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June 28, 2016 / 22 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts’

Barney Frank Weds Lover in Massachusetts

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Jewish Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts Barney Frank, 72, wed his male partner of five years, carpenter James Ready, 42, in a private ceremony on Saturday, marking the first same-sex marriage conducted by a sitting US congressman.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick officiated at the ceremony at the Boston Marriortt Newton in suburban Boston.  The grooms vowed to love each other through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, as well as through appearances on Fox News, according to a report by Reuters.

Democratic congressman from Texas Al Green described Frank as “beaming”, and said he cried during the ceremony.  News media were not invited.

Frank has been openly gay since the late 1980s.  He has said he will retire at the end of his current term.  He has been a vocal advocate for legalizing same-sex marriage.

Eight of the 50 states and the District of Columbia currently permit gay marriage. Massachusetts was the first.

Malkah Fleisher

Romney to Meet with Jewish Donors

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Mitt Romney is meeting with some 30 major Jewish donors to his presidential campaign as part of a “constituents day.”

The former Massachusetts governor and all-but-certain Republican nominee for president, will meet for about an hour with the donors in Boston on Thursday.

A donor who was invited told JTA that the purpose of the meeting would be an exchange of views.

There would be other meetings the same day with other constituent groups, the donor said, confirming reports of the meeting from a number of Jewish community officials.

Romney and President Obama have intensified outreach to Jewish voters and supporters in this presidential election year.

On Monday, the White House hosted some 70 Jewish leaders in a bid to reassure them that the Obama administration was determined to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.


Ron Paul Halts Campaign, Keeps Delegates

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has effectively given up his presidential campaign but will not give up his delegates to Mitt Romney.

Paul, a Texas Republican, said he would no longer compete in his party’s primaries, leaving Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, the only viable candidate for the GOP nod still running.

Romney remains about 200 delegates shy of securing the nomination, but his erstwhile rivals, including Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, have either formally endorsed him or pledged to do so.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that Paul would retain his delegates in order to leverage influence.

“Our delegates can still make a major impact at the national convention and beyond,” Jesse Benton, a top strategist for Paul, said in a memo obtained by the Times.

Paul’s presence and influence in the race helped veer the other candidates to embrace some of his libertarian ideas, particularly on reducing or eliminating the role of government in the financial system.

His isolationist views, especially on cutting assistance to Israel, have not gained as much traction.


Who’s Watching Anyway? (Me’ilah 2b, 9a)

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Summertime in Massachusetts, one often sees flowers for sale at the side of the road. But there is no salesperson present. Instead, there is a sign requesting $10 for the flowers. You leave the $10 bill on the table and go back to your car with flowers in hand. It is an honors system. There is nobody watching to see if you pay only $5 or if you creep back, retrieve your $10 bill and make off with the money and the flowers. Doing that would be a breach of trust.

The Torah calls breach of trust “me’ilah.” It cites several examples of me’ilah on a social level: One who accepts an item from another on deposit and then denies that she was ever given the deposit in the first place; one who finds lost property but denies she found it and keeps if for herself; one who takes unfair advantage of a fiduciary relationship; one who breaches the trust of a spouse and enters into an extramarital relationship – all such persons are guilty of me’ilah.

There is also a breach of trust toward God. We give God something of value, but when He is not “looking” we take it back or use it for ourselves. The way we give God something is by pronouncing an item “kodesh” or “hekdesh.” That pronouncement, uttered even in solitude with no witnesses present and even before the kohen knows about it, has the power to transfer the property in the item to the Temple.

“Just words!” one might say, “and besides, no-one was watching. Let’s change our mind and take it back.” That would be a breach of trust, a me’ilah against God. The Talmud discusses this type of breach of trust in tractate Me’ilah.

Me’ilah in connection with Temple property can be intentional or it can be inadvertent, such as when one was genuinely unaware the item one was enjoying belonged to the Temple. The sanction for intentional me’ilah is lashes and monetary restitution. The sanction for unintentional me’ilah is threefold. In order to atone for the transgression, the perpetrator must offer up on the altar a guilt offering – asham meilot – in the form of a ram worth two Shekalim (38.2 grams of silver) and must make restitution for the item misappropriated. In addition, the perpetrator must add a fine equal to one quarter the value of the misappropriated item. Thus if the item is worth four quarters, one must pay five.

