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entries tagged with: Earthquake


Israeli aid effort helps Haitians — and Israel’s image                     

Haiti hits home for some, others spearhead fund-raising

As the world watched the catastrophe unfolding in Haiti, the tragic events hit home at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, where some distraught members of the staff, originally from that earthquake-ravaged nation, have been trying to track down relatives and friends there. JHR’s Rabbi Simon Feld led a service in the chapel last Thursday and asked attendees to pray for survivors and loved ones. “Our hearts go out to those who are missing and injured,” he said. He also recited a prayer for those who had died as a result of the earthquake.

Snerte Leger, a Haitian-born member of JHR’s kitchen staff, also spoke to the group, saying, “Everyone here knows what is going on in Haiti. We need to help the Haitian people.”

A second service was held the following day for those who were unable to attend the first.

Chuck Berkowitz, JHR’s executive vice president, noted that its residents had contributed to a fund established by the Jewish Home Foundation to aid victims and their families, as had members of the staff and the board of directors. A meeting was held after the service to discuss where to direct the funds — a little over $4,000 as of Tuesday, according to Melanie Cohen, JHR’s vice president of development and public relations.

“A significant number of staff members are native Haitians,” she noted, “and we felt it was very important to show our support in their time of need.” The employees and residents will decide where to send the donations.

As of Wednesday, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey had accumulated pledges and donations through its Website,, and by mail, amounting to more than $56,000, not counting several large gifts, one of $25,000. Money continues to come in, said Alan Scharfstein, the federation’s president, and100 percent of the donations will go to the American Joint Distribution Committee, except for the $25,000 supplementary gift that has been designated for Partners in Health, which is also sending aid to Haiti.

Scharstein said, “It’s important for the world to see how much Jews care, not only about Jews but about all of those in need. And I think it’s also heart-warming to see the generosity of our community.”

Jewish Artists for Haiti will stage a benefit concert Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, 30 W. 68th St., in Manhattan. The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring and the New Yiddish Repertory Theater are the lead sponsors of the three-hour concert, which will feature, among others, Frank London and The Klezmer Brass AllStars, Greg Wall, Soulfarm, Neshama Carlebach and The Green Pastures Baptist Choir, Basya Schaechter and Pharoah’s Daughter, Alicia Svigals, Judith Sloan (the evening’s emcee), Gary Lucas, Maracatu New York, Cantor Dan Singer, and others with styles ranging from klezmer to Jewish hip hop.

Zalmen Mlotek of Teaneck, artistic director of the NationalYiddish Theater/Folksbiene, will be among the performers.

Doors open at 6:30 pm.

Admission is a minimum donation of $18. All proceeds will go directly to the American Jewish World Service Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.

For more information, call Workmen’s Circle at (212) 889-6800, ext. 212, or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Among the many funds to aid the earthquake victims is the MDA Emergency Disaster Fund of American Friends of Magen David Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross.

Jake Hirsch of New City, N.Y., a junior at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in Harts-dale, N.Y., became interested in Haiti long before last week’s earthquake. He started the school’s Hope for Haiti Club this year after researching a term paper about the country for his history class.

Jake organized an art sale at the school on Jan. 31 with the Vassar-Haiti Project, a volunteer organization that buys and imports Haitian art, with the proceeds sustaining the education, medical program, and other essentials of a village in northern Haiti that was not affected by the earthquake. Proceeds from the art sale will be given to the project as well as for earthquake relief.

The school has put Jake in charge of all Haiti-related relief efforts. Those not attending the sale can send checks made out to the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester (with Haitian relief in the memo), 555 West Hartsdale Ave., Hartsdale, NY 10530; 100 percent of the donations will be sent to Haiti. For information, call (914) 948-8333.


Israeli aid effort helps Haitians — and Israel’s image                     

Jewish community mobilizes giving to Haiti

The IDF medical team in Haiti was joined on Monday by nine volunteers from Los Angeles. IDF

The Haitian earthquake has galvanized fund raising at the Krieger Schechter Day School in suburban Baltimore.

