Jewish Trivia Quiz

from RASHI, RAMBAM and RAMALAMADINGDONG: A Quizbook of Jewish Trivia Facts & Fun by New Orleans native Mark Zimmerman

Unetaneh Tokef

The recitation of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer is one of the central liturgical moments of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. The prayer speaks to one of the major themes of the holidays–“Who shall live and who shall die. Who shall perish by water and who by fire. Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,” followed by the hopeful and elevating response to those questions–“But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.” Who wrote this famous prayer?

Round challah

AThe prayer was written by Tanna Rav in 3rd century Babylonia. He was also the author of the Aleinu prayer, which, like the Unetaneh Tokef, was originally written for the High Holidays services, though it later became part of the daily prayer ritual.

BJust before he was killed, Rabbi Ephrayim of Bonn uttered these words, which he claimed were told to him in a dream by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz.

CNo one knows.

DRabbi Moses ben Maimon, more commonly known as the Rambam or Maimonides, wrote the Unetaneh Tokef as a liturgical expression of the themes of The 13 Principles of Faithhis famous commentary on the Mishneh. The Unetaneh Tokef specifically references the 10th principle–God’s awareness of all human actions and thoughts, and the 11th–Reward of good and punishment of evil.

E. RASHI, RAMBAM and RAMALAMADINGDONG is taking the rare step of allowing the author of the Unetaneh Tokef to remain anonymous. The author is a “senior official of the synagogue” who claims to be “one of the adults” in the shul. He says that he is “not of the deep-chevra, but of the steady-chevra,” and that his goal is to expose the amorality, the repetitive rants, the impulsiveness and the reckless decisions of the synagogue president, in hopes of getting all members of the congregation to reach across the mechitzah and follow a common lodestar of David.

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John McCain, RIP

Senator John McCain passed away last week. Among the things McCain will be remembered for was his willingness to work “across the aisle” when he believed it was in the best interest of the American people. For example, McCain and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin were the primary co-sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which became known as the McCain–Feingold Act, a law intended to reduce the impact of large individual and corporate contributions to political campaigns. McCain also worked closely with, and developed a strong personal relationship with, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. McCain came close to selecting Lieberman as his running mate in 2008, but yielded to advisors who argued that selecting an Independent (and former Democrat) would be a huge mistake. In his memoir, The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations, McCain said “It was sound advice…But my gut told me to ignore it and I wish I had.” When Joe Lieberman was honored at an event at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 2012, John McCain spoke of his connections to Judaism through his relationship with Lieberman. What comment did he offer at that dinner?

Joe Lieberman and John McCain

mccain_lieberman_hug4 by kevin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A. McCain told of the time he was flying with Joe Lieberman on a long flight to Germany. McCain had fallen asleep, and when he awoke “all of a sudden I hear this mumbling and this noise and I look and there’s a guy wearing a shawl and a hat on and I thought maybe I had died.”

B. McCain announced that he was going to convert to Judaism. He said that process would include Hebrew lessons, stating “of course, I think that’s an important part. I know a lot of them [Hebrew words]. ‘Mentsch.’ And ‘oy vey’...So I got a head start, thanks to Joe.”

CSpeaking of all the time he had spent with Joe Lieberman, which forced him to observe Jewish practices along with Lieberman, McCain said that he was going to convert to Judaism. “I do this not because of any particular liking for the religion. I guess I’ve had to for so many years put up with all the bulls***…that I might as well convert.” 

D. Referencing the times he used a Shabbat elevator when walking with Joe Lieberman, McCain said, “Anybody here ever been on a Shabbat elevator? Takes you a g** d*** half an hour to get anywhere.”

EMcCain, who often addressed audiences at Jewish organization events, complained, “If there’s anything that I never see again in my life I will die a happy man and that’s salmon. Why at every f***ing kosher meal do we have to have salmon?”

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Mayim Bialik

It was just announced that the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory will be airing its 12th and final season beginning next month. The show stars Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Kunal Nayyar, and Mayim Bialik, among others. Bialik, who plays neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler, has an unusual first name, the Hebrew word for water. She was not always pleased with this name, saying “When I was in grade school I was called ‘toilet water’ which was traumatic.” Why did her parents give her the name Mayim?

Mayim Bialik and Jim Parsons

Mayim Bialik and Jim Parsons by Dominick D  is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AMayim was born via a water birth procedure, wherein the mother gives birth in a tub of warm water, which supposedly provides a more gentle transition from the warm wet womb to the cool dry air.

