Category Archives: Judism


BLOG 240 February 15, 2015

An attack on a free speech event and a synagogue in Denmark was apparently motivated by the horrific attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris that killed 17 people. All staged by Islamic radical terrorists. The Danish Prime Minister called it an attack on freedom of speech and anti-Semitism. But why would Middle Eastern Islamic terrorists assault citizens in far-off Denmark and France –and Jews in particular?

What is there in Islam that prompts such hatred of the Jews?

Actually, Mohammed admired Jews because they were monotheists and viewed them as natural adherents to his new faith. At the same time, he fought and killed Jews while being friends with other Jews. Some early Islamic practices were somewhat modeled on Judaism. After the 7th century rise of Islam, treatment of Jews varied and was not that different from the general populations conquered by the sword. Today many Muslims abhor jihadists’ violence. However, the variant practices of Mohammed were reflected in the Quran.

After Muslim prayers shifted from Jerusalem to Mecca, negative verses about the Jews appeared. The Quran and its interpreters had conflicting things to say about the Jews. Islamic tradition regarded Jews as a legitimate community of believers in God and called them “People of the Book.” On the other hand, Islam made mostly negative references to Jews in the Quran and Hadith. While some Quran verses preach tolerance of the Jews, other verses make hostile remarks. The standard Quranic reference (Quran 2:61) is:

            And abasement and poverty were pitched upon them, and they were laden

With the burden of God’s anger; that. Because they disbelieved the signs

of God and slain the Prophets unrightfully; that, because they disobeyed,

and were transgressors.

This page fuels the ISIS belief they are fighting a religious war with the West.

In Bernard Lewis’s book The New Anti-Semitism, he argues that negative stereotypes of Jews were different from the Europeans. Unlike Christians, Muslims saw Jews as objects of ridicule, not fear. Christians actually treated Jews worse during these early periods.

In today’s world, the radical hatred of the Jews is fueled by the rise of the nation of Israel. The success of Israel imparted a deep and embarrassing sense of failure and loss in the Muslim world. Religion has been superseded by politics.

So, how did the hatred of Israel in the Middle East get to France and Denmark? Hatred knows no boundaries. (ISIS just murdered 21 Christians) Perhaps, the terrorist in Europe were simply “nut cases.” Probably not. Possibly they were infected by the disease of murder. Could be. Sociopathic personalities look for chaos and hostility as an outlet for what they claim are “righteous” concerns. Conceivably the “true believers” fundamentalists believed that Allah was directing them and their martyrdom was a free ticket to heaven. A simple cartoon of Mohammed had already sent them on a rampage to stop so-called desecration as well as free speech along the way.

France has the largest community of Jews in Europe (around 600,000) but with attacks on their synagogues, kosher stores, and population, many are preparing to immigrate to Israel. Calling these attacks “Muslim anti-Semitism,” they recognize Muslim hatred of the nation of Israel does spill over and might well splash on their children. As frightening and sad as it is, racial hate never seems to stop.

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Filed under America, Christians, Judism, middle east, Muslims


BLOG 237 January 27, 2015

Across the world, Jews and Gentiles paused on Tuesday to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th year date of the liberation of Auschwitz. I have been to both Dachau Concentration Camp and Auschwitz. I know well what these death camps were like.

My visit to Auschwitz came in January. When I stood out on the assembly ground in the freezing weather, I wondered how anyone could have survived these conditions. The Jews who stood there for hours and went to the gas chambers had committed no crime. They had done nothing wrong – they were just Jews.

My books The Pastors Barracks and the Bitter Road to Dachau chronicles the story of Christian Reiger, a Reformed Christian German Pastor, who was sentenced to Dachau for nothing more than speaking out against The Third Reich and the Nazis. From my time spent listening to Christian, I leaned a first hand story of his five year struggle to survive. More than one third of all Polish Roman Catholic priests died in Dachau. By the time he was released, Christian had lost 100 pounds.

