Thursday, December 2, 2021

In This Moment: Meet the Mayor

 


In This Moment
See more menorahs from then and now in our TBE menorah album
It was busy week for Stamford's new mayor, Caroline Simmons. On her first day after her inauguration (above), she lit Hanukkah candles at Government Center with the students of TBE, and accepted her first Hanukkah gift as mayor, a dozen sufganiot (from Dunkin Sufganiot, no less). It was very strange not to see the enormous Christmas tree that usually is there when we visit, but Hanukkah came early this year, so it felt like we "owned" the place. In truth, it felt a little lonely - empty.

Let's fill the void with our light. Bring your menorah to services this Friday night - we'll be showing them, not lighting them. But on Sunday on Zoom at 6, we'll be lighting for the eighth night, and with a screen full of fully lit hanukkiot, it will be a true festival of lights.

Shabbat Shalom, .

Join us on Friday night at 7, in person or on livestream, for our Shabbat Hanukkah service. Our students will be involved and there will be a special Hanukkah surprise that will be unveiled. It'll be a can't miss TBE moment! And on Shabbat morning, (which, aside from being Shabbat Hanukkah is also Rosh Hodesh Tevet and the portion of Mikketz), we'll look at Hanukkah from an environmental point of view (click to the left to see the info packet)

Where Did These Hanukkah Customs Come From?

This week I was asked about the origins of the sufganiah (jelly doughnut eaten on Hanukkah, especially in Israel). I turned to a renowned rabbinic authority - NPR - for the answer. The tradition was first mentioned in the writings of a 12th century Spanish rabbi, who wrote, "one must not make light of the custom of eating fried fritters. It is a custom of the ancient ones."

But it wasn't until the creation of modern Israel that the tradition really took off. That's according to Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan. Jewish leaders were trying to form a national identity. They were trying to come up with foods and traditions that were distinctly Israeli. And Nathan imagines those guys sitting around and just spitballing new customs, like sufganiyot. The word means sponge because doughnuts soak up oil. During the 16th century, when sugar became cheap and Europe experienced a pastry revolution. That's when Polish Jews started adding jelly to the doughnuts that they ate on Hanukkah.Them jelly came much later than the original fried doughnuts.

Here is a review of the best places serving sugfaniot in Israel. Below are some delicious varieties from the Ne'eman bakery chain. "In addition to their chocolate, caramel and jam varieties, this year Ne’eman is selling two meringue-topped doughnuts, peanut, sprinkle, espresso and cream versions, a “petit four” doughnut topped with pastry cream, mixed fruits and chocolate, plus the “sabrina retro,” a sliced open doughnut filled with pastry cream, rum and topped with a cherry." (see photo below - and let the salivating begin)
So the sufgania came from lots of places, but found its true home in israel, where it could thrive, just like the people whose stomachs it fills.

So what about the dreidel? Read here about its surprising beginnings. (Hint: It has nothing to do with Hanukkah)

For a whole host of other Hanukkah rituals and customs, see Hanukkah Exotica, from Rabbi David Golikin.


Hanukkah Gelt, 2,000 Years Old!
Made of pure silver, the coin was minted in 67 CE, the 2nd year of the Great Revolt 

Did you know that one of the archaeological finds of the century took place just recently and the item was discovered by an 11-year-old? You can see it in the photos above and read about it in this article from the Smithsonian.

"Liel Krutokop was having fun playing archaeologist for a day. The 11-year-old girl was volunteering with her family at Emek Tzurim National Park in Jerusalem, sifting through dirt and looking for artifacts. Examining the very first bucket she’d chosen, Krutokop spotted something round. Wiping away the dust, she could tell that she’d stumbled onto something important. As Rossella Tercatin reports for the Jerusalem Post, the Petah Tikva resident had found a rare, 2,000-year-old silver coin with ancient Hebrew inscriptions reading “Israeli shekel” and "Holy Jerusalem."

Recovered from dirt collected in the neighboring City of David National Park, the coin dates to the first-century C.E. Great Revolt, which found the people of Judea rebelling against the Roman Empire. It is marked on one side with a cup and the letters “shin” and “bet,” indicating it was minted during the second year of the uprising (67 or 68 C.E.), reports Shira Hanau for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)."

