Monday, January 30, 2012

My Conversion Is Complete

I debated on if/when/how to write about this on the blog. My conversion was finalized on Jan 12, and I'm very happy with the conversion experience. It had its difficulties early on, but a new location and new rabbis gave me a conversion that was as respectful and as painless as a conversion can be. 

Nothing feels different, really. The hardest part is remembering that I don't have to worry about wine anymore. I have to remind myself I can touch wine without looking at it anymore! 

Also, I feel less "under a microscope." There are no more applications, no more lists, no more interviews, and no more fear that an innocent mistake will derail the whole conversion. I am responsible to only Hashem now, and that feels good. When I read a Jewish book or learn something, it's for the pure joy of doing a mitzvah and increasing my avodat Hashem. Until now, every "Jewish" book I read went on a list that was emailed to the beit din each month, my form of pestering the rabbis. Now, I read to read. That is a new kind of freedom.

In some ways, people's perception of me has changed. For instance, now I'm date-able, and that has changed the look in some men's eyes when we talk. I worried that the women would begin to see me as competition, but I am lucky to have wonderful friends who wanted to celebrate with me instead of seeing me as an enemy. The shidduch crisis has made many women feel that dating is a zero-sum game, and therefore, all women are the enemy. Most conversion candidates face some issue with this long before conversion, generally an accusation that conversion candidates (and even converts) "steal our men."  Personally, I was very open and clear that I was not dating until my conversion was finished. Yes, it has been annoying and lonely, but it was the right choice. When I thanked some girlfriends for being supportive of my desire to begin dating (and not hating me for taking "their men"), they said that my refusal to date until the conversion was over showed to them how serious I was and that they respected that. Thankfully, they're also smart enough to realize that dating is not a zero-sum game, and that each of us is a different person with a different beshert.


So overall, not much has changed. I'm still who I have always been. Every decision and event in my life has lead perfectly to this day, the kind of perspective you can only have in hindsight.


What does the future hold? Someone specifically asked about whether I plan to go to seminary now. I don't. It would be nice, and I would like to pursue more formal education in the next few years, but I don't see it happening now or soon. I also feel a bit old for the "seminary scene." So I will be doing what other single girls my age are doing: working (err, trying to find work), learning, and living my life.

39 comments:

  1. suzanne (fellow convert)January 30, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    Mazal Tov! Welcome to the nation of Israel. Your soul has come home; now get to work on taking our relationship with our Creator further!
    Love,

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  2. Mazal tov Skylar! I'm so happy for you.
    Thanks for writing this blog. I just found it recently and have learned much from you.

    Brachot chamot miYerushalaim,
    Dina

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  3. "For instance, now I'm date-able, and that has changed the look in some men's eyes when we talk."

    Tee hee hee! (Yes, I giggled even in real life.)

    "When I read a Jewish book ..."

    Ah, yes, I know that feeling. I remember in elementary school, at one point, we had to record everything we read, to prove that we were reading enough. But the effect on me was just to turn reading into a chore, and to make me read less. They tried the same nonsense in ninth grade English class, so I just summed up the total number of pages in my magazine subscriptions and put that down.

    And above all, MAZEL TOV!

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  4. Around the time I finished my conversion, my roommate threw a housewarming party because we had just moved. It was a Shabbat evening and all our friends came over. However, we forgot to turn on all the lights we needed. Person A said, "Man, that side of the room is so dark." Person B said, "Yeah, I know. I wish someone would turn the lamp on over there." Everyone, including my roommate, looked at me, waiting for me to catch their cue. I responded, "I don't know what y'all are looking at me for. I'm Jewish now." The light bulbs in all their heads turned on as they remembered. A resounding "OOOH!" filled the room. It was hysterical.

    Welcome to the Tribe!

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  5. Mazel Tov Kochava!!!! I was wondering if you were done.

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  6. Mazel tov!

    Now get to work posting excess books on paperbackswap so I can request them! ;)

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  7. Mazal Tov!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  8. MAAAAAZZZZAAAAL TOOOOVVVVVVV!!!!! please tell us this won't be the end of your wonderful blog? surely your readers (certainly speaking for myself) would love to hear about your wonderful adventures as a nascent jewess as your hair dries from the mikveh and all the women in your community who have come to love you over the years rush forth with ideas about their nephew/son/rich cousin/etc. you have been an incredible comfort and sort of north star to me for awhile now, and i'm so glad that after everything, finally you've come through! congratulations, Kochava Yocheved!

    kaity

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  9. Mazel Tov Kochava!!

