow customers to record their prayers, which are then transmitted to a holy site of their choice via Internet phone and Webcams.

"It's just $5 or $10, and you get eternal life," says Hanan Achsaf, chairman of POIP. "With the lottery, you pay that amount, and what do you get? A piece of paper. This is much better value." The start-up is part of an explosion of technology being used for religious purposes in recent years. Churches in Brazil offer audio clips of services through cell phones. Ringtones using religious music are gaining popularity. A survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 30% of adults online use the Internet for their religious pursuits.

The company estimates it has 1,500 users a day, sells its phone cards on two Web sites -- one for Christians and the other for Jewish users. The sites stream video from the company's Webcams, giving users a real-time look at where the prayers are broadcast.

A user records his prayer by using a POIP phone card, which allows a prayer of as long as two minutes. After calling a POIP phone number (1-888-HE-HEARS in the U.S.) and inputting a personal-identification number from the card, the user gets a choice: press one for the holy site of Jerusalem, press two for the holy site of the Sea of Galilee, and so on.

The company's Webcams at these sites transmit prayers from users around the world -- though more than 65% are in the U.S. The company has equipment at eight sites in Israel, including the Sea of Galilee, the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and has plans for more.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report March 2007

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