Food for Thought Rosh Chodesh Society

Personal stories by members of the Toms River Rosh Chodesh Society. Feel free to share yours.

Beautiful Flowers

A special thank you to 33 women who attended the Happiness class! I just wanted to share a poem inspired by lessons 3 and 4 and all the questions and discussions we had!

What is my mission on this earth one can ask,
To create a beautiful bouquet of flowers for Hashem is my task.

Every physical object and opportunity has a Divine Spark within,
It can be compared to a flower bud with its great potential hidden.

When a woman lights a candle for Shabbat her home is bright,
She turns a bud into a flower, a beautiful spiritual sight.

Although this beautiful flower I can't physically see,
To true happiness it also holds the key!

Happiness is a result of wholeness the Torah does say,
Two parts becoming one is the only way.

My body may want to go to the beach and have fun,
But to light Shabbat candles my Soul wants to run.

When my body and soul unite to do a Mitzvah true joy I feel,
I'm fulfilling my mission too, a beautiful flower, another bud does reveal.

May our bouquets become more beautiful each day,
And may we merit the coming of Moshiach right away!

For the Rosh Chodesh Society I'm as grateful as can be,
These classes have revealed the bud within me.

Divine Sparks and a Bunch of Fun & Games

I was addicted to Candy Crush. It’s a game, a free app. I got sucked in. I became obsessed. I didn’t feed my kids, clean my house or get much work done for the eight days I was stuck on level 23. On Day 9, I literally jumped for joy – I’m not kidding, ask my family! – I jumped up off the couch and started doing a happy dance! Then, I promptly deleted the app. If I hear the music, I walk away. When my son asks me to help him on a screen, I say “no” and accuse him of acting like a “dealer.” LOL! I’m free of Candy Crush.

OK, so why am I telling you this and what does it have to do with “Divine Sparks?” (See headline….) Give me a sec.. I’ll get there.

If you know what Candy Crush is, you are probably only reading this blog post because you have 9 minutes… 8 minutes, 46 seconds…6 minutes 10 seconds… until you are granted a new life in the game. So while you are waiting for that, I’m going to help you pass the time by discussing one of my favorite topics: Food. (If you aren’t a Candy Crush-a-holic, replace the reference for the purposes of this article, with: watching television, texting, talking on the phone and, likely, some other app you can’t put down. It’s all the same thing because we spend so much of our lives in mindless ways. This article is about mindfulness.) Read on….

This month’s Rosh Chodesh Society class, Food for Thought, was about finding divinity in food (more or less.) But it wasn’t an easy class to understand. At the end though, with Chanie’s amazing persistence and the warm, loving group effort of a bunch of classmates, I think I figured it out. Here goes:

Hashem places “sparks” of light in and around everything in the world. Sparks are in peaches. They are in snuggly slippers. They are in treehouses. They are in challah. They are in a warm embrace. They are in the sound of a beautiful tune. They are in the laughter of your best friend. There are divine sparks everywhere around you and within you. When you involve yourself – think about, touch, talk to, hear and, yes, EAT, things containing sparks, you unlock them and release them into the world. Each individual human being was born with a very specific number and type of sparks to unlock. Now, imagine this: a game called “Divine Spark Collecting for Jews.”

Here are the basic rules of the game:
1. Live. Learn. Love.
2. Go out there and find and release as many sparks as you possibly can.
3. When you have released the number and type of sparks assigned to you by Hashem, you win.

Gaming Note: Only spend time trying to release sparks that have your name on them. Wasting time with objects that can’t and don’t contain your sparks, for example, won’t get you any closer to your goal of winning. Case in point: Assuming you desperately wanted to win this game, if you were told that there are no sparks for you located in Missouri, would you go to Missouri? Similarly, if you were told there are 50 sparks for you in North Carolina, you may very well want to buy a summer home there.

It’s like playing a game of cards. You are dealt a hand at birth. Imagine they are the only ones you get to play with throughout your entire life. (Whether you get a few cards or seemingly countless cards, that’s up to Hashem.) So, you have your cards and from the moment you are born, you begin to play your “hand.” As Jews, we learn there are certain cards not in our deck. The Pork Card? Nope. The Driving on Shabbos Card? Sorry. Stealing? Well, I think you know the answer to this one.