Me’ilah applies to items that are intrinsically holy – kedushat haguf – such as various types of kornbanot including animal offerings, bird offerings, flour offerings known as menachot, the Show Bread, known as lechem hapanim, the two loaves of bread offered up on Shavuot known as shtei halechem, the libations of water known as nesachim and the incense known as ketoret.

Me’ilah also applies to items dedicated to the Temple to assist in its upkeep. These items, which are either used in the Temple in the form they are given or sold so that their proceeds are given to the Temple, are known as kodshei bedek habayit. Although items donated for bedek habayit are not intrinsically holy, once they are dedicated to the Temple they too, like the korbanot, are subject to the laws of me’ilah.

The underlying principle of me’ilah is that nobody may derive any benefit from an item that is kodesh laHashem – that belongs exclusively to God. It follows that once an item ceases to belong exclusively to God in the sense that the Torah permits humans to derive some benefit from it, it is no longer subject to me’ilah.

Some korbanot always belong exclusively to God in the sense that there is never a time when a human may benefit from them. An example of such an item is the korban olah, no part of which was eaten by the kohanim and which, (apart from its hide, which was given to the kohanim) was entirely consumed by the fires of the altar. Accordingly, any misappropriation of the korban olah, from the time it was dedicated to the Temple to the time its burned ashes were removed from the altar, was subject to the laws and penalties of me’ilah.

Other korbanot belonging to the kodshei kodashim category start out belonging exclusively to God but are subsequently permitted for consumption by the kohanim. Examples of such items are the sin offering, known as the korban chattat, certain types of the guilt offerings, known as korbanot asham, and communal peace offerings such as the lambs sacrificed on Shavuot known as kivsei atzeret.

Once the blood of these animals has been sprinkled on the altar in a procedure known as zerikah, the kohanim are permitted to eat certain parts of the animal, (the breast and part of the right thigh). Accordingly, from that point on the animal no longer belongs exclusively to God and (except for the fat, kidneys and liver of these animals, which are always consumed by the fires of the altar) these animals are no longer subject to the laws of me’ilah.

Raphael Grunfeld

Romney Leads, Republicans Pick Jewish Senate Candidate, and Kucinich Loses

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Super Tuesday Republican primaries were a race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Republicans selected a Jewish veteran for Ohio’s Senate run, and Dennis Kucinich lost his bid for reelection.

Ten states went to the polls Tuesday in what is the biggest election day of primary season.

“Super Tuesday” usually helps determine a frontrunner, but Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, won decisively in important southern states Oklahoma and Tennessee and appeared headed for a tie with Romney in Ohio. Santorum also picked up North Dakota.

Romney won his home state of Massachusetts and its neighbor, Vermont and as well as Idaho and Virginia.

The former Massachusetts governor faced only Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on the Virgina ballot; Santorum and Newt Gingrich failed to place on the ballot.

Head to head with Romney in the state, Paul, a libertarian who rejects foreign assistance including for Israel, scored one of his most impressive outcomes this season: 40 percent to 60 Romney’s percent.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, won Georgia, the state he represented in Congress, keeping him in the race for now, although Santorum’s decisive wins in southern states Tennessee and Oklahoma seemed to dampen Gingrich’s prospect of a rally. I

It was too early to call Wyoming and Alaska, the ninth and tenth states voting on Tuesday.

The next primaries are in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13.


Tsunami In Massachusetts?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

With the outgoing and endlessly embattled Bush administration showing signs of exhaustion in 2008 and the onslaught of an unforeseen financial crisis, Democrats won the U.S. presidency while gaining an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives and 60 veto-proof seats in the U.S. Senate (thanks, in part, to a disputed Minnesota election putting TV comic Al Franken over the top in his state and the inclusion of Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders and Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman).