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  10. how long did the orthodox conversion process take in all? can you answer now the question you said before: do nice guys convert last?

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    1. That's a complicated question. The real answer is almost 8 years. Made the concrete decision to go orthodox or bust 2 years ago. Had applications in with batei din for a year and a half. Once I moved and actually began meeting with the rabbis was 5 months. As for the second question, I don't know. A bully tried to make sure I finished last, but it took a long time to find someone willing to hear my side of the story. If I didn't have the freedom to move cross-country and hadn't known the community well and had connections, I'd probably still be where I was: nowhere. It pays to build your network and learn both the good and the bad of the community to know when something seems fishy. It also helps you make a coherent argument for why something is wrong and the ability to get it to the right people.

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  11. I wished you on your unofficial reveal in the other post, but I'll wish you again: Mazel tov, Kochava!

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  12. Mazal Tov!!!!!!
    I hope the Mikveh experience was better this time too.
    I'm not sure if you can answer this, but what sort of questions did they ask at The Beth Din?

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    1. Anonymous asking about the questions at the beit din: Check out the How to Prepare for Your First Beit Din Meeting post: http://crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-to-prepare-for-your-first-beit-din.html. My beit din meeting and mikvah were two different days that happened to be a month apart.

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  13. Mazal tov to us, as well as to you. Welcome.

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  14. Mazal tov and welcome home!

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  15. How many Beis Din meetings did you have overall with this new Beis Din and what did they ask after the first meeting? assuming there was more than one meeting. how long did this beis din take given that you switched Ortho Beis Din's? your help on this would be appreciated. thank you.

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    1. Every case is entirely different. Other people's cases are instructive for the generalities you can draw from them, but the specific facts are insignificant for your case. You and I are very different, have different experiences, different backgrounds, different levels of knowledge. Each beit din is different and those differences can be HUGE. Further, their personalities will mix with yours in a very specific way that may either soothe their concerns or worry them more.

      But to tell you some of the story: I didn't quite "switch" beit dins. I was kinda working with two at the same time. I did switch immediately after an initial meeting with one beit din for geographic reasons, but then things changed, and I went back to the first group. That didn't work out for either of us, so I changed my geographic goal. Thankfully, I had the freedom to do that. I had several meetings with the head of the beit din to deal with preliminary issues, then one meeting with the beit din, then another month after where there were things going on behind the scenes that I may never know. For more on the timeline, I wrote about that in a reply to another comment on this post. So please see above.

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  16. With all the absurd politics and corruption in American conversions, why don't people just start getting three laymen and heading off to the ocean, to do their own conversion? The halakhah says that three laymen and a natural body of water is enough, so that's good enough for God. (For men, it would be slightly more difficult, but not insurmountable.) Nuts to the rabbis.

    In Israel, at least, people eschew this independent tack because without a Rabbinate-approved conversion, you cannot get citizenship and/or marry (depending on your status).

    But what is the reason for an American to insist on working within the established rabbinic system? If you get a beach-side conversion, what rabbi will be any the wiser? If you tell people you're converted, they'll generally take your word for it. I myself have all my documents from my Rabbinate conversion in Israel, but no one has ever asked to see them. So I would figure that in America, you could get an independent conversion at the beach, and just tell people you have a conversion (which is, after all, perfectly true), and it seems unlikely they'll ever demand to see your papers.

    So am I missing something here?

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    1. The situation is very different in America, but I'm still shocked no one has ever asked to see your papers. A non-exhaustive list of the people who will ask for your "papers" includes dating websites, the rabbi in a new community, the rabbi who agrees to marry you to someone else, learning organizations (like Partners in Torah, but also brick-and-mortar yeshivas/seminaries), qualifying for services from some Jewish non-profits, Jewish schools your children want to enroll in, and the rabbi who agrees to marry your child to someone else. You never know who will ask for your papers or when. That's before you consider that many American converts are also considering the possibility of making aliyah one day (so they want one the Jewish Agency will accept, even if the Rabbinate doesn't - reform, conservative, or orthodox), as well as wanting to make their child's Jewish road easier. However, I think it's important to remember that you can't prevent every struggle your child may face with a converted parent, so there is no need to make yourself something you aren't just because you think it *might* make your conversion more accepted. Instead, it may just drive you off the derech, and then your kids will actually have a harder time.