Why? Because those cards cannot help us win the game; there are no sparks in those activities. There is nothing toiling with those activities can do to help you win the game. In the Game of “Divine Spark Collecting for Jews,” why bother with those things if they can’t help you win?

Instead, Jews are dealt cards that allow us to move along the pathway of life – enjoying, learning, loving as we go. And every time we learn about something, or enjoy something or truly love something or someone, we are unlocking sparks, fulfilling our mission and “making our hand,” so to speak.

OK, and the food part? I explained all that to tell you this: Hashem has made the most delicious foods available to us in our hand of cards. Kosher foods contains sparks we Jews can release! We are told not to waste any time with non kosher food. It’s not for Jews. Don’t bother with it and move along. Essentially, Hashem is saying when it comes to non-kosher food, there are “No sparks for Jews!” (Yada Yada.. Seinfeld.. I went there. Lol)  However, all kosher foods contain sparks that have every single Jews’ name on it. If it’s kosher, and you eat it and enjoy it, you have unlocked one of your sparks! How easy, not to mention awesome!! A game where eating allows us to win!

With this explanation about how “divine sparks” relate to food – I’m hoping you understand the bottom line: eating kosher and enjoying food on holidays, shabbos, family gatherings, simchas and even at the dinner table on a regular Tuesday unlocks sparks left and right. Kosher food is like a “Go to the Head of the Class” card!

And, for you gamers out there, here’s a extra tip: Release more sparks by saying the blessings before and after you eat! We do this to thank Hashem for the food we are about to enjoy but also to ensure mindfulness about eating. When you say a blessing, the mere act releases a spark.

So now, if you want to go back to Candy Crush, you likely you have more Candy Crush lives and you are welcomed to go back to where you were. But, if you do that, please remember this: the one real life you actually get to truly live is a journey of rights and wrongs, ups and downs, wins and loses – based on choices and decisions you make along the way. If you follow your own path, doing everything you can to unlock Hashem’s Divine Sparks, you will fill the world around you with the most extraordinary, brightest light. As the moments tick by, you will surely find that everything you do in THIS life will be all that much sweeter.

Turning Anger into Prayer

Before I tell my tale about anger, the subject of the last Rosh Chodesh Society meeting, let me say that it is a privilege to attend Chanie's classes. her love for Torah is inspiring, her knowledge is profound and the way she relates the Torah to our lives is very meaningful. The class on anger was especially helpful to me, and here's why:

At the end of the class, after we had acknowledged the dangers of angry feelings, Chanie told a Torah story about how anger can be turned around to become a benefit. She said that, because the emotions generated by anger are even stronger than 'good' emotions, they can be turned around and used to pray. And those prayers are the strongest and can be lifted higher, straight up to G-d. The very next day, I had a chance to test that truth.

Many years ago, about a year after my parents were killed suddenly in an auto accident when I was 13, rabbi Biegeleisen, of blessed memory, gave me a precious gift. he was the 'second Rabbi in command' at Cong. Sons of Israel in Lakewood, the one who gave Chessed to members of the congregation in need. He gave me a perpetual calendar that showed the English calendar dates that correspond to the 16th of Sivan, my parents Yartzeit, for every year from 1948 through 2000. I kept that calendar for over 50 years!

This year on May 25, the 15th of Sivan, the day before the Yartzeit, I had an early appointment with my accountant, Gershon Biegeleisen, who just happens to be the son of that wonderful Rabbi who gave me the calendar so many years ago. After our meeting, I decided that since I was in Lakewood, I'd visit my parent's grave  in the cemetery on East 7th St. I always feel that a part of my mother's spirit is still there and it is a very sacred place to me of course.

Approaching the cemetery gate in my car, I suddenly felt a storing surge of anger. Where did it come from?  It just welled up; I had no control over it. I had been to 'visit' my parents many times before, but, although I WAS very angry that they were takes away so suddenly, so early in my life and theirs, I had always suppressed that anger, especially in the sacred surrounding of the cemetery.

That evening when I lighted the Yartzeit candles, I felt my mother's soul so close to me. As I asked her to help pray for my son, so he be well and strong again, my anger became an enormous prayer that seemed to fill the room with light and power. Somehow I knew that Hashem had heard.