Another story comes from Israel. Marta Wise was a 10-year-old Slovakian Jew in Auschwitz when she heard the sound of soldiers marching toward the death camp. Marta assumed they were Germans, but soon saw the red stars on their uniforms that said they were Russians. Only by their intervention was she saved. Marta has a black and white photo taken by the Russians showing her standing with a group of children in their rags behind a barbed wire fence. By the time the picture was taken Marta weighted only 37 pounds.

Marta and her sister Eva survived but they still cannot understand how they did so. Today at age 80, she lives in Jerusalem. The number A-2702 remains tattooed on her arm.

Survivors Max and Rose Schindler, 85-years-old, took an hour and a half bus trip from Krakow to Auschwitz. They said Kaddish and prayed for their murdered loved one who died in the camp. While praying, some survivor cried out, “I don’t want to come here anymore!”

Rose had come for one final visit to remember her parents and four siblings who died there. She remembered that among those who died were gypsies, homosexuals, and others who were caught under the heel of the Nazi boot. Rose reflected that the only ones who could tell the entire story of Auschwitz were silenced by the crematoria. So, she must do her best to relate the story that only a survivor can.

I will never forget walking through the grass in a field behind the crematorium. I looked down and thought the ground seemed strange. When I kicked the grass aside, I realized I was standing on white ash.

Let us remember so that the world will never forget that it may never happen again.

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Filed under History, Israel, Judism, middle east, War


BLOG 224 November 3, 2014

The Palestinian struggle for independence has not gone well. The debacle in Gaza with Hamas getting smashed only added to the lingering frustrations. The 50 days of fighting with Israel was the third Gaza war in six years and by far the deadliest, exacting the heaviest toll so far on Gaza strip that was already in economic struggles. Entire neighborhoods were reduced to rabble. While the citizens of Gaza had voted Hamas into power, it was almost as if the Israelis were punishing them for supporting the terrorists. Being in step with Hamas proved to a terrible price to pay for their plebiscite.

The ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt called for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to replace Hamas as the civil authority. Israel wanted to make certain that funds for rebuilding did not go into rearmament and the rebuilding of invasion tunnels into Israel. Of course, attempts to create a lasting truce between Israel and Hamas will prove fruitless. On the other hand, divisions within the Palestinian camp with the PA and Hamas fighting each other may prove to be equally difficult to settle. PA state ministers entered Gaza on October 9, for the first meeting of a unity government. However, the reconciliatory rhetoric did not conceal the fact that Hamas and Fatah are locked in serious disputes.

One of the irresolvable issues has to do with money. Hamas has 40,000 unpaid employees and wants the PA to foot the bill. Unfortunately, the PA has been in an economic crisis for years. Sorry. They can’t resolve that problem.

Then, there is the rebuilding of the destroyed Gaza Strip area. Unless there is a legitimate government to oversee distribution of funds, donor countries will back away. The feud between the PA and Hamas currently makes a functioning government impossible. The result is not only that nothing happens, but the everyday Palestinian citizens are increasingly critical of the schism separating both groups.

Of course, Hamas is in a bad way. An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the ouster of Mohammad Morsi and the fall of the Brotherhood in Egypt radically cut off funding. The incessant firing of rockets at Israel did not sit well across the world. In addition, their refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist has isolated them further from international powers. The destruction of their tunnels created another crippling economic blow.

Israel killed the two Hamas operatives that kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers. Their deaths set off the assault on the Gaza Strip last spring. Surrounded by Israeli forces in, the two assailants hiding in  a carpentry workshop in Hebron were gunned down trying to emerge from the building. Once again, the Palestinians lost the struggle.

Following the ceasefire, Palestinian citizens came out to walk the streets in Ramallah, but they expressed increasing frustration with failed negotiations, inept UN ventures, and the divided leadership between Hamas and the PA. It would seem that settling their conflicts with Israel or accepting Egypt’s offer of land in the Sinai would be an immediate solution to all of these problems.

Unfortunately, such available solutions seem to be too easy.