The Jewish elementary school normally collects about $200 per week from its 420 students, and the money goes to various charities. But when the school’s headmaster, Paul Schneider, decided to direct last week’s giving to the American Red Cross to help the Haitian relief effort, the weekly tally jumped to $4,600.

“A fair amount of it was from children cracking open their piggybanks,” Schneider told JTA.

Over the past week, the American Jewish community has cracked open its collective piggybank as Jewish organizations small and large have raised millions of dollars to help in the relief effort following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shattered Port-au-Prince last week, killing an estimated tens of thousands in Haiti.

Dozens of Jewish organizations from the Reform movement to the Orthodox Union have set up links on their Websites for constituents to donate money toward the relief effort.

Most have directed their giving to the American Jewish World Service and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — two U.S.-based organizations that do work in the developing world — or to IsraAid, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, a coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups that has sent a team of rescue workers to Haiti. (For a list of resources, see page 22.)

As of Tuesday morning, AJWS had raised an estimated $2.4 million to distribute to the grassroots economic development organizations it already works with in Haiti.

Lt. Col. Dr. Avi Abergel, a gynecologist with the Israeli aid mission to Haiti, holds a premature baby delivered in the IDF field hospital in Haiti on Sunday. IDF

The JDC, the foreign aid agency backed by the Jewish Federations of North America, has brought in nearly $1.5 million that it will direct to the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, which is sending money to the Israeli field hospitals in Haiti. The coalition is composed of some 30 organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, World ORT, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, AJWS and the American Jewish Committee.

While some relief efforts have been slow to reach Haiti in the aftermath of the quake, on the ground Jewish dollars already are at work. The AJWS says that all of the 10 organizations with which it normally works in Haiti are now in emergency mode and have shifted focus to help in the aid effort.

For instance, one AJWS-funded group in the Dominican Republic that normally focuses on helping Haitians in the Dominican Republic has formed a caravan from that country to Port-au-Prince to bring feminine hygiene supplies, diapers, and other needed items into Haiti.

Aside from providing funding for the Israel Defense Forces and IsraAid field hospitals in Haiti, which Israeli officials say can treat up to 500 patients per day, the money from JDC and the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief is going to organizations such as Heart to Heart International and Partners in Health to provide emergency medical supplies.

If past experience is any guide, some of the money the Jewish community raises in the coming weeks for Haiti relief will not be spent for months or even years. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, B’nai B’rith International raised $900,000, which it spent on relief and rebuilding efforts over the next four years. Similarly, the JDC took five years to spend the $18 million it raised following the tsunami.

The immediate days following a disaster tend to be the most critical for fund-raising. About 90 percent of the $18 million the JDC raised for Southeast Asia was raised in the month immediately following the tsunami.

The president of AJWS, Ruth Messinger, said it becomes more difficult to raise money when the issue disappears from the headlines.

Certified Nursing Assistant Lise Malivert lights a candle at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh for victims of the earthquake. Courtesy JHR

“This is when most people get alerted to the situation,” she said. “They want to know who is raising money and who has a plan for what is being raised and what they are doing and who can explain to us what is different and discrete about what we are doing.”

Meanwhile, organizations and donors large and small are pitching in. Billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish, gave $4 million to the relief effort through his Open Society Institute. The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring and the New Yiddish Repertory are organizing a benefit concert later this month with the goal of raising $20,000.

The swiftness of the response is due in part to the Internet and the flourishing of online giving.

By Tuesday, AJWS raised $1.8 million from more than 16,000 people via its Website. The JUF-Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago raised $283,000 in five days from 2,200 donors. Almost all of it — nearly $260,000 – came in online, from 2,058 individuals. UJA-Federation of Greater Toronto raised $173,240 so far, much of it online.

As of Wednesday, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey had accumulated pledges and donations through its Website and by mail, amounting to more than $56,000, not counting several large gifts, one of $25,000. (See related story.)

Those involved in the fund-raising effort say the Jewish community’s gifts to the people of Haiti stem from Jewish values.