B. Mayim’s pregnant mother was at an Israel Day celebration at her synagogue, and was dancing to the Israeli folk song Mayim Mayim when her water burst and she was rushed to the hospital.

CShe was named after her grandmother Maryam (a form of Miriam), whose name was mispronounced as Mayim.

D. Mayim was named after her great-great grandfather, the poet Hayim Nahman Bialik. Mayim’s parents honored this lineage by compressing the Hebrew phrase, “Me-Hayim” (meaning “From Hayim”) into the name Mayim.

E. Mayim’s mother was a mute custodian working at a secret government laboratory, where she came upon a captive fish creature. She helped him escape and later engaged in a “fishing expedition” in her bathtub, which eventually resulted in the birth of her daughter, whom she named Mayim, the Hebrew word for water.

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Aretha Franklin, RIP

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, passed away last week. In addition to her twenty #1 R&B hits, eighteen Grammy awards, multiple honorary doctorates, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the first woman to receive this honor), Franklin and her song lyrics were also cited by what prominent Jewish person?

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin 1968 is in the public domain.

AIn his book Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin includes a section on kavanah, which he defines as intention and focus on the meaning of the words and the movements of prayer. In addition to offering quotes on this subject from Simeon bar Yochai and Rambam, he also includes a quote from the song Spirit in the Dark, written by Aretha Franklin. “Put your hand on your hips/Cover your eyes/And move with the spirit/Go on and move/Move with the spirit.” Telushkin explains, “Here’s an example from the Queen of Soul, whose background is in the Gospel, but whose words express exactly what the rabbis mean by kavanah–that your entire body, mind, and soul work together in harmony when you are most in touch with God.”

BRabbi Michael J. Broyde, in his book The Best Love of the Child: Being Loved and Being Taught to Love as the First Human Right, argues that the most important aspect of parenting is not love, but rather how the parent treats the child. Citing the example wherein King Solomon suggests splitting a baby to determine who should be granted custody, Broyde writes that “King Solomon was not seeking to determine who is the true mother, but who is the true and proper caregiver.” Broyde goes on to state, “I will now end with the signature song/lyric of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, one that I think better encapsulates the Jewish tradition’s understanding of what the basis of the relationship is. Ultimately, it is not love that matters, but R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

CRodney Dangerfield, in his autobiography It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs, noted, “Growing up, I was always a shlemiel. Among a group of nerdy Jewish kids, I was the super nerd. I REALLY didn’t get any respect. So it wasn’t an act. But when Aretha Franklin so graciously agreed to come on my TV show and let me sing backup while she performed Respect–now that was a surreal moment for me. That might be the only time in my life that I truly couldn’t say ‘I don’t get no respect!’ ”

DTraditional morning blessings in Judaism (uttered by men) include the words “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for not having made me a woman.” In her book How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, author Blu Greenberg wrote of this prayer and offered a perspective to Orthodox women who were troubled by these words. Said Greenberg, “This prayer speaks to how men relate to God, but it does not diminish our relationship to God. We do not utter those words every morning, but we should be uttering our own prayer to God every morning, thanking Him for our blessings. I get my inspiration from many sources, Jewish and secular. In this case, I am guided by the words of Hal David, sung so movingly by the great singer Aretha Franklin: ‘The moment I wake up/Before I put on my makeup/I say a little prayer for you/While combing my hair, now/And wondering what dress to wear, now/I say a little prayer for you.’ I don't have to concern myself with what men are saying every morning. I only have to focus on the path God has laid out for me.”

E. Former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s emails, computer files, and other documents were obtained by special prosecutor Robert Mueller in a raid by the FBI. Among the evidence was a voicemail recording of a conversation between Cohen and Trump in which Cohen says, “You know, Donald. My wife asked me why I’m still working for you, and I gotta tell you, I didn’t have a good answer for her. But then I remembered the words of Aretha Franklin in her great song, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You). She summed it up perfectly: ‘You’re a no good heart breaker/You’re a liar and you’re a cheat/And I don’t know why/I let you do these things to me/My friends keep telling me/That you ain’t no good/But oh, they don’t know/That I’d leave you if I could/I guess I’m uptight/And I’m stuck like glue.’ ”

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Alex Jones

In recent days commentator/conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars and The Alex Jones Show, has been banned from a variety of social media sites including Facebook and YouTube (though not Twitter) because of his racially-motivated incitement of hatred and violence, which violates their terms. Jones, whose ex-wife is Jewish, has defended Jews in the past, replying to one anti-Semitic caller that “To sit there and then say that all the ills in the world are then caused by Jews is wrong. Jews are a very diverse wide group of people who have a lot of different political ideas. I am Jewish. Now I’m not, but with talk like that–you want to kill the Jews you’re going to have to kill me.” On the other hand, Jones, who is known for saying innumerable crazy things, has said what crazy things about Jews?