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Judism, middle east, Muslims, Palestinians


Followers of Israeli politics are acquainted with the roller-coaster ride that comes with their system of many parties and the ultimate emergence of coalition governments. Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken the ride many times sitting in the front seat and last week experienced a sharp downhill drop that resulted in the emergence of a new President of Israel.

Shimon Peres from the Kadima Party became the 9th president in 2007. Peres had been involved in Israeli politics since the re-emergence of the nation in 1948 and had gained an international reputation for insight, persistence, and tenacity. The nastiness of the recent presidential campaign did not do justice to the standards that he set.

The president is elected by the Knesset, not the public. For many outsiders the name of Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin will be new. Actually the names of all of the candidates for the position would be a list of unknowns outside of Israel. Meir Sheetrit, Dalia Itzik, Dalia Dorner, and Dan Shechtman represented different fronts in national life. You might have heard of Shechtman because he was a Nobel prize winner. In the second round of voting Sheetrit trailed Rivlin 63-53.

The real loser in this rocky ride may have been Prime Minister Netanyahu.  While he was eventually forced to support Rivlin publically, he did everything possible to both delay and cancel the election. Public exposure of these tactics during the campaign would have been humiliating for Netanyahu, but his actions were no secret. He tried to persuade a number of public figures to join the race, including Nathan Sharansky. No one picked up the baton and Netanyahu came up short. It is also a defeat because Rivlin’s campaign manager is second in the Likud party and increasingly critical of Netanyahu. Probably in the next leadership race, Netanyahu will be faced with this difficult challenge.

In his acceptance speech, Reuven Rivlin noted he was now leaving a political party behind to become the president of all the people – Jews, Arabs, rich and poor. Such is the proper role for the president.

The Hebrew term for the president “Nasi” come from the Bible.  It was once used for the head of the Sanhedrin. Elected every seven years, the Nasi is to be above political strive and press for national unity. In many respects, the office is ceremonial.

Following his election, Rivlin went to the Western Wall to pray. Next, he traveled to the Mount of Olives where his parents and ideological father, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin are buried.

Rivlin opposes the formation of a Palestinian state and advocates giving Israeli citizenship to Palestinians. He and Netanyahu are definitely not in the same camp. The roller coaster ride goes on. Watch for the next sharp turn in the track.

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Filed under Israel, Judism, middle east, Palestinians


On March 24, 2014, I wrote about a new study guide from the Presbyterian Church (USA) entitled “Zionist Unsettled: A Congregational Study guide.” I noted that this study is an undisguised attack on Israeli politics and their conflict with the Palestinians that ignores the many other complications operating in the Middle East. The study guide is slanted against the actions and positions of Israel. My blog raised the question why an American denomination would make such an unbalanced attack on a Middle Eastern country. The study is not objective because it favors the Palestinians. In addition, I asked why a church would choose Israel and ignore the atrocities occurring in Syria –and I could add Egypt. Why single out this one country?

The Presbyterians aren’t the only denomination up to such antics. It now appears that other denominations are doing the same thing. Since churches were once in the theological business, why have some shifted to politics? That question is easily answered but takes up too much space here. Needless to say, these radical moves continue to cost them members and reduced influence.

However, the issue is more serious than a few misguided religious groups. The Boko Haram Islamist terrorists are a current example of a religiously motivated attack group. The Islamist terrorist group have kidnapped girls, forced them to dress like Moslems, and want to bring down the Nigerian state to create an Islamist nation. In their raids they attack Christians, burn churches, and spread hate. These overt expressions of terror come from a different world, but express the same basic thought patterns of religious groups who attack.

The assaults need to stop! Our world has enough political division and commercial animosity without the religious community going off the charts.

In The United States, churches have generally sent the pendulum swinging back in the other direction and now love Jews. The support of individual Jews is a relatively new phenomenon. However, the new form anti-Semitism has taken is attacking the state of Israel. Make no mistake about it, the problem of prejudice still burns in Germany. Vienna remains one of the most anti-Semitic cities in Europe. The subtle but nasty posture such discrimination takes was also expressed in accusing Israel of being apartheid because they built a wall between Israel and the Palestinians to keep suicide terrorists out. And if you keep track of such numbers, the wall has nearly wiped out such explosions.