Why is this find so important?

For one thing, it was found on the newly excavated Pilgrimage Road, which was the main thoroughfare for pilgrims going up into the second temple.

Also, it's made of silver. Tens of thousands of ancient coins have been unearthed, but only about 30 silver coins have been discovered from the Great Revolt.

According to an article in the Times of Israelsuch a heavy silver coin could only have been minted at the Temple because, “Where else could you find silver in such quantity and such high quality in those days? Only in the Temple.

But now we have this coin, which was likely made in the temple very shortly before it was destroyed, thereby ending a major era of Jewish history.

That era in many ways began with the Hanukkah story, marking a triumphant return to the temple and cleansing of its artifacts, including the menorah. For over two centuries, from 165 BCE to 70 CE, Jews remained in control of this holy precinct. Then it was lost, and the Pilgrimage Road was buried for two thousand years. See a video (in Hebrew) of the girls' retracing the steps of the pilgrims on that road.

On one side, the coin says, "Holy Jerusalem."

As we light our menorahs this week, it is important to realize that the events of Hanukkah mark not an ending of a revolt, but a beginning of a long historical process that led, ultimately, to this. While we celebrate the triumph of the light and the miracle of the oil, we can also note the miracle of the silver coin - the one that now is peering back at us, having been recovered, quite literally, from the dustbin of history.

And so we wonder. Who made it? Who held it? Who used it to buy a sheep for sacrifice or a meal for their family. Who gave it to the poor? And, most poignant of all, who was carrying it last, when the walls gave way or the soldiers came barreling through on their bloody quest for total destruction?

We may never know the answers to any of those questions. but we do know that two thousand years later, the coin ended up in the sifter of an 11-year-old Israeli girl. As the coin begins a new life in an old land, we stand in wonder at the great miracle of Jewish revival, the great miracle that happened here.
The Journey along the Pilgrimage Road in the City of David, the Heart of Ancient Jerusalem.
Take this journey along the Pilgrimage Road

WHAT ARE THESE????
Find out at services this Friday night...


Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Friday, November 26, 2021

FEATURED POST How a menorah may bring about a ‘Christian nation’ (Times of Israel)

FEATURED POST

How a menorah may bring about a ‘Christian nation’

The cardinal American principle of separating religion and state was sacrificed on the altar of a good photo-op, and no one cared
Lighting the menorah with the mayor at Stamford, Connecticut's Government Center. (courtesy)
Lighting the menorah with the mayor at Stamford, Connecticut's Government Center. (courtesy)

In America, Jews have long championed the separation of religion and state, and for good reason. That proverbial Wall of Separation has protected us from the very realistic fear that, if unchecked, zealots would impose a narrow, xenophobic vision of Christianity on America. Now, as we prepare to welcome Hanukkah, the menorah, ancient symbol of religious freedom, lurks as a reminder of how vulnerable we are to losing the constitutional right that has helped to preserve that freedom.

In the latter years of the 20th century, an internal battle among Jews was fought over whether a Hanukkah menorah could be placed on public ground. The Lubavitch movement staked its future on the powerful symbolism of an ancient practice: the public proclamation of the Hanukah miracle. The public-space menorah became their signature issue, and a clarion call for Jews who, in their estimation, had long been too timid to demonstrate public pride in their faith — that despite the fact that the Soviet Jewry movement had been bringing Jews proudly into the public square en masse for years. The Jewish establishment, including an alliance of secular non-profit leaders and liberal rabbis, fought hard to defeat Chabad and maintain that rigid Wall, which they claimed protected Jews from Christian encroachment on a whole variety of public issues.

The Lubavitchers struck a nerve, mirroring the chutzpah of the Maccabees in defying the entrenched powers, and they won a clear victory that was enshrined in law. In the 1989 case County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Unionthe Supreme Court declared that a menorah displayed on public property was allowed, while a creche was not. The irony here is that the menorah, the most ubiquitous and primal religious symbol in Judaism (older than a Torah scroll, more prominent than a mezuzah, less binding than matzah), whose religious power the Hasidim harnessed, was considered by the Supreme Court to be a secular symbol, basically on par with a dreidel. And with that, Chabad won.  