Need I also say, that the Rebbe teaches that on a Tzaddik's Yartzeit, is an especially good time to pray. To me, my mother was a Tzaddik, and coincidentally, today (as I write this) is the Yartzeit of the Rebbe.

G-d is good!

Our second Rosh Chodesh class was phenomenal; why do I say that, because it was about anger! A very intense class, because who has not gotten angry I am guilty of that one, if we are to be honest with ourselves who isn’t guilty of anger at one time or another.  The content of this class had major importance when we feel we are being provoked in situations and how we act when we do not put G-d and Torah first in our lives. One of the major points of the class was when we allow anger to take hold of ourselves it is idolatry because we are worshipping ourselves. That was enough to make me shrink in my chair.

We like to justify our anger by blaming the other person for the set of circumstances that has brought us to the boiling point where we just keep lashing out, and at that moment we never see the other side of how to heal the anger and get back in control of our emotions in a proper way as Judaism teaches us to do.   The class had graphs and inserts besides our workbook, about how to re-think and look at ourselves when we are at that point of no return. Chanie put a large amount of energy and thought to making these graphs, in fact she worked on them four hours.  They were broken down into sections and they are fabulous and can be used over and over again in every set of circumstances.

The delivery of this class impressed me so much, of course I was put to the test immediately following the class. As all of us journey to G-d through Judaism we have our own thoughts, opinions and conclusions about G-d these are very normal emotions. I myself built a wall around these very thoughts, opinions and conclusions, and of course in my mind’s eye I was not letting anyone or anything get in the way of Meryl-ism, to the point of getting somewhat angry and upset when discussion about Judaism did not go my way. I say "my way" as the operative word here.  How much more personal can you get when someone is trying to teach you and give you other ways to look at your relationship to G-d by way of Torah and Judaism these things are touching the very core of your soul and they ignite major reactions, it is what we do with these actions that make the difference.

So the class ends and Chanie and I and one other person begin a conversation that happens to be a bone of contention with me about G-d and his good and all that is happening in the world today, such as Tornadoes, Tsunamis, the world at large and all the awful things that we hear and read about.  I have very strong opinions about all this believing that these things are not from G-d and there is possibly another force directing these events in the world. I was immovable about this subject for nine years by not letting anyone show me other options about my thoughts, it always got to the point of anger about this topic.

In class I was so impressed to learn about Chana and how she was treated not so nicely by another woman, while Chana was suffering from her own problems, not being able to conceive a child she was taunted by Penina who had many children. Chana took her disappointment to G-d prayed about it and did not lash out at Penina but looked at it from another standpoint. And G-d blessed her and gave her a child in fact she gave birth to one of the most important figures in Jewish history Samuel. 

So when Chanie and I were having this very emotional discussion that everything is from G-d and there is only one creator and that when we say certain things we are saying that there might be another force more powerful than G-d, I usually get intensely defensive and will not see Judaism and it’s point of view and I get willful and know it all by saying you’re wrong I am right and let us end this conversation and I do so very abruptly.  

Miracle of miracles I did not do that with Chanie, we had a great discussion. I allowed my anger about this very subject not to come to the surface, and in fact I found a lot of peace as we discussed G-d and his good and his running the world seen through G-d’s eyes and not Meryl’s, huge major breakthrough for me! As I allowed a real two way discussion about this, two things happened, I was open to learning another way to look at this, and that coming to conclusions about G-d and what he does or doesn’t do is not my job.

 I learned that G-d in all his infinite wisdom is far larger than anything I could conclude. I found a peace that I did not have about G-d, good, evil and the world. I found out I do not have to be in control of everything that happens out there and furthermore I did not get angry willful or obstinate I acted in a rightful manner and I must tell you more good is coming out of this than you can imagine, because now I am open to more thoughts about this and I am inching my way towards more understanding of our spiritual nature and relationship with G-d by way of Torah and what our Sages teach us. Chanie was the vehicle for me to apply what I had just learned in this class for my life.  It opened up so many new and wonderful ideas about G-d, Torah and relationships a freedom had come at last of not having to carry this major burden around with me.

Without the Rosh Chodesh learning program for women there would be no way anyone could have broken through to me. And I would have continued to walk around with negative energy, and to tell you all the truth a deep resentment to G-d about all this. Once again I say come to a class you will walk away with pearls, diamonds, rubies and sapphires, of course I am talking about a better journey with G-d these are the precious gems of Rosh Chodesh.  Once again thank you for letting me share, if my struggles and journey help you I am so glad to share. There have been major changes in my thought, deed and action, bondages have been broken. Ask yourselves is this not good and what freedom do you need?