Alex Jones

Alex Jones by Sean P. Anderson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. “Every key person in the Bush administration and now in this next administration just so happen to be the sons and daughters of the founders of Israel and Mossad chiefs and people.”

BI mean, quite frankly, I’ve been to these [white supremacist] events, a lot of the KKK guys with their hats off look like they’re from the cast of Seinfeld. Literally they’re just Jewish actors.”

CIt’s not that Jews are bad, it’s just they are the head of the Jewish mafia in the United States. They run Uber, they run the health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you.”

DThey [KKK members at an Austin protest rally who Jones says were really Jews] all look like Howard Stern. They almost got like little curly hair down, and they’re just up there heiling Hitler. You can tell they are totally uncomfortable, they are totally scared, and it’s all just meant to create the clash.”

EThe Jewish mafia mainly feeds on Jews so, like the ringworm–the Sephardic Jews, they killed over 100,000 of them in a radiation test.”

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A controversial viral dance craze is getting huge internet attention, inspired by the latest song from rapper Drake. Tens of thousands of people, including such celebrities as Odell Beckham, Jr., Will Smith, and DJ Khaled have taken up the In My Feelings challenge, posting videos of themselves jumping out of moving vehicles and making dance moves that mimic online personality Shiggy, who first posted a video of himself dancing to Drake’s smash hit song In My Feelings. Drake, whose real name is Aubrey Graham, and who is black and Jewish, described his upbringing in Toronto as being complicated. While he attended a Jewish Day School, he explained, “Jewish kids didn’t understand how I could be black and Jewish.” Drake’s performing debut came when he was cast as basketball star Jimmy Brooks in the teen television drama, Degrassi: The Next Generation. The day of his audition for that show was momentous, however, because coincidentally it was the day that he knew he had finally “made it” with the white Jewish students. What happened that day?


Drake en Toronto by Zulytheslg is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

A. He knew he was accepted because “this really cool Jewish kid at my school” invited him to his bar mitzvah.

B. He knew he was accepted because “these really cool Jewish kids at my school” invited him to study Torah with them.

C. He knew he was accepted because “these really cool Jewish kids at my school” invited him to smoke marijuana with them.

D. He knew he was accepted because “these really cool Jewish kids at my school” invited him to join their a cappella Jewish music group, the Torah'n-Tones.

E. He knew he was accepted because “these really cool Jewish kids at my school” invited him to one of their parties, and provided a kosher meal for him, as they knew he wouldn’t eat the treif that they usually served.

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Tu B’Av

The minor holiday of Tu B’Av was celebrated this past Friday. The name Tu B’Av means the 15th of the month of Av, which, as the middle of the lunar month, coincides with the full moon. This year’s Tu B’Av also coincided with a lunar eclipse known as a blood moon, because of the red-tinged appearance of the moon during the eclipse. Much has been written by rabbis and Jewish commentators about the possible meaning of lunar eclipses and blood moons, including Rabbi Lazer Brody, who said that last week’s Tu B’Av blood moon “may be a warning specifically for Israel and potential war from the east. In today’s context, that might be Iran.” Which of the following is not part of the basis for the celebration of the Tu B’Av holiday?

Blood moon

Blood Moon 2018 by SoulRiser is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A. God ordained that the Jews who had fled Egypt into the desert would not actually be allowed to enter the Promised Land, as punishment for the sin of the spies (wherein the Jews believed the 10 spies who cast doubt on God’s promise, rather than Joshua and Caleb who offered a positive report). Tu B’Av marks the moment when the remaining 15,000 Israelites from the first generation in the desert realized that God in fact would allow them entry into the Land of Israel.

B. Tu B’Av marks the celebration of the lifting of the ban on intermarriage between members of the 12 tribes of Israel.

C. In the Mishnah, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said that on the 15th of Av, “the daughters of Jerusalem” would go out dressed in white garments and dance in the vineyards, upon which the young men would choose their brides. As a result Tu B’Av is now celebrated as the Israeli version of Valentine’s Day, with romantic dinner dates and flowers.

D. Tu B’Av was considered to be the final day on which wood could be cut to be brought to the Temple as a “wood offering.” Following this date, it was believed that the waning strength of the sun as summer’s end approached would not be strong enough to dry the wood, which was to be used as firewood on the holy altar.