As one who has spent time in Jordan, Syria, Israel, and Egypt, I know about weekend experts whose superficial views miss the essence of the issues. The religionists tend toward being opinionated and that’s the last position needed in the continuing sensitive debates.

Anti-Semitism is prejudice – not peace  –and certainly not pastoral.

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In most civilized countries, Monday, April 28, was remembered as Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Various events commemorated the 6 million who died at the hands of the Nazis. However, the remembrance is much larger than what happened to the Jewish people. One and a half million Armenians died at the hands of the Turks. The multitudes who died in the killing fields of Asia still haunt the world. The list goes on an on.

This Remebrance is a time to stop and reflect on how precious life is and to commit ourselves to attempting to halt wars and stop the deaths of our young people who walk in harm’s way. Obviously, halting gunfire and assault of artillery is a noble idea beyond our reach, but we can commit ourselves to at least trying to do what we can to improve the contour of a warring world.

Every year fewer Holocaust survivors remain. Most first-hand witnesses are now in their ‘70s at best and most are in their ‘80s. Last year I atended a Holocaust survivors conference and listened to their stories. Individuals shared how after 70 years, they are still panicked by black boots, German Shepherd dogs, the sound of sirens, and the list goes on and on. These survivors remain an important rebuttal to Holocaust deniers who resist the truth for their own political reasons.

An important reversal of events has just occurred in the Holy Land. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has recognized the death of the 6 million as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.” His acceptance of these facts is an important step forward.

Abbas had been vilified as a Holocaust denier because in l963 he wrote his doctoral dissertation challenging the number of Jews killed. In l983, the dissertation was published as a book also claiming Zionist had collaborated with the Nazis to send more people to Israel. The result of these works hung the title of anti-Semite around his neck.

Marc Schneier, an American Rabbi, had talked with Abbas for 40 minutes about a number of concerns when the issue of recognizing the Holocaust came up. Abbas immediately recognized the significance of releasing a statement on Holocaust Day and his positive approval was released.

Of course, severe issues remain in what was formerly negotiations between the PA and Israel. After a seven-year hiatus, the PA moved to repair fences with Hamas. This gesture was only another nail in the coffin for resolutions of issues between the PA and Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that the charter of Hamas is anti-Semitic to the core.

These important issues aside, recognizing the terrifying reality of the Holocaust can help the world to stay focused on the necessity of finding alternatives to the taking of human lives. War has never been an answer for anything except killing. In the Middle East and across the world, let’s continue to find a better way.

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            This is another one of those “bet you didn’t hear about it” blogs, but the situation is worth knowing about. The political setting in Israel is significantly differently than in the United States. Israel has a larger number of political parties. None of this two party system stuff that runs the USA (I don’t count the Tea Party as more than distraction). It works something like this.

Israel‘s political system is based on proportional representation which allows for a multi-party system with numerous parties. There are currently four parties with more than ten seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and a single party usually has no chance of gaining power by itself (only once has a party held an absolute majority in the Knesset), forcing the parties to cooperate and form coalition governments. Actually, 12 parties have seats in the Knesset. Twenty-Four other parties have no seats. You can imagine the fracas that must develop at election time! Screaming and shouting supreme!

Recently the leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party died and was mourned by all of Israel. If you do not follow Israeli events closely, you may know little about Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Nevertheless, he was an important part of the Israeli system and daily life in Israel. He is very much worth remembering. Rabbi Josef led Sephardic Jews in Israel as well as influencing the rest of the country for over 70 years. Thousands of mourners continued coming by his grave even the day after the funeral. A security guard noted that the outpouring was unprecedented.

Within minutes of his death, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the family and declared Rabbi Josef to have been  “a great halachi (Jewish law) authority.” Even though of a different political persuasion, the prime minister recognized that he was a giant in Torah studies. Rabbi Josef was the chief rabbi of Israel and generally worn a distinctive robe and hat. The black robe with gold embroidery and circular large black hat gave him the look of an Old Testament figure.