My day after the class

Hi Chanie,

Thanks for offering the Rosh Chodesh Society lesson today.  I was able to apply the principles of emotional mastery we studied immediately after leaving your house.  My fiance, Andy, called to ask that I come directly home because he lost his car key.  I was planning to run a few errands on my way home and felt inconvenienced since I had a plan of what I wanted to accomplish in my mind.  All the stops I had to make were on my route back to Bayville so I’d have to backtrack.  But I accepted the situation without agitation (step 1: restraint) and sought a purpose for the predicament (step 3: seek opportunity & purpose).  I moved in with Andy this past fall so I’m still getting used to living with someone and being “a couple.”  So I told myself that this was a good reminder that committed relationships require taking on another person’s problems as your own.

Turns out, Andy had lost his key somewhere in the Bayville ShopRite parking lot. Fortunately, he encountered a guy in a pick-up truck who agreed to give him a ride home.  So Andy was at home with no key and no car.  He had pretty much resigned himself to the fact that he’d have to go to the car dealer to get a new key. If no one had turned the key into the store’s customer service department, my afternoon would be shot by a trip to the car dealer.  But I kept reminding myself that there was nothing on my “to do” list that couldn’t wait till tomorrow (step 2: consider another perspective).

I got home to yet another opportunity to get upset.  Andy was on a conference call for work so I had to wait 20 minutes to discuss the matter with him.  I could have gotten really frustrated, especially since he left a greasy pan on the stove and dirty dishes in the sink.  But I occupied myself with email until he was off the phone (step 1: restraint).  Turns out, he had gone to ShopRite to buy me flowers (step 2: discovered a heartening piece of information).  As he was walking into the store, he discovered that his key was missing.  He searched high and low in the parking lot and never made it into the store.  He would have stopped somewhere for lunch on his way home from ShopRite but that plan was nixed when his key disappeared.  So he made himself lunch at home. The silver lining (in my perspective) to this part of the story is that Andy never made it to the burger joint as he originally intended. He had no choice but to fry up the grass-fed, organic ground beef patties from the freezer to satisfy his craving.  So rather than eat a burger made with beef of unknown origin with all the fixin’s, at least he consumed some higher quality meat without the unnecessary carbs and toppings.

We went back to the ShopRite parking lot to scope out the area around the car one more time.  Like before, the key was not in the car and no where in the vicinity.  Andy decided to check with the clerk in the liquor store to see if anyone had returned a car key.  No luck.  Then, he remembered that he had taken some garbage out of the car and wondered if maybe he had thrown his key in a trash barrel.  So we checked the two barrels closest to the liquor store entrance.  By this time, I had lost most hope.  He started walking toward a third trash barrel which was even further from the ShopRite entrance.  I said to me, “At this point, you’re grasping for straws.  Why would you walk out of your way to throw away the garbage?”  I had just gotten the words out of my mouth when he pulled his key out of the trash bag.  What a relief!  While I was using commonsense, Andy realized that he had walked from behind his car to the sidewalk and approached the less obvious trash barrel. 

I am so glad that we dealt with the situation calmly.  Had we not, Andy would not have collected all his thoughts and found the key.  While we will likely laugh about this day for many years to come, we did discuss the risk of losing a key. I wish we could say that we prayed to G-d and he answered our prayers.  But we didn’t.  However, we did take the opportunity to consider the practical lesson from the day and resolved to get a spare key just in case we ever really lose the original one.  :-)


I was angry at God

I was never 100 percent sure I wanted children. In fact, it wasn’t until trying to get pregnant became difficult that I decided, for certain, that I absolutely – without a doubt – was going to have a baby.

(If you know me, you might be thinking I felt that way because I don’t respond well to being told “no.” J ) You may be right.