The new Democratic majority quickly began to make up for lost time by ramming through a number of big spending bills culminating in a push for a massive overhaul of the American health care system. But a funny thing happened on the way to nationalized health care: Americans, who had voted for total political overhaul in Washington a little more than a year ago, were overtaken by buyer’s remorse.

After the Reagan years the lines had blurred between the two major parties when Democratic President Bill Clinton tacked right (under pressure from a Republican-led Congress demanding fiscal restraint) and his successor, Republican George W. Bush, tacked left with increased spending in hopes of broadening his political appeal.

But Democrats in Congress, embittered over their narrow presidential loss to Bush in 2000, were having none of that and Bush’s moves fizzled – except for encouraging Congressional Republicans to forget they were supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility. But Americans didn’t forget, roundly turning Republicans out of power in all three branches of government in ’08.

Now, though, Democrats are suddenly the ones on the receiving end as Republicans scored two upset wins for off-year gubernatorial races (New Jersey and Virginia) and then a surprising come-from-behind success in the truest of blue states, Massachusetts, snatching the Senate seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy from the hands of the Democratic Party’s anointed, Martha Coakley, in a special election on January 9.

Billed as many things, including a referendum on the presidency of Barack Obama, on the leadership of a tone-deaf Democratic Congressional majority, and as a clear rejection of current Democratic policies, that election’s outcome has shaken the political firmament.

But surprisingly, and in spite of evidence that Scott Brown’s win against the Democratic State Attorney General of Massachusetts, Martha Coakley, reflected a shift by independent voters (more than 50 percent of the Massachusetts electorate) away from Democrats’ commitments to massive deficit spending and tax increases, pundits on the political left played this reversal differently. It was, said many, really a rejection of President Obama’s failure to grow the federal government even more.

If only Democrats had simply ignored Republicans in Congress from the start in pushing health care, said MSNBC television election eve commentators, Coakley would surely have won. According to Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, Obama’s problem wasn’t that he had ceded policy on things like health care to geniuses like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid who seemed intent on throwing fiscal restraint to the winds, it was that Pelosi and Reid, in combination with Obama, hadn’t been ruthless enough. Matthews added that the solution now must lie in parliamentary maneuvers to erase the role of super majorities in the Senate and thereby make Scott Brown’s win irrelevant. Talk about hubris.

During the Bush administration, when Democrats were using the filibuster threat to block Bush’s judicial appointees, Republicans who even broached the same idea were roundly excoriated. The Republicans actually had a case, though, since filibusters had not historically been applied to judicial confirmations until Democrats introduced them during the Reagan years to block conservative judicial appointments. And today’s Democratic case? According to Matthews, filibusters should just be disallowed on “really important issues” – decided, of course, by the current Democratic majority in the Senate!

It’s passing strange when Democrats and their sympathizers make the argument that moderates in Massachusetts really wanted more, not less, big spending and government expansion given that Massachusetts Senator-Elect Scott Brown pitched his whole case on explicit opposition to the Democrats’ health care reform package, a package set to increase costs and taxes for middle class Americans while jeopardizing benefits to seniors and the quality of care for all.

While the Bush administration pushed through an unpopular bailout to save major financial institutions in the wake of a collapsing economy in ’08, Democrats have tripled down since coming to power, blowing the nation’s budget sky-high with auto industry takeovers, ineffective stimulus spending, and health care legislation that requires a thousand pages of description to contain it. Democrats, during their years in the political wilderness, used to tell us how much they cared about the deficit. But that was then. This is now.

Stuart W. Mirsky

A School’s Historic Kiddush Hashem

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

On March 27, before a huge crowd in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, the mock trial team of Boston’s Maimonides School won the championship for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and became eligible to compete in the national competition scheduled for Atlanta on May 8 and 9.

So begins a saga that has many lessons from Megillat Esther.

Here was the rub. May 9 is Saturday, and the National High School Mock Trial Competition (NHSMTC) has traditionally been held on Friday and Saturday. Through the Massachusetts coordinator, Maimonides requested an accommodation for Sabbath-observance but was rejected because NHSMTC had ratified a policy four years earlier not to accommodate Saturday Sabbath observers.