Once that ruling came down, immediately we saw menorah lightings everywhere, in every government-run space imaginable: in the White House, in courthouses, schools and city halls across the country. While this no doubt awakened Jewish pride and possibly spurred deeper commitment to Jewish practice — and donations to Chabad — one wonders at what cost.

In fact, menorahs already could be displayed in public. Before Chabad’s push, they were ubiquitous at department stores and malls, mom and pop establishments, synagogue lobbies and Jewish-owned homes — and some non-Jewish ones too, like in Billings, Montana, where an anti-Semitic attack prompted pastors to call on the Christian parishioners to place menorahs in their windows.

The issue that challenged the Establishment Clause was whether menorahs could be displayed on government-owned property. It would have been easy for Chabad to light menorahs in very public places that aren’t government controlled. But they wanted a menorah in the White House, and they got it, and in doing so, they succeeded in shaming their opponents into silence, in the name of “Jewish pride.” Coming at a time of near panic over rising rates of intermarriage and assimilation, when “continuity” was the community buzzword, secular and liberal rabbinic leaders capitulated with barely a whimper. Those public lightings were glitzy and warm, after all, and you could always get politicians and celebrities to attend, and hey, SCOTUS says it’s Kosher! If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

I plead guilty. A few years after Allegheny, my synagogue began doing an annual lighting at Stamford, Connecticut’s Government Center, with the requisite photo ops for the local paper, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We always give the mayor a dozen jelly doughnuts as a quid pro quo. It feels good to have my little menorah lit right next to the mayor’s humungous tree.

Religion-state separation was sacrificed at the altar of a good photo-op, and no one cared.

So now, do we have a right to be surprised when Michael Flynn called for America to embrace “one religion” at a recent conclave that included a who’s who of the religious right? Should we be surprised at the serious erosion of that separation that has been taking place in recent Supreme Court rulings, on everything from public funding of religious education to pandemic relief? Should we be shocked that a Christian group in Boston seeks to fly a religious flag in front of City Hall, which seems a logical next step following the menorah precedent? And should we be surprised that abortion looks to be the next and biggest brick to fall from the Wall, as a distinctly anti-Judaic view of when human life begins may shortly become the law of the land.

America has hardly been perfect in its treatment of minority groups, particularly those of color, but it has been exemplary in its treatment of minority religions. With all the hate Jews have experienced here, it’s never been state-sponsored religious persecution. Now, if Roe is overturned, rabbis who in good conscience advise their congregants to get abortions will be in the crosshairs, legal and perhaps otherwise.

But I got to play dreidel with the mayor.

It all started with a menorah in Pittsburgh, when everyone saw how quickly Jews could be cowed into giving up our birthright, the Establishment Clause, for a plate of latkes. And now, those latkes are coming home to roost.

The signs are clear that, if the current trends continue, we are about to enter a new era of religious intolerance that will not be good for all Jews, whether secular, religiously progressive or Orthodox. Maybe that will be okay with those Jews on the far right, like Chabad, whose allies, like John Hagee, filled the hall where Michael Flynn spoke. Maybe that’s what they wanted all along.

But for others this Hanukkah, that menorah on government property is a glowing reminder of the dangers facing the abortion clinic next door, and how we let our guard down in our craving for public pride.

In This Moment: Nov. 18: Thanksgivukk-abbat-O-Gram: How a Menorah May Bring About a Christian Nation

 


In This Moment

Stamford Jewish Community Celebrates Hanukkah "Freedom Celebration"
Thirty years ago, on Dec. 6, 1991, the Stamford Jewish community celebrated Hanukkah outside the JCC. Watch this vintage video from Shalom TV and you'll see some familiar faces.


Shabbat Shalom, and happy post-Thanks, pre-Han and just about Shabbat.

Squeeing this in before sunset, a reminder to join us this evening at 7 (Leo Mahler joins me) and tomorrow at 10 (Dvar by Rabbi Ginsburg). We'll have online menorah lightings for much of the week and live via Zoom a lighting with our new mayor at Government Center on Thursday at 4. Join us!