As the leader of the Shas party, Rabbi Josef skillfully maneuvered political decisions giving the religious party far more influence than their numbers demanded. He had a history of criticizing Israeli politicians, often calling them colorful names such as “blind goats.” No lingering ill-will. Such is the way of Israeli politics.

His presence on Israel’s national stage as a person of supreme halachic authority will have a profound influence on Israeli society for decades.


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            As in the American West, the Arab Spring has brought its own fire season. It seems Egypt is burning up and Syria is burning down while the Iraqi’s are setting fire to each other. The exception to these endless blazes appears to be Israel. Let’s take a second look at Jerusalem and see if we can see any smoke.

            There’s an old saying: two Jews– three opinions. With the many differences between Ashkenazis and Sephardic branches of Judaism, you could expect more than a few verbal disagreements. Religious opinions vary so widely that you find Jews who don’t believe in God but claim Israel citizenship standing next to Orthodox rabbis at a bus stop. The real worry might be a Palestinian terrorist waiting to blow everyone up when the bus comes. Surely, the Jews must be walking around terrified.

They are not.

On my last trip to Israel, I ate supper with an executive in the government’s department of tourism and we discussed the possibility of groups taking a four-day hike from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, walking through the back country exactly where Jesus walked. Some of the stops would be in Arab villages. No one expressed concern or fear.

The biggest commotion inside the country is new laws that demand Israel’s ultra-Orthodox young men to serve in the army and be pulled away from their Torah studies. The hard-liners in the Haredim community are fighting back by ostracizing their young men who join the military. They denounce the young men as traitors and say they are a “pestilence.” The soldiers are not only verbally abused, but are spit at or have rocks thrown at them. For most Americans, it is hard to understand how devout religious people who disagree could us such degrading tactics, but that’s not the case in Israel. The commotion in Jerusalem is significant.

And the rest of the country?

Generally, no one talks about the Palestinian and Arab struggles on Israel’s border. The wide range of women’s dress run from miniskirts to the ultra-Orthodox ankle length dresses. Customs and opinions vary, but no one has much of anything to say about the Palestinians. Israelis recognize how complex the political situation is with the Arab world. Most have come to the conclusion that they can’t fix it, but they can manage it. So, ignore that tension the Palestinians create and go on down the road. For most Israelis, life has never been richer, safer, and more dynamic than it now is. Terrorism has been walled out and they go happily on their way regardless of Syria blowing apart.

The American Secretary of State John Kerry keeps popping up and Prime Minister Netanyahu continues his double talk about negotiating with the Palestinian Authority. The average citizen only half listens to Kerry’s urgings for formal discussions.

The possibility of Israel-Arab peace talks are out of sight and no one cares. In this so-called time of the Arab Spring, the promise of a relaxing and enjoyable summer seems to exist only inside the borders of Israel.

What can I say? The Israelis have moved on and find life to be good. End of story.

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            To anyone interested in events in the Middle East, it is helpful to follow what is occurring insider various countries. Today a fascinating conflict is unfolding insider Israel.

            The warfare is about the rights of women.

A group calling themselves Women of the Wall, or WOW, have been protesting how women are treated at Jerusalem’s holy Western Wall, the sight of the ancient Temple. A petition separates the men and women. Located under the area called Robinson’s Arch (where a large walkway a millenium ago led to the upper area of the Temple Mount), the women’s portion of the plaza in front of the wall is deemed by WOW as being too small. addition, the Jewish woman show up wearing tallits (prayer shawls) and tefillin (a box worn on the head containing scripture). The tallit and tefillin have only been worn by men in the past.

While the women have protested for some time, recently men and woman got into an old fashioned brawl over what the WOW group is doing. Haredi  (ultra-orthodox Jews) spat on and cursed the women while hundreds of supporters of WOW responded vehemently. Hey, forget the Palestinians. We’ve got a conflict to watch INSIDE Jerusalem.