E. Tu B’Av was established by the tuba players in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as a day to highlight the beauty and versatility of their instruments, in protest of the lack of tuba solos in the repertoire of the orchestra.

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Marriage in Israel

Protests are erupting in Israel and throughout the Jewish world as a result of the detention of a Conservative rabbi in Haifa by Israeli police, in response to a rabbinical court order. The Haifa Rabbinic Court charged the rabbi with “marrying those who are not eligible to be married.” Israeli laws do not allow for civil marriage, and Jewish couples can generally only be married by Orthodox rabbis upon certification that they are both Jewish and eligible to be married (for example, divorcées can only marry upon proof of a religious divorce, or get). Most Israelis who do not want a religious marriage, or do not qualify, choose to get married in Cyprus, as marriages performed outside of the country are recognized by the State of Israel. What other option has occasionally been utilized by Israeli Jews who choose not to or cannot be married under Orthodox religious court auspices?

Jewish wedding

A Jewish Wedding by moshebar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

ASome couples who are not eligible for Jewish marriages in Israel will get married by religious authorities from other religions (Muslim or Christian). This requires the couple to claim to be followers of that religion (by birth or conversion); however, unlike in Judaism, there is not a system of verification in place, so those religious leaders will sometimes perform these weddings, which do result in a marriage recognized by Israeli law.

BThere is still a small community of Samaritans in Israel, who trace their roots to the Samaritans of the Bible, descendants of Ephraim and Menashe. Marriage in the Samaritan community in Biblical times resulted from an agreement between the fathers of the prospective bride and groom. The rabbinical rules governing marriage were not in place at that time, and the Samaritan community continues its tradition even today. As a result, some Israelis have claimed membership in the Samaritan community (a lineage which is not easily proved or disproved, and therefore accepted by Israeli religious authorities), allowing the couple to be wed so long as they have written approval by both fathers.

CSome Israelis have married by proxy in Paraguay or El Salvador, countries which allow couples to marry under their laws, even though one or both members of the couple are not physically present in that country. The Israelis give power of attorney to lawyers in those countries, who then arrange for the lawful marriage, which is recognized by the State of Israel.

DMost Jewish religious authorities follow the principle of Pikuach Nefesh, wherein the preservation of human life supersedes all other laws in Judaism. There are some Chassidic rabbis in Israel who apply that code to Jewish marriage, believing that marriage (and the subsequent children) allows for the preservation of the Jewish people. Therefore, they are willing to perform marriages which violate other religious rules, such as weddings where a proper get (religious divorce) had not been previously issued to the bride or groom, or when one of the couple is considered to be a mamzer (usually meaning he or she was born of a non-sanctioned marital relationship). Unlike Conservative or Reform rabbis whose standards are not accepted by Israeli religious courts, the authority of these Chassidic rabbis is not questioned by the rabbinic courts, so these marriages are allowed.

EWhile the arrest of the Conservative rabbi indicates that the Israeli rabbinic courts hold a very high religious standard, there are some situations where the courts do allow for exceptions to Jewish marital law. One example is what is called the “Fiddler Marriage.” The rabbinic courts accept and recognize the wedding of any couple who have performed the roles of Tzeitel and Motel Kamzoil in a production of Fiddler on the Roof. (This rule does not apply to couples who played the parts of Chava and Fyedka).

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Vladimir Putin

United States President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are holding a meeting today in Finland. While Trump has a Rocket Man CD that he said he will be giving to North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, it is not known if he has a gift for Putin. A few years ago, Putin reunited with a former teacher of his who was Jewish. Who was the teacher and what gift did Putin give to him/her?

Vladimir Putin

putin matrix by Jedimentat44 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. When Putin visited Israel in 2005, he was reunited with his 9th grade German teacher, Mina Yuditskaya Berliner, who had emigrated to Israel in 1973. When Berliner heard that Putin would be coming to Israel, she contacted the Russian Embassy and asked if she could see Putin while he was in the country. She was invited to a meeting that was being held at Putin’s hotel, along with a group of World War II veterans. Putin then invited Berliner to a private tea where they reminisced. Following that meeting, Putin arranged to buy her an apartment in Tel Aviv.