Similar to the story of the Maccabean revolt, Thanksgiving for Native Americans represents resistance against cultural assimilation. But one is a holiday celebrating cultural survival and the other – especially for the Wampanoag, whose first contacts with the colonists Thanksgiving mythologizes – a day of mourning. Jews “are no strangers to the hardships and displacement of colonialism,” writes Mahrinah Shije, a Sephardic Jew and member of the Tewa tribe. “Having felt the pain of cultural, religious, and language loss, we know how intolerable that is for anyone.



In America, Jews have long championed the separation of religion and state, and for good reason. That proverbial Wall of Separation has protected us from the very realistic fear that, if unchecked, zealots would impose a narrow, xenophobic vision of Christianity on America. Now, as we prepare to welcome Hanukkah, the menorah, ancient symbol of religious freedom, lurks as a reminder of how vulnerable we are to losing the constitutional right that has helped to preserve that freedom.

In the latter years of the 20th century, an internal battle among Jews was fought over whether a Hanukkah menorah could be placed on public ground. The Lubavitch movement staked its future on the powerful symbolism of an ancient practice: the public proclamation of the Hanukah miracle. The public-space menorah became their signature issue, and a clarion call for Jews who, in their estimation, had long been too timid to demonstrate public pride in their faith — that despite the fact that the Soviet Jewry movement had been bringing Jews proudly into the public square en masse for years. The Jewish establishment, including an alliance of secular non-profit leaders and liberal rabbis, fought hard to defeat Chabad and maintain that rigid Wall, which they claimed protected Jews from Christian encroachment on a whole variety of public issues.

The Lubavitchers struck a nerve, mirroring the chutzpah of the Maccabees in defying the entrenched powers, and they won a clear victory that was enshrined in law. In the 1989 case County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Unionthe Supreme Court declared that a menorah displayed on public property was allowed, while a creche was not. The irony here is that the menorah, the most ubiquitous and primal religious symbol in Judaism (older than a Torah scroll, more prominent than a mezuzah, less binding than matzah), whose religious power the Hasidim harnessed, was considered by the Supreme Court to be a secular symbol, basically on par with a dreidel. And with that, Chabad won.

Once that ruling came down, immediately we saw menorah lightings everywhere, in every government-run space imaginable: in the White House, in courthouses, schools and city halls across the country. While this no doubt awakened Jewish pride and possibly spurred deeper commitment to Jewish practice — and donations to Chabad — one wonders at what cost.

In fact, menorahs already could be displayed in public. Before Chabad’s push, they were ubiquitous at department stores and malls, mom and pop establishments, synagogue lobbies and Jewish-owned homes — and some non-Jewish ones too, like in Billings, Montana, where an anti-Semitic attack prompted pastors to call on the Christian parishioners to place menorahs in their windows.

The issue that challenged the Establishment Clause was whether menorahs could be displayed on government-owned property. It would have been easy for Chabad to light menorahs in very public places that aren’t government controlled. But they wanted a menorah in the White House, and they got it, and in doing so, they succeeded in shaming their opponents into silence, in the name of “Jewish pride.” Coming at a time of near panic over rising rates of intermarriage and assimilation, when “continuity” was the community buzzword, secular and liberal rabbinic leaders capitulated with barely a whimper. Those public lightings were glitzy and warm, after all, and you could always get politicians and celebrities to attend, and hey, SCOTUS says it’s Kosher! If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

I plead guilty. A few years after Allegheny, my synagogue began doing an annual lighting at Stamford, Connecticut’s Government Center, with the requisite photo ops for the local paper, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We always give the mayor a dozen jelly doughnuts as a quid pro quo. It feels good to have my little menorah lit right next to the mayor’s humungous tree.

Religion-state separation was sacrificed at the altar of a good photo-op, and no one cared.

So now, do we have a right to be surprised when Michael Flynn called for America to embrace “one religion” at a recent conclave that included a who’s who of the religious right? Should we be surprised at the serious erosion of that separation that has been taking place in recent Supreme Court rulings, on everything from public funding of religious education to pandemic relief? Should we be shocked that a Christian group in Boston seeks to fly a religious flag in front of City Hall, which seems a logical next step following the menorah precedent? And should we be surprised that abortion looks to be the next and biggest brick to fall from the Wall, as a distinctly anti-Judaic view of when human life begins may shortly become the law of the land?