“Here is a vast group of people in desperate need, and we are committed to helping them, and in helping them we are bettering the world,” said the executive director of the Workmen’s Circle, Ann Toback. “It combines our cultural identity with our commitment to social justice and improving the world.”

Giving also provides a teaching opportunity, said the Krieger Schechter school’s Schneider.

“I think some of the older children understand what is happening in Haiti. I have talked to them about it. They are concerned. They wonder how these people are going to survive, what will they eat? Will they still be alive when someone finally comes to try to find them?” he said. “We talk to the children all of the time the importance of human life and ‘pikuach nefesh’” — saving lives. “The children know all human life is sacred, not just Jewish life. This is an opportunity to teach that.”



Israeli aid effort helps Haitians — and Israel’s image

Members of the IsraAid medical team offered treatment on Monday to earthquake survivors at a soccer stadium in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The text messages started coming in to Shachar Zahavi’s cell phone in the middle of the night: “What are we going to do about Haiti?”

Zahavi, chairman of IsraAid, a coordinating organization for 17 Israeli and Jewish humanitarian groups, hadn’t even heard yet about the earthquake that had rocked Port-au-Prince, leaving untold thousands dead.

By morning, preparations already were under way to dispatch an Israeli relief team to the devastated Caribbean nation. Consisting of doctors, nurses, paramedics, and logistics experts, the 15-person group arrived Saturday in Port-au-Prince and immediately set to work treating wounded Haitians at the site of a collapsed hospital near the city center.

On Monday, deep into the thick of coordinating logistics for a second aid team to replace the first, Zahavi received a heartening text message from one of his team members in Haiti: “A 6-year-old girl, Jessica Hartelin, was just pulled from the rubble by locals nearly six days after the earthquake, was rushed to our clinic, and treated by the IsraAID/FIRST medical team. She was saved. She will be transferred in the next few minutes to the Israeli Defense Force field hospital for further treatment.”

It was one bright spot in a week that aid workers described as alternately heartbreaking and exhilarating.

The IsraAid team, composed fully of volunteers, was just one component of the broad Israeli and Jewish effort to help Haiti. As soon as the magnitude of the earthquake’s destruction became apparent, humanitarian officials sprang into action.

The Israel Defense Forces was the first major Israeli team to arrive. Team members reached Haiti last Friday on a flight loaded with military and civilian medical personnel from all over Israel, rescue teams, search dogs, and supplies. While Port-au-Prince’s hospitals were rendered mostly useless by the quake, the IDF team set up a field hospital near a soccer stadium to treat survivors. It was one of the only places Haitians could receive advanced medical treatment in the city.

“The Israeli field hospital is phenomenal,” Dr. Richard Besser of ABC News told “Good Morning America.” “They were up and running on Saturday morning, way ahead of the United States hospital.”

When Besser encountered a woman in labor named Soraya in a Port-au-Prince park, he got in touch with the only medical facility he knew about in town: the one run by the Israelis.

“Before long, Soraya had an operating room waiting for her,” said Besser, who helped deliver the baby. “Ultrasounds, IVs, medications. Soraya was now getting better care than she could have ever imagined.”

On Saturday, Israeli doctors at the hospital delivered a baby boy whose grateful mother said she’d name the boy Israel.

Meanwhile, other civilian aid workers were having trouble getting into Haiti. Power was down in most of Port-au-Prince, complicating matters, and airplanes on the ground at the city’s airport lacked sufficient fuel to take off and make way for additional aid flights to land.

The airport in Santo Domingo, in the neighboring Dominican Republic, became an alternate staging area, and aid officials from around the world converged on the Dominican capital as a first step toward reaching the earthquake zone in Port-au-Prince.

A 6-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble and treated by the IsraAID team in Port-au-Prince on Moonday. IsraAid

In Israel late last week, frustrated aid workers idled as they waited for a clear route into Haiti to be established. Reached by telephone last Friday, an official from Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, said the group still hadn’t received clearance to leave.

It took until Monday for the team of five Magen David Adom paramedics to get to Port-au-Prince, which they reached overland after landing in the Dominican Republic. Once in Haiti, the paramedics set up a field hospital in conjunction with the Norwegian Red Cross at the courtyard of the university hospital in Port-au-Prince. The hospital was up and running Tuesday morning.