B. In 2014, Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Among the athletes from Israel who competed was figure skater Alexei Bychenko, whose family had emigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union. Bychenko’s grandfather Anatoly joined him for the games. Advance contacts were made by the Israeli embassy to Putin’s office, informing them that the elder Mr. Bychenko would be in attendance, and that he had been Putin’s physical education coach in high school in 1969. Putin arranged to meet Anatoly Bychenko in a private suite at the Fisht Olympic Stadium, where the opening ceremonies were held. At that meeting, Putin gave Mr. Bychenko a pass to sit in the presidential box seats for all of the Olympic games.

C. In 2014, Putin visited Belarus for a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. At the meeting, he reconnected with Iosif Goshkevich, an advisor to Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko. Goshkevich had previously been a professor of Putin’s at Leningrad State University Law School. Putin presented Goshkevich with a signed and framed copy of the Constitution that had been adopted by Russia in 1993, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Goshkevich had served as an advisor to the commission that drafted the Constitution.

D. In 2005, Putin visited Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. When plans were being made for that meeting, one of Sharon’s intelligence aides, Moshe Avraham, informed Sharon that his father, Yuri Abramovich, who had emigrated to Israel in 1975, had been Putin’s history teacher at Saint Petersburg High School. The Prime Minister’s office notified Russian officials of this connection, and Mr. Abramovich was invited to a reception in Putin’s honor at Beit Hanasi, the Israeli president’s residence. At that event, Putin presented Mr. Abramovich with a copy of his autobiography, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President, which he autographed and inscribed, “To Mr. Abramovich, who taught me why history matters.”

E. In high school, Putin was a loner until a faculty member, Grigory Krivitsky, suggested that he join the A/V club, which Krivitsky advised. Putin learned how to thread and run the 16mm movie projector and how to set up the sound equipment for school theater productions. This first exposure to electronics served Putin well when he later went to work for the KGB, where he eventually became the First Chief Directorate in counter-intelligence. In 2010, Putin attended his 40th high school reunion, where he was reunited with Krivitsky. Putin presented Krivitsky with a sample of his electronic undercover work, a mix tape DVD that Putin had put together, including “The Best of Hillary’s Emails” and “Trump’s Wild Night at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton.”

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Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt resigned as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency following a tenure filled with controversy and scandals. In reflecting on why he entered public service, and took the job of head of the EPA, Pruitt said, “I spent a couple years just earnestly praying, asking the question that I don’t think we ask enough, ‘God, what do you want to do with me?’” He then went on to answer that question, quoting from the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. What did he say?

Scott Pruitt

A. Pruitt was reading the book of Isaiah, and God “really spoke to my heart” when He told Israel, “I will restore your leaders as in the days of old, your judges as at the beginning.” Pruitt explained, “There was just a desire that welled up in me to say, ‘I want to be like those leaders that we had at our founding, at the inception of our country.’ ”

B. Pruitt said, “I was in church and the Pastor spoke of the verse in Leviticus, Chapter 19, verse 16. ‘Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.’ And that spoke to me, because I do feel like we’re facing a civil war in this country, between those who believe in God and the greatness of America, and those who do not recognize the Christian roots of our country and God’s plan for America. I knew at that moment that I had to be a soldier for God in this battle, and when President Trump asked me to be a part of his administration, it was clear that this was what God wanted me to do at that moment in my life.”

C. Pruitt spoke of his upbringing. “I was born in Danville, Kentucky, a town that was the epitome of small town America. My father was the minister at the Danville Baptist Church, so the Bible was always a source of inspiration for me. As a young boy my father taught me and my brothers the lesson from Proverbs 2:20, ‘So follow the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just.’ Those words always guided me, and when the opportunity arose for me to serve the public, at first in Oklahoma and later in the Trump administration, I was driven by that message.”

D. Said Pruitt, “I always had a sense of how I wanted to serve God. I remember learning in Bible School about the verse from Deuteronomy, Chapter 16, verse 20: ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.’ God was speaking of the land of Israel that he gave to the Jewish people, but I also believe that God gave America to us to be a great Christian nation. And once we occupied this land, it was incumbent upon us to fulfill his mission. When I was called upon by the people of Oklahoma to serve, and later by President Trump, there was no question but that this was what God wanted of me.”

E. In a speech, Pruitt said, “I’ve always looked to the Bible for guidance in my life. When President Trump asked me to serve as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, I opened my Bible and came upon the Book of Numbers, Chapter 31, verses 31-35: ‘Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses. The amount of booty, other than the spoil that the troops had plundered, came to 675,000 sheep, 72,000 head of cattle, 61,000 donkeys, and a total of 32,000 human beings, namely, the women who had not had carnal relations.’ And I immediately thought, why shouldn't I get some of that action? So I called President Trump and signed up.”

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