In 2005, the New Jersey statewide competition champion was the Torah Academy of Bergen County, another Modern Orthodox yeshiva. Finals were to be held in 2005 in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday and Saturday, May 6 and 7. The usual schedule for the mock-trial finals calls for each team to do two mock trials on Friday and two on Saturday. These are scored confidentially by panels of three judges.

After the four qualifying rounds, the results are announced, and the two top teams face each other in a championship match held on Saturday afternoon. The Torah Academy requested only that its two Saturday rounds be moved to Thursday and Friday.

The request was initially rejected. But NHSMTC contracts with the host state’s bar association to administer the competition, including arranging courtrooms, selecting judges and scoring panels, and creating case materials. That year the North Carolina Trial Lawyers’ Association ran the event, and when its head, Richard Taylor, learned of the refusal to accommodate, he unilaterally ordered that the trials be rescheduled to respect the team’s Sabbath observance.

Although no one filed any protest over the rescheduling, and the teams from across the country expressed their respect for the New Jersey Sabbath observers with whom they interacted over Shabbat at the hotel, NHSMTC resolved never again to make accommodations.

Judge George H. Carley Sr. – a Georgia Supreme Court judge and very influential on the NHSMTC board – argued that accommodation would be impossible for an “Islamic team” that wouldn’t participate on Friday.

When the NHSMTC board thereafter formally adopted a no-accommodations resolution, North Carolina and New Jersey took principled stands by withdrawing from NHSMTC. And New Jersey Congressman Steve Rothman won unanimous passage of a House of Representatives resolution calling on NHSMTC “to accommodate students of all religious faiths.”

When Maimonides was crowned the Massachusetts title-holder in 2009, NHSMTC graciously responded that the Maimonides team would be “accommodated” by being permitted to compete in two trials on Friday and then forfeiting its two Saturday trials.

A captain of the Maimonides team was Michael Kosowsky, son of Maimonides graduate Jeffrey (“Jeff”) and Miriam Kosowsky, herself a former prosecutor and assistant coach of the Maimonides team. Other captains were Leah Sarna, daughter of professors Jonathan Sarna and Ruth Langer, and Harry Chiel, son of Jonathan and Judy Chiel. The Kosowskys had a bat mitzvah of their daughter Avigayil scheduled for May 9, and the family’s attention was divided. Michael was needed in Atlanta, and while his mother prepared for the family simcha, his father took on the task of pressing for an accommodation like the one NHSMTC had made in 2005.

Jeff Kosowsky urged the Maimonides leadership to challenge NHSMTC’s refusal to reschedule Maimonides’ Saturday trials and to move aggressively for an adjustment of the trial schedule so that the school’s team could participate fully and have a chance to become national champions. He was encouraged by his friend Daniel (“Danny”) Edelman, a graduate of Maimonides and Princeton who is now a New York partner at Crowell & Moring, a nationally renowned law firm.

Danny’s wife, Nancy, is a teacher at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, and in 2005 he had participated in the successful effort to secure a religious accommodation for the New Jersey champions. On April 14 – less than a month before the scheduled Atlanta finals – Danny called on his former Princeton classmate Alyza Lewin, my daughter and law partner, who had spent one year at Maimonides when I was a visiting professor from practice at Harvard Law School.

The Maimonides leadership was skeptical about the prospects for success if an all-out battle was undertaken with NHSMTC. Nonetheless, Jeff and Danny got word of the rejection by NHSMTC to the Anti-Defamation League. Deborah M. Lauter, its national director of civil rights who had served as director of ADL’s Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta, promptly sent a letter to John Wheeler, NHSMTC chair, protesting the refusal to accommodate.

Wheeler’s response to the ADL, dated April 20, was as inflexible as one could imagine. He defended the competition’s being held over a weekend rather than in the middle of the week, even though the ADL request had sought only to reschedule two of more than 150 scheduled trials.