What can we make of it? To begin to unravel this battle between men and women, we must remember that Orthodox Judaism controls the wall and has an Orthodox Rabbi stationed at the wall in change of activities. In fact, 4,000 Orthodox rabbis are paid by the state and remain firmly in control of religious life within Israel. Of course, Christians and groups like the Mormons have no standing. Conservative and Reformed Judaism have little better standing. In turn, the Orthodox are going to maintain their position on the separation of men and women. In Orthodox synagogues, a petition always separates the groups. Naturally, the Rabbis are offended by the women, seeing them as feminine activists. In turn, the WOW group views the rabbis as control freaks locked in the past. The women also protest the hold the Orthodox have on marriage within the country. The result is that many are forced to leave the country and go somwhere like Cyprus when they seek marriage under other circumstances.

In an Israeli court case, WOW won the right to practice their convictions for one hour every month. Neither side of the conflict is satisfied with this decision.

Now Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky enters the picture with a proposal to settle the war. Recognizing that classic Zionism includes all types of Jewish convictions, Sharansky is proposing that the state recognize and accommodate these differences. Sharansky suggests that the plaza be extended along the wall to provide more sacred space. His idea would  a victory for religious pluralism. Of course, the Orthodox will not like that. Currently, the WOW group is not even recognizing the existence of the Sharahsky plan.

And so the conflicts continue.

The pressure is now on the government and the Prime Minister to settle the matter. Will they? Hmm.

There you have it. A war WITHIN Israel!

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History will not forget the remarkable difference Pope John Paul made in relations with the Jewish community. His visit to a synagogue in Rome was a first and signaled genuine change. During his tenure as Pope, John Paul made highly important changes in how 1 billion Roman Catholics viewed Jews. Anti- Semitism and supersessionism (the idea that Christianity supersedes Judaism) were rejected. Moreover, the Vatican established diplomatic relations with Israel. Because of his own experience with both the Nazis and the Communists, John Paul recognized the enormous price Jews had paid before and during World War II for no other reason that being Jews. Much of the hatred that boiled over during this period was washed away by the Pope’s efforts.

Pope Benedict’s tenure proved to be different.

While he continued John Paul’s positions, Benedict make significant mistakes in relating to Israel and Jews. Both he and John Paul made Holy Land tours, but Benedict left the impression that he was avoiding statements about his background as a member of the Hitler Youth movement and his position on the Holocaust. He was drawn into controversy over the Holocaust because he lifted the excommunication of a bishop who had publically stated that historical evidence disproved 6 million Jews were gassed. The bishop claimed only 200,000 to 300,000 were killed and that gas chambers were a fiction. Benedict’s support of such a man was highly troubling to many.

Further problems arose from his failure to reject a statement by a Lebanese clergyman who suggested that Catholic theology had rejected the idea of a Promised Land for Jews because the Kingdom of God was open to everyone. Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyril Salim Busros had made this claim while participating in a Vatican Synod whose purpose had been to investigate injustices practiced against Christians in the Middle East.

With his German background and the issues arising out of World War II including then Joseph Ratzinger’s participation in the Nazi army, one would have expected a vigorous effort to clarify these issues. While it can be argued that the rapid decline of Catholicism in Germany might have affected his lack of a response, this argument fails to recognize that German rejection of the church is tied to secularism and the sexual scandals racking the priesthood. His lack of response certainly did not go unnoticed in Israel.

More tension arose from the impression Benedict left that he was attempting to advance the cause for sainthood for Pius XII. The debate still boils over Pius’s lack of response and silence when Jews were hauled away right under his nose. The Vatican has squirmed, attempting to offer various explanations, but the stigma remains. Obviously, Pius XII did nothing heroic and bold. The burning question was the issue of duplicity. Benedict did not beatify Pius which would have moved him along toward sainthood. Nevertheless, when Benedict signed a document describing Pius’s virtues, he further distanced himself from the Jewish community.

Unfortunately, as Benedict retires, he leaves marks in the negative column with the Jewish community. Israel had little to say about his departure, but the problems remain.

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