America has hardly been perfect in its treatment of minority groups, particularly those of color, but it has been exemplary in its treatment of minority religions. With all the hate Jews have experienced here, it’s never been state-sponsored religious persecution. Now, if Roe is overturned, rabbis who in good conscience advise their congregants to get abortions will be in the crosshairs, legal and perhaps otherwise.

But I got to play dreidel with the mayor.

It all started with a menorah in Pittsburgh, when everyone saw how quickly Jews could be cowed into giving up our birthright, the Establishment Clause, for a plate of latkes. And now, those latkes are coming home to roost.

The signs are clear that, if the current trends continue, we are about to enter a new era of religious intolerance that will not be good for all Jews, whether secular, religiously progressive or Orthodox. Maybe that will be okay with those Jews on the far right, like Chabad, whose allies, like John Hagee, filled the hall where Michael Flynn spoke.

Maybe that’s what they wanted all along.

But for others this Hanukkah, that menorah on government property is a glowing reminder of the dangers facing the abortion clinic next door, and how we let our guard down in our craving for public pride.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Hanukkah in Stamford, 1991

 


Thursday, November 18, 2021

In This Moment: Nov. 18

 


In This Moment

TBE Adult B'nai Mitzvah, Nov. 13, 2021
Watch the video of last weekend's B'nai Mitzvah


Shabbat Shalom!

Last weekend's adult B'nai Mitzvah was a real highlight for the year, and well worth the three year wait. You can see some photos, screen grabs and congrats from the chat by clicking here. And see my charge to the class here. Since we always stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, here are the booklets from prior adult b'nai mitzvah classes from the past three decades. They were all very special (if booklets exist for prior ones, please send them to me).







This evening at 7:30, we'll be honored to host (on Zoom), Israel's new Consul General to New England, Ambassador Meron Reuben. Join us at 7:30 and send me any questions you might want asked. Click here to register and get Zoom access.

Now some recommended reading - with commentary...


  • Call For Philip Morris....to go smokeless. In this article in the Stamford Advocatethe tobacco company pledges to turn over a new leaf, so to speak. So here's what I've been asking myself. What is it about Stamford that draws such edgy (or worse) businesses, from Purdue Pharma (whose settlement seems quite shady) to WWE (I know, it's entertainment) to Jerry Springer? I was once accused of being inhospitable to Springer for questioning whether I would give him an aliyah. Okay, most Stamford-based companies are just fine (I'm looking at you, NBC Sports), but you've got to admit to getting that queasy feeling when reading this company's full page NYT ad, where Marian Salzman, their VP of Global Communications has the chutzpah to compare skepticism directed toward Philip Morris to hate speech:

PMI is giving us all a little feel of PMS. The company's record is hardly spotless and certainly not above criticism. Still, even companies can do teshuvah, and I'm not ruling out an aliyah for Marian Salzman just yet. I'd welcome her into a dialogue, as long as she promises not to bring up the hate speech thing again. I think what's bothering me even more is that we get so taken in by a Chamber of Commerce mentality when the rich and famous come a-calling that we lose our objectivity. Instead of blurting out, "They like us! They really like us!" let's hold companies to high moral standards, especially if they are responsible for, allegedly, seven million deaths a year. I kvetched about Stew Leonard back in the '90s, and they were just cheating on taxes, not killing millions and covering it up. Stew Junior responded by sending over a bushel of cornstalks for our sukkah. Okay, that was a little shady too, but we met and talked things through. Is Phil Morris going to respond to this by accusing a rabbi of hate speech - because, according to their definition, hate speech is anything critical of them.

So, while I'm happy that we've got lots of nice companies here too, still, what is it about Stamford???