I first learned of the controversy from Alyza and Danny Edelman on April 19, 2009, and my own feeling – communicated within a day to the Maimonides leadership when it called me – was that the directive given by Mordechai to Queen Esther applied to this situation: “U’mi yodea im l’et ka’zot higa’at l’malchut?”

The Maimonides team had, I thought, been privileged to win the Massachusetts championship in order to strike a public blow for Sabbath observance.

I felt strongly – contrary to some opinions expressed among Maimonides personnel who were reluctant to press the issue further – that it was important to continue the battle, and that winning it would be a Kiddush Hashem.

My legal strategy was two-pronged. First, I suggested filing a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and specifically with the special counsel for religious discrimination, Eric Treene. These kinds of complaints can lead to governmental investigations, to lawsuits filed by the United States, or to friend-of-the-court filings in individual cases.

My second prong was the threat of a civil lawsuit. Federal law provides in Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code for a civil remedy whenever there is a violation of a federal constitutional right, and I believed NHSMTC’s involvement of the local court systems and bar associations turned its activities into “state action” subject to constitutional limitations.

Our complaint letter went to the Justice Department on April 22, 11 business days before the critical May 8-9 weekend, with a copy to Wheeler. The letter threatening a federal lawsuit was withheld while Alyza, Danny, and Jeff galvanized public opinion and made around-the-clock efforts to bring the very sympathetic case of the Maimonides team to public attention in the media.

The Maimonides leadership asked me whether I would be working pro bono publico. I replied in an e-mail that I did this kind of work leshem shamayim, and not for fees. I also told them the lesson I thought should be learned from Mordechai’s warning to his niece Esther: “Im hacharesh tacharishi ba’et ha’zot” – Esther was not permitted to remain silent but was obliged, as the Midrash tells us, to become the sanegor (defense attorney) for Klal Yisrael. It was my duty to fight this battle to what I believed would be its successful conclusion.

The total number of e-mails sent or received between April 14 and May 8 on this project exceeds 6,500. Many were written between midnight and 6 a.m. – proof that “all-nighters” were spent on this effort. Alyza wrote and received e-mail messages on the mock-trial issues even while waiting in a hospital with two of her children.

Jeff, Danny, and Alyza enlisted the support of political leaders in Massachusetts and Georgia, as well as high-profile congressmen. They made media contacts and dealt directly with respected lawyers in the Georgia Bar. Together with Richard Nagel, who had been on the NHSMTC board and left it when it voted against religious accommodation, Jeff analyzed the “power-matching” scoring system used in the mock trials and demonstrated its statistical flaws. The group drafted an impressive packet of “talking points” and supporting documentation that they distributed widely.

They also contacted Jewish leaders in Atlanta. Rabbi Michael Broyde of the Young Israel of Toco Hills and a professor of law at Emory University wrote a compelling letter to NHSMTC urging that American values required accommodation to all segments of American society. Rabbi Yossi New, a longtime Chabad rabbi in Atlanta, with whom I had worked about 15 years ago when we succeeded in litigation to display a Chabad Chanukah menorah in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Atlanta (winning that case by an 11-to-0 vote in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit) introduced us to Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, a Reform rabbi who conveyed to leading non-Orthodox lawyers and other public figures in Atlanta his strong outrage over the NHSMTC decision.

On the afternoon of Friday, May 1 (after we sent Wheeler our “demand letter”) we learned that a letter had been sent by the Department of Justice to the Georgia court system telling the judges that, as beneficiaries of federal money, the Georgia courts may not participate in conduct that effectively discriminates on the basis of religion without jeopardizing their right to federal funding under the “Safe Streets Act of 1968.” The four of us welcomed Shabbat that evening thinking that this was the death-knell of NHSMTC’s discriminatory policy.

But our adversaries yielded no ground. The Georgia State Bar controlled the competition in Atlanta and had the power to implement the requested accommodation regardless of NHSMTC wishes (as the North Carolina Bar had done in 2005). Nonetheless, the president of the Georgia Bar published an open letter in Atlanta’s daily legal newspaper claiming he opposed the NHSMTC position but that the Bar’s contract with NHSMTC required it to abide by the organization’s rules. The contract, he said, had no “wiggle room” and prescribed huge liquidated damages for any breach.