      But I think it's a larger issue of whether you accept that rabbis can enact new legislation. Sure, that may be halachic, and the community may have to recognize you as a "possible Jew," but they don't have to recognize you as "certainly Jewish" because the community has chosen (and the rabbis have decreed) that we have higher standards. Personally, I think the higher standards makes for better Jews (and even the liberal movements require at least one rabbi to be on the beit din, which is also a "new" requirement). However, as in any grant of power, there is the risk of abuse of that power. We as a community have chosen to take that risk because we want the benefits too. Personally, I would distrust someone who went that route as being willing to join the community. I would guess they tried the "traditional" route through the rabbis, and that they were turned away, if they were driven to such an extreme manner of conversion. Most conversion rabbis are good and honest, so either this person was too impatient to work through the rabbi's concerns (bad middos-the inability to be patient or to admit there are problems) or there was a serious objection from the rabbis that they felt could not be overcome, such as being married to a non-Jew or an unwillingness to accept some mitzvot (or continued belief in Jesus or another diety).

      There are orthodox rabbis who use more "traditional" approaches to conversion, and people are wary of them because they have chosen to "go back" on what the larger community decided was normative. (Of course, that is playing devil's advocate, not necessarily my opinion.) If someone feels that is the appropriate conversion and community for them, they are able to go that route, and I know many who have (almost all happily, despite the "risks"). The Rabbinate has a stranglehold on many communities and converts, but not all of them.

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  17. Wow, I didn't realize so many were so punctiliously concerned with papers in America. Maybe I'm just too used to merely davening in American shuls, as opposed to actually joining them and getting married and enrolling children in day school. ... And come to think of it, perhaps Israeli associations (schools, shuls, etc.) do not ask for papers, only because they assume that the government has already taken care of that. So the lack of an authoritarian Rabbinate in America has not eliminated the despotism, but it has only relocated it from a government bureaucracy to a rabbinic oligarchy.

    (I am reminded of Luther Martin's opposing the Constitutional ban on paper money, because he wanted his own state of Maryland to be able to keep printing paper money. Whereas the rest of the Constitutional Convention opposed the crime that is paper money, Martin was jealous that Maryland retain its tyrannical privilege.)

    Okay, so I am conceding ignorance of things American. Thank you for setting me straight.

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    1. Israel still requires them for marriage an divorce. At least some private schools in Israel might require them. And the English-language dating websites would still require them. I'd imagine most yeshivot/seminaries would as well. I know most seminaries ask about your Jewishness, and if you say you're a convert, they ask for the paperwork. I think the thing in Israel is that people assume everyone's a Jew and the possibility of the person being a convert doesn't occur to them. In America, non-profits and shuls are very concerned about their funds being used to reach the "target demographic," which is what I think fuels the prove-you're-a-Jew thing. In Israel, you're basically trying to hit a bulls-eye with a shotgun, so they're less worried about funds being "wasted."

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  18. "But I think it's a larger issue of whether you accept that rabbis can enact new legislation."

    Indeed. My own view on the matter was well expressed by a friend of mine, in his describing why there is no such thing as minhag ha-maqom (i.e. geographic-based, local custom) today (we take it for granted that minhag avot - i.e. ancestral custom - is something invented by 19th-century Hungarians, without any halakhic basis whatsoever): "in the absence of an accepted beth din there IS no valid minhagh hammaqom. not only that, but not eating qiTniyoth is not an 'ashkenazi minhag,' because there's no such thing unless you happen to live in a rhineland community where that custom was initiated (i think there were issues of continuity there, not sure, depends whether the Crusades count). ... its actually solely a 'lets do what our ancestors do for reasons of nostalgia' practice. not a minhagh validated by any sorta halakhic requirement. ... lol. again, withotu a valid and communally accepted beth din, which does not exist in [Washington] DC [where I am from], there IS no minhagh hammaqom. its ish `oseh hayyashar be`enav ... there are very few such courts in america. only hasidim really have them cause they form enclaves. so maybe in crown heights theres a minhagh hammaqom, and probably in williamsburg, and certainly in kiryas joel. but other than that, nuthin." In other words, we today do not have regionally-accepted authoritative batei din, which *all* Jews of *all* persuasions in the area accept, and therefore, no beit din can legislate a minhag ha-maqom today. I believe the most any rabbi can do today, is legislate for his own synagogue, as a private, voluntary organization with freedom of association (meaning, freedom to set restrictive membership requirements).