 I got pregnant and it was a very difficult eight+months. Constant nausea. Non-stop dizziness. I had trouble sleeping and working. Couldn’t concentrate on anything. I developed an excruciating sciatic pain that kept me in the constant mode of choosing between the two horrendous evils I called “standing” and “sitting.” I was plagued by hypertension that required weekly doctor’s visits and way too many blood tests. At the end, I developed pre-eclamsia and needed to be induced with three weeks left to go. Three days of pitocin strapped to machines in a hospital bed. Nothing. She was comfy exactly where she was. Me, not so much. Finally, I had a C-Section at 12:07 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1998. Funny enough, the first words I heard from a nurse were, “Too late for the tax deduction!” I couldn’t win for losing. But, I had my baby girl.

I had never even planned on taking a maternity leave. I had chosen an infant day care center. But the bad news kept coming. Those first three months confirmed my wildest fears. I didn’t have what it took to handle motherhood. I knew something was wrong.  I couldn’t listen to the doctors. I knew they weren’t hearing what I was saying. Their answers by rote about spitting up and reflux and all the other nonsense tossed out at unsuspecting new moms didn’t fly with me.

 Fast forward through three months of non-stop vomiting, every baby formula on the planet, doctors visits and medicine … and a voice in my head that was growing louder by the day: Something wasn’t just wrong. SOMETHING WAS WRONG. VERY WRONG. It was then she was diagnosed “Failure to Thrive.” She weighed three pounds less at three months than she did at birth. Incidentally, even as I write “Failure to Thrive” I know it means “dying.”

 But I was like a dog with a bone. I wouldn’t give up. That instinct I never knew I had kicked in full force. We went to CHOP. I wouldn’t even except the appointment they gave me two weeks down the road. Once I decided we were going, we were going. After 10 days of testing we found out that she had an incredibly rare allergy. Nothing the most expensive nourishment in the world couldn’t handle. We fought the insurance companies. We prayed. A lot.

 I feel selfish to admit this now, but I mostly prayed for the personal strength to manage this ordeal. It was going to be at least 18 months, maybe more, of tube feeding and machines and nurses and stares from stupid people who were born without brain-to-mouth filters. I was forced to take time off work. Looking back, I know Hashem was with me every step of the way those 18 months because that much time away from work for me?  Well.. you have to really know me to understand.

 I was miserable. My baby was in constant pain. The financial pressure was enormous. I really didn’t think I had the patience to deal with any of it. And that’s when I realized, I didn’t. I didn’t have the patience to deal with this or anything else. Zero patience. I was an “I need it/want it yesterday” kind of woman.

 I spent all those months of pregnancy being mad at the world for being in constant discomfort. I felt my office couldn’t live without me for even three months for a maternity leave, much less more than a year. I was mad at Hashem for all of it.

 And, I’ve lived with that anger for 15 years. Until today.

 Today, I went to Chanie’s second Rosh Chodesh class in the “It’s About Time” series. The class was all about anger, how we deal with triggers and whether we act or react appropriately. We discussed the importance of taking a moment to think instead of reacting to things that might otherwise cause us to explode. We learned that feeling angry can be normal but there are inappropriate responses to it. Most importantly, we learned that every circumstance is a teaching moment. We say that to ourselves when we try to lead by example with our children. I desperately began thinking about how I could learn from anger – because, believe me, I get angry a lot.

 So, I drove home from the Chabad House today (after eating more than my share of Chanie’s freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, by the way – still angry at myself at that!) and was thinking about how I could apply the class to my own life. The entire ordeal I went through 15 years ago came into focus. It was a teaching moment that Hashem had clearly orchestrated. Of course.

 It took me way too long to get the message. But now it’s crystal clear to me.

 I learned patience. I learned to be calm in the face of adversity. I learned that “excruciating” sciatica pales in comparison to the pain one feels when watching her baby covered in tubes being fed by machines. I learned that if I wasn’t so fast to be angry, I would have be open to the possibility of “getting” the lesson learned far sooner. Might the teaching have stopped with the three day labor?  I also learned that, in the grand scheme of things, there is very little to be angry about when you have been blessed by Hashem with not one, but two, amazing children.

 Sure, even with this lesson now clear in my mind, I can’t say I won’t overreact to situations. In fact, as I am writing this, I just yelled at said 15-year-old to get out of my office while I’m “writing.”  LOL  (Yes, most of you know her. But, for those who don’t, that tiny sick baby is now a fantastically beautiful, intelligent, funny, outgoing healthy teenager.)