This view had already been communicated to Alyza in a long, frustrating conversation she had with the Bar’s general counsel, William Smith (who, Alyza discovered later, is called “Doctor No” by cognoscenti of the Georgia Bar). Alyza had called Smith’s attention to the contract provision that prescribed a $50,000 penalty only if the Bar withdrew completely from hosting the competition, not if it unilaterally changed one of NHSMTC’s “rules.”

I wrote a public response to the Bar president’s letter that reminded the Georgia Bar of the timidity it showed in 1960 when Dr. Martin Luther King and 75 students began sit-ins in Atlanta stores that had been closed to blacks. By hiding behind a contract term which, the Bar president professed, he personally opposed, the Georgia Bar was repeating the error it committed in 1960 when it cited trespass laws as preventing support of the civil rights protesters. The Bar could readily have interpreted the contract as not penalizing the same schedule change that the North Carolina Bar had courageously implemented in 2005.

In a letter of May 6 to John Wheeler, I noted he had claimed that only 7 of 43 teams had volunteered in 2005 to compete against the Torah Academy in an “early round” and, at the same time, argued that competing in an “early round” gave the team a “competitive advantage.”

If so, I asked, why did not all the teams in 2005 seek to participate in the Thursday afternoon specially scheduled trial arranged for the Torah Academy team? I ended with “your continued refusal to permit the Maimonides students to participate fully in the competition will subject you to an action for damages and attorneys’ fees under federal law. I hope you do not make such legal action necessary.”

* * *

As May 8 approached we were getting national news coverage of the issue, but the outlook appeared grim. One of Rabbi New’s recommendations, Jodi Fleisig, contacted Channel 2 news in Atlanta. It did a very sympathetic story on the evening of May 4 and Fox News broadcast the photogenic and well-spoken nine members of the Maimonides team after they arrived in Atlanta on Wednesday, May 6. On the same day The New York Times ran a favorable story with a large photograph of the team celebrating its Massachusetts victory.

Then, when things looked most gloomy, at about 9:30 on Wednesday night, May 6, Alyza was returning from a speech she had given in Teaneck, New Jersey to a meeting of the Rabbinical Council of America, where she had hoped to be able to announce we had won a battle against religious intolerance. Danny, who had just seen her off after she visited with him, was discussing the endgame with Jeff. Suddenly, “v’nahafoch hu m’yagon l’simcha u’m’eivel l’yom tov.” Our sadness turned to great joy.

We were told that an accommodation would be made because of a decision by Chief Judge Doris (“Dee”) Downs of the Fulton County Superior Court. She learned of the discriminatory policy and of the Justice Department’s letter, and she did what the Georgia Bar had been unwilling to do. She arranged a conference call that evening with John Wheeler and with Judge Carley and told them that unless an accommodation was made for the Maimonides team, the courthouse and its courtrooms – which were being vacated on Friday and Saturday so that the mock trials could be held there – would be closed to the competition.

Wheeler saw this left him no choice. In an unapologetic public statement, he announced that under the compulsion of the Fulton County court, NHSMTC would conduct special mock-trial sessions for the Maimonides team on Thursday, May 8, and have a third round for them on Friday, May 9. Maimonides ultimately placed 20th out of 41 teams, a respectable finish for a first-time national competitor.

The Maimonides team left the courthouse on Friday to make the nine-mile trip to the Young Israel of Toco Hills. They were treated as visiting heroes there and in a neighboring Orthodox shul. That Shabbat, at his daughter’s bat mitzvah celebration, Jeff was told that Maimonides’ achievement was being spread by word of mouth in New York’s Modern Orthodox world, that it was the kind of Kiddush Hashem that occurs “only a couple of times in a lifetime,” and that it will be spoken of and taught in yeshivas as an illustration of how Orthodox Jews should stand up for their rights.

Nathan Lewin is a Washington attorney who has appeared before the Supreme Court in behalf of many Orthodox causes.

Nathan Lewin

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