A group from the Israeli disaster relief organization ZAKA was in a better position to move quickly. ZAKA had a team of rescue workers in Mexico assisting in recovery efforts following a helicopter crash there two days before the quake hit, so when the official Mexican aid delegation to Haiti left Mexico, Israeli rescue workers hitched a ride with them aboard a Mexican Air Force Hercules aircraft.

Before the week was over, ZAKA rescue workers had pulled eight students, alive, from the wreckage of a collapsed university building.

In a statement, the head of the delegation, Mati Goldstein, was quoted in an e-mail describing a “Shabbat from hell” in the earthquake-ravaged city. ZAKA is made up of Orthodox Jewish volunteers.

An Israeli and others carry a wounded Haitian to a field hospital on Monday set up by the Israeli army in Port-au-Prince. Zaka/Flash90/JTA

“Everywhere, the acrid smell of bodies hangs in the air. It’s just like the stories we are told of the Holocaust — thousands of bodies everywhere,” Goldstein wrote. “You have to understand that the situation is true madness, and the more time passes, there are more and more bodies, in numbers that cannot be grasped. It is beyond comprehension.”

To lift their spirits, the rescue workers from ZAKA taught Haitian survivors to sing “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem.”

Whether clad in IDF uniforms, wearing the flag of Israel on their shoulders, or holding Shabbat prayers during a brief break from their rescue work, the Israeli aid workers’ visible presence in Haiti is helping to promote a positive image of Israel in a world more accustomed to seeing the nation negatively.

“I am sure it is good for the Israeli image, but we’re not doing it only because of this,” said Danny Biran, ambassador of logistical and administrative affairs for Israel’s mission to the United Nations and the Americas. “We are doing it because we believe in what we are doing.”

“We always carry an Israeli flag and hang it wherever we work. We don’t do anything under the radar,” said Zahavi of IsraAid. “It’s important for us to show that we come on behalf of the Israeli people, and people should know we’re there for them.”

The IsraAid coalition is made up of aid organizations — such as the Fast Israeli Rescue and Search Team (FIRST), the Jerusalem AIDS Project, and Pirchey Refua-Israeli Youth Medical Cadets — as well as funding organizations including the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rtih International, and UJA-Federation of Greater Toronto.

In an interview from Port-au-Prince, one of IsraAid’s logistics volunteers, Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, said the destruction in Haiti was overwhelming.

“I’ve been to Chad, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Kenya, and Georgia on IsraAid missions, and I’ve never ever seen anything of this scale,” Schnieder said by telephone as patients receiving treatment at IsraAid’s clinic could be heard screaming in the background. “It’s like a war scene.”



Local doctors tell of ‘humbling and gratifying’ service in Haiti

Oplan Evans displays his boots, a gift from Dr. Alan Gwertzman Dr. Alan Gwertzman

Oplan Evans has a new pair of boots — and his arms and legs.

As Dr. Alan Gwertzman tells it, the Haitian boy was in tears as he waited to be brought into the operating room in Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot, about 70 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

Gwertzman, chief anesthesiologist at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, had come to Haiti, like two colleagues from Holy Name, to help in the medical emergency caused by last month’s devastating earthquake.

He had seen that “the Haitian people are very stoic. These kids, even though they had open wounds, horrible fractures, did not show much emotion — but as they got to the holding room before the operating room you could see that they were scared.

“It dawned on me,” Gwertzman told The Jewish Standard last Thursday, “that these children could see other children and adults go into the operating room with four limbs, but unfortunately many would leave with less.”

Oplan’s “injuries did not require that,” and Gwertzman “promised him that would not happen.”

Drs. Alan Gwertzman, left, and Timothy Finley flank Holy Name CEO Michael Maron at last Thursday’s briefing at the Teaneck hospital on the medical emergency in Haiti. Nicole Russell

This was his first visit to the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, and he had noticed that “most of these children did not have shoes.” That gave him an idea.