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  19. "Personally, I would distrust someone who went that route as being willing to join the community. ..."

    LOL, I will readily admit I have problems with authority. My first exposure to Orthodox Judaism was via Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, and I have been scarred ever since. R' Hirsch's essay, "Jewish Communal Life" / "The Character of the Jewish Community" (two different trans., the former in Judaism Eternal, the latter in Collected Writings), is basically an explanation of why rabbis have no authority. For some forty or so pages, R' Hirsch repeats that rabbis have no authority whatsoever except that which the halakhah grants them, and that the laypeople must know Torah so that they are able to rebel against the rabbi whenever he errs. I kid you not. I am not exaggerating, it is as if Ron Paul became a rabbi.

    Cf., for example, Hakham Aaron Haleva discussing the question of whether a woman is permitted to read the Megilat Ester on Purim; many will argue that women technically may do so, but that that the danger of the "slippery slope" means that we should not let them. He writes, "I fail to comprehend 'slippery slope.' The Law is what it is, and it is not always the same as what Jews (especially ones who do not first study the Law) imagine it is. If women may read the meghilla, then they may (as R. Ovadia Yosef has pointed out). If they may read the Sefer [Torah], then they may. If they cannot serve as hazzan, then they may not. All of these issues are well defined and precisely known by anyone who reads the Law (and not somebody’s report of the Law). The 'slippery slope' idea only has any significance if a 'rabbi' has authority to make new law. So then — the thinking goes – if the 'rabbi' 'allows' women to read the meghilla in public to a mixed minyan, next he may 'allow' a woman to pray Musaf (what a crying shame that would be, anyway, no?). What women cannot do is truly well defined, and there is nothing to be afraid of in letting them do what they are allowed to do, which is also very well defined and very well known or knowable. Once again, this 'slippery slope' mindset I find to be acutely non-Jewish. Unlike all other religions where the 'clergy' have authority, in Judaism the Law has the only authority. The Law is actually the sovereign. A hakham has relevance only insofar as he can guide you to what the Law is. If the very Sanhedrin is moreh [teaches] that X is the Law, and you happen to know that this is hora’ath ta’uth [an erroneous ruling], and really Y is the Law, then you may not listen to them, and you must not follow them. No other nation on Earth ever had such a rule, or such a culture where the People were the true repository of the Law. Imagine! The Tora expicitly tells you NOT to listen to the rabbis in certain cases. I.e., when they are wrong, as you see it (provided you have sufficient knowledge to make the call). Rebel against the authorities — why that sounds like insurrection and blasphemy! Wait — isn’t that just like the Maccabees rebelling against the corrupt kohanim in Jerusalem? Isn’t that something we **celebrate** ? Didn’t God himself even send a sign that He approved, with the oil and all? ... We should try to preserve this very unique value. It is what makes Am Yisra’el truly a 'horizontal society.' The only one that ever existed. I do not see that it still exists very much, though."

    In fact, whereas the Sifrei famously says to follow the Sanhedrin even when it says left is right and right is left, by contrast, the Yerushalmi says precisely the opposite, to obey the Sanhedrin only when it says left is left and right is right. The Bavli, meanwhile, says that in a case of hillul hashem (here, meaning any false teaching by a rabbi), there is no qavod ha-rav. The Bavli and Yerushalmi I cite here, are both in Horayot, the entire tractate being devoted to when the Sanhedrin errs.

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  20. brucha habaa'a beshem hashem - a divine welcome to you. i think your encyclopedic blog will be classic, meriting compilation and publishing. your insights enlighten jfb's (jews from birth) . al'i vehazlichi. may you continue to ascend to meet all your goals.

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  21. Well, I belong to a whole bunch of online Orthodox Jewish dating sites, and none of them have ever asked me to verify my conversion, even though I did mark down that I am a convert.

    I also signed up with a shadkhanit here in Israel, and she did not ask me for any documentation either.

    And when I went to Yeshivat Hesder Petah Tiqwa, they never asked me for documentation.

    I think you're right about the shotgun-hitting-a-bullseye remark, however; it's a very apt metaphor. But it wouldn't explain why the online dating sites have not asked me for any proof.