  • Larry David spilled coffee on a Klansman's robe. We asked rabbis if he has to pay for the dry cleaning. (Forward) The fact that Judaism has its own vast corpus of legal arguments is of little interest to Larry David — he’s a law unto himself. But every so often his actions give way to a question of Talmudic precedent. When, for instance, Larry accidentally spilled coffee on a Klansman’s robe on Sunday’s episode and then promised to have it laundered in time for two upcoming “hate rallies” in Tucson and Santa Fe, he stumbled onto an area well-trod by commentators and scholars: property law. Throughout the episode, Larry explains how he feels obligated to pay for this white supremacist’s dry cleaning, even convincing a Jewish dry cleaner to do it, telling him, a la Jesus, that he’s deciding to “turn the other cheek.”

  • Taylor Swift and a Time Honored Jewish Tradition (Forward) The brouhaha surrounding the Swift-Gyllenhaal saga got us thinking of the great tradition of “kiss-off” songs — particularly those written and performed by Jewish songwriters. If Bob Dylan did not invent the genre, he certainly set the bar high with such early songs as “Positively 4th Street” (“You got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend”), “Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)” (“You say you love me and you’re thinkin’ of me but you know you could be wrong”), “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (“You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last”), “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (“You just kinda wasted my precious time”), and perhaps the greatest kiss-off song of all time, “Idiot Wind” (“You’re an idiot, babe / It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe”). Ouch!

  • What Would Maimonides Say About Dennis Prager? (R.N.S). Once upon a time, Dennis Prager was one of my favorite authors. His book co-authored with Joseph Telushkin, "Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism," influenced me greatly during my formative years. I once brought him to Stamford to speak. Yes, Rabbi Hammerman brought Dennis Prager to Stamford. He spoke to teens about Jewish pride, but his first words, "Kids stink," didn't exactly endear him to his audience. Over the years, he's drifted far to the right, but it is has his stance on vaccinations that Doctor Maimonides would have found so offensive, according to this opinion piece.

  • Top European court says Hungary's 'stop Soros' migrant law violated EU law (Jerusalem Post) I've been fortunate to experience very little anti-Semitism first hand in my life, but one such time was when our 2017 Europe group crossed the bridge from Slovakia to Hungary and what greeted us was this sign. it did not say, "Welcome to Hungary, Jews." We had literally just come from Auschwitz and before our wheels even set down on Hungarian soil, we see a sign stating, "We can't let Soros get the last laugh." Well, we all need to dedicate our lives to getting the last laugh against those who traffic in anti-Semitic tropes and strike fear in the hearts of Jews and "others."

  • Last year I wrote this op-ed / d'var Torah, with the focus on this week's portion of Vayishlach and how at times the best way to keep a family together is to divide it up, as Jacob does when confronting his brother Esau for the first time in two decades. Though things are much better now, with vaccines and better, medically approved treatments, much of last year's message still resonates. I'm so happy to say that this year, both of my kids will be in town and we will be spending Thanksgiving together. But what I wrote last year still has resonance. As Jacob prepares for the worst, he prays:
The fear of Jacob is reflected in our own. The patriarch realizes how unworthy - in the Hebrew, how "small" - he is (katonti), how ill-equipped to defeat this foe. Ramban finds a prophetic quote to back up this feeling of futility: “How will Jacob survive, as he is so small” (Amos 7:2).

The greatest danger to us as we face this overwhelming third wave of Covid is a sense that we fool ourselves into thinking that we really understand this disease, that we’ve been here before. But we have not. While March and April were bad in the NY area, Americans have never seen the entire country afflicted with such overwhelming force at the same time.

Complacency and Covid fatigue are dangerous, but the gravest danger of all is a false sense of control. Masks and outdoor ventilation are helpful, we now know, but they are not foolproof. Today, in order to protect ourselves, many families will voluntarily stay apart. In the Torah, Jacob shows us that such a decision requires a selfless humility that can help us to confront enemies seen and unseen. Covid may be microscopic and microbial, but we are the ones who are small.


There will not be a full Shabbat-O-Gram next week (though I reserve the right to send you something), so my best wishes for a happy Thanksgivukkah for you and yours (from me and mine)! I close with some quotations on gratitude for your Thanksgiving table - or Zoom table, as the case may be. The word Jew actually means to give thanks. Today we proudly display our Jewish and American identities together by offering our appreciation to God for all of our bounty and blessing

Happy Chanksgivukah!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Temple Beth El
350 Roxbury Road
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
203-322-6901 | www.tbe.org
  
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