 But I’m amazed that Chanie’s Rosh Chodesh class is as powerful as it has been for me. After only two classes, I’m seeing myself in a whole new way. In fact, after I wrote this I showed it to a friend a couple of people from the class. They shared with me

 If you have read this and have been moved at all, I encourage you to attend the next class. It may or may not be life-changing. But, I guarantee it will force to you think and likely change your way of thinking and behavior – even if just a little bit.

 I want that for each and every one of you.

 -- Bari Faye Siegel

My Personal Victory

My name is Meryl/Miriam Butler. For those of you who know me, you know my journey has been a long one. For those of you who don’t know me, I found Chabad Toms River 9 years ago. I was born to Jewish parents, but along my road of life I chose to practice Christianity for 35 years.

There is much to tell about my journey, but for the moment this gives you a quick background of where I was before Chabad. I have returned fully and totally committed to my Yiddish-kite and my Judaism and my G-d and Torah. This remarkable turnaround of course was the hand of Hashem, but the instruments that were to bring this about is of course “Chabad Toms River.” For nine years Chanie and Rabbi and many others have worked tirelessly and patiently to show me the beauty of who I am and where I belong. And most of all they showed me the remarkable blueprint for our lives which of course is Torah.

Every Jewish woman’s birthright is the gift of Torah and learning, a gift that will carry you through your life for good times, bad times and in-between times. The classes that are given by Chanie are a true inspiration and stronghold to our lives as women on an everyday basis as we journey through Judaism. We can apply them to our daily lives every single day. Why do I say this? Because just recently I have another amazing story to share with my sisters who are all the women of Chabad Toms River.

I am speaking of the amazing gift we have been given, the “Rosh Chodesh Society Learning Series.” This series is given on a monthly basis, and the classes are inspiring, spiritual and have daily application to our lives, what more can one ask for?

Now I can begin my story:

When I was practicing as a Christian I was taught about salvation and eternal life, those are the cornerstones of that religion. I was programmed to believe that only the Messiah of their faith can give you that gift. I believe we all want eternal life and salvation. Without that hope, life could be very dark and frightening, I know it was for me though I don’t scare easily.

Climbing this mountain to let go of the remnants of my past life has been very difficult. This has always been on my mind and coming back to me on a regular basis. I have had many learning sessions with the Rabbi and Chanie but still and yet I could not let go of such an important part of those teachings. I was climbing a mountain but I was not getting to the top, I kept falling down in this area.

The excitement of the Rosh Chodesh Society brought about my miracle.

But before I share the miracle I want to say I was anticipating this class with bated breath. I was so happy and filled with such joy that Chabad could offer this wonderful opportunity to learn and grow with other women together and journey to amazing places. I truly believe G-d meets us when our hearts and minds are open to his Torah which is our Torah!

Here I was left with the remains of a past life and also some friends of my past life. Some of those friends were not really happy about my return to Judaism. So every chance they could get they would try to discuss matters of such importance as salvation and eternal life, which would confuse me. I would always run from that subject, I was unsure of how to respond as a Jewess. I would call the Rabbi for confidence and for peace of mind.

Along comes the class that I was had been anticipating called “The Kabbalah of Sleep.” I learned amazing lessons in that class about who we are to G-d and how G-d loves us and takes care of us daily and especially when we sleep.

What was so profound is that I learned that we have salvation on a daily basis, a renewal that happens at night when we sleep. G-d actually takes a part of our soul up to heaven and cleanses us. Imagine that, we have a new beginning daily, we are born again on a daily basis, and have salvation with G-d as a Jew, every single day!

Well, the next time my so-called-friends called me, I was prepared. I told them what I had learned, that as a Jewess, I was granted salvation from G-d every single day, I was not confused, I was clear, and I was proud! They had no response, and they will never bring it up again.

This was just the first class of the series, imagine what the rest will bring. I just cannot wait to see, I am inspired and hungry to learn more. This can happen to you as well, Join our Rosh Chodesh Society and you too will be inspired. It is a gift waiting to be unwrapped and what you will find inside will change your life. Chanie puts an enormous amount of energy and wisdom into the teachings. This is my story which is just a small snippet of what is to come.

Come aboard with us and you too will have more energy, more joy and closeness to Torah and G-d that you never knew you had. I hope to see you at our classes. A time to learn and share and uplift one another, what could be better?

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