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    1. That's very interesting! I was asked by SYAS and Frumster when I misguidedly tried to sign up for them with my conservative conversion before I knew better. So maybe it was marking it as conservative (I don't remember if they did) or only listing one rabbi that set them off that something was "wrong." They were nice enough to actually phone call me to inform me that I was not Jewish and thus not eligible for their services. An email wouldn't have had the same personal touch, I suppose. After much complaining from me and others about their intentional pain-causing, they're more upfront about their stance on conversion. Same with a few other organizations.

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  22. Oh, yeah, I tried signing up for Frumster before my conversion was complete, and it wouldn't let me. But it was all the honor system; they have never asked me to prove anything.

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  23. When you said a bully tried to make sure you finished last, who was this person? A regular individual, a Rabbi on the Beis Din.... etc? this is very interesting. it's possible they may have bullies even on the Beis Din. and what did you mean when you said that an honest mistake can add time to your conversion, and until you get someone willing to hear the story? Are some Batey Din quite judgmental about things and if they see a mistake they will add time and not check on the facts? thank you so much for clarifying-in advance.

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    1. I don't think it would be appropriate to discuss my case. There have definitely been rabbis who bullied conversion candidates (a few particularly heinous cases hit the media). Rabbis are human. I think it's theoretically possible for a bully to be on a beit din, but I think it's more likely that (if you suspect such a thing in real life) the rabbi is rude, disconnected from reality, or just doesn't mesh well personality-wise. I doubt it would be personal. The beit din is generally very disconnected from the candidate and deals very little with him or her. So I think it's unlikely that the interaction will be there to create some vindictive response. Also, it's harder to get on a conversion beit din these days than it is to get a pulpit. It's easy to become a rabbi, it's hard to become a respected dayan.

      As for honest mistake, that is not something that happened in my case. That was simply conjecture. It's possible that maybe you don't know the halacha of something that well, accidentally break the halacha (unknowingly), and a bully sees it. With the right person and the right circumstances, this could be blown way out of proportion and delay or (unlikely, but possible) derail the conversion. You don't know. And that's why I'm relieved it's behind me. I don't have reason to worry anymore.

      This is all incredibly unlikely, but I'm a worrier. And, as I've said many times before, I have an anxiety disorder. This means that no matter how remote a chance is, it can still create significant worry in my mind, no matter how irrational I know it is.

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  24. This is a bit belated, but mazel tov!

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  25. A non-exhaustive list of the people who will ask for your "papers" includes dating websites, the rabbi in a new community, the rabbi who agrees to marry you to someone else, learning organizations (like Partners in Torah, but also brick-and-mortar yeshivas/seminaries), qualifying for services from some Jewish non-profits, Jewish schools your children want to enroll in, and the rabbi who agrees to marry your child to someone else. You never know who will ask for your papers or when.

    Holy crap. Good business or not, talk about reminding a convert that they ARE a convert, every single day...I'm getting depressed about the world...

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    1. While the possibilities are there, they don't come up more than a couple of times in a lifetime for the average person (if that). I just insist on having my hand in all the pots available to me ;)

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  26. B"H

    Mazal tov Kochava.

    I was the lady whom mentioned that you should indeed attend Seminary. I'm sure many will ask you if you indeed attended seminary and (where) when the time comes for you to begin dating.

    Depending on the community you live in. You're Rabbi might tell you to hold off dating whilst others will say you are NOW ready to date.

    Obviously you won't be attending seminary for an entire year. But there are many short courses available. It's not unusual to find BT's and Giyores attending seminary.

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    1. I hope to attend seminary full-time at some point, but thankfully, being in NYC, I have access to a great deal of excellent learning. In my community, I think seminary will mostly come up as a Jewish geography discussion more than a diagnosis tool for whether someone is a proper dating candidate. For example, I don't expect to go through matchmakers. I expect informal matchmakers (friends and community members) will be my biggest shidduch resource. Also, since I am so open about my story and my age, I think people would be surprised if I had attended seminary. It's common, yes (and should be encouraged), but less common with age.

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  27. Mazal tov! I've been reading your blog for months. As a Conservative convert (and former law student-- good luck with the job search!) leading a shomer Shabbos and shomer kashrut existence, I've heavily considered an Orthodox conversion, and I've found your blog posts to be both reflective of my own experiences and incredibly insightful. Can't wait to read about your new and continuing adventures in Judaism!

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  28. Mazal tov! Best of luck to you and welcome home. :)

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  29. Congratulations, Kochava, that is wonderful. :)

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