“My boots were fairly new; they were a bright yellow and hard to miss.” Oplan had eyed the boots admiringly, “so I said I promise you will not get your leg amputated, and as a guarantee, before I leave … I will give you my boots. The morning that I was leaving I brought him the yellow boots and he was very happy.”

But for every boy like Oplan, “there are thousands” still in desperate need of medical help, said Dr. Timothy Finley, who with Gwertzman briefed staff and press at Holy Name last Thursday. Being able to provide that help — or some of it — was “very, very humbling and gratifying,” said Finley, an anesthesiologist whose recent stint in Haiti was his seventh.

In a subsequent interview with the Standard, Finley said that Milot had suffered “nothing as severe as Port-au-Prince,” and that Sacré Coeur “became a port in the storm for Haitians who could not go anywhere else. The Navy and the Coast Guard and French helicopters were constantly delivering patients” to be cared for there.

Unfortunately, the Milot hospital, which has had a relationship with Holy Name for many years and was used to handling 30 to 40 cases a week, was having to deal with 30 to 40 cases a day. Many of the injured worsened or died because of inadequate facilities, equipment, and supplies.

“The only monitor in three out of five operating rooms was your hand,” Finley told the standing-room-only gathering of mainly medical professionals. “We ran out of things like morphine. Had we had it, people would not have screamed all night.”

And “the smell of gangrene, blood everywhere, the chaos, was overwhelming.”

To combat the chaos, Finley instituted a regimen to run the hospital, and it is continuing to be followed.

“I saw the best of American medicine down there,” Finley told the gathering. “I’m proud to be an American, proud to be a doctor, proud to be a Holy Name physician because of its years of support” in Haiti.

“For $500,000, he continued, “we can build a better hospital, or at least [we can] put oxygen there. I’m asking for contributions. If we can raise this,” he said, “they’ve agreed they’ll call it Holy Name.”

He has donated $10,000 for Sacré Coeur and Michael Maron, the hospital’s president and CEO, told the gathering that he would personally double that gift. Also, Jane Fielding Ellis, the hospital’s vice president for marketing, public relations, and community, announced that the staff had raised $10,000.

“We’re hoping that people will respond,” Finley told the Standard. He said that one pressing need is for a permanent oxygen source. “A company has a unit for $250,000,” he related, “but is willing to sell it to us for $150,000.”

As for that hoped-for Holy Name Hospital in Haiti, he said, “We may try to ask some larger construction companies to help us in building — donating labor, materials, even money.”


Local lawyer expands burn network to Haiti

Sam Davis, right, and Dr. Tom Bojko are pictured with Presume and Roselyn DeHart at the For Haiti with Love burn clinic.

To most people, the January earthquake in Haiti had no connection to burn injuries – after all, it was not a fire. But the connection made sense to Sam Davis. The Teaneck-based attorney, founding director of Burn Advocates Network, helps equip and staff 22 burn camps and centers throughout the United States and one in Israel.

“A lot of our work is dedicated to helping burn survivors, so we did research and found out that because the standard [Haitian] method of cooking is using hibachis, hundreds of kids were burned when hibachi stoves went flying into the air with hot oil in them,” said Davis. “And kids with even minor burns were dying from infection because there was no supply chain for medicines and no facility left standing that was doing skin grafting; the biggest burn facility in Port-au-Prince had been destroyed.”

That left only a three-treatment table burn clinic called For Haiti with Love, founded 40 years ago by a Jewish man from Indianapolis and run by his adopted daughter, Haitian nurse Roselyn DeHart, and her husband Presume, a police officer. Its building sports a large Star of David on its façade.

“You would have a mother carrying a sick child for 70 miles, getting rides where she could, because this was the only place to get free care for burns,” said Davis. “Parents and children started essentially camping out and overwhelming this little facility.”

Ironically, DeHart’s dad had arranged spina bifida surgery for her many years ago at a Shriners Children’s Hospital, and — through Davis — Shriners surgeons, therapists, and dieticians are now helping DeHart treat burn survivors in Haiti.

Davis stumbled upon the clinic in March, while he was running a general BAN relief drive for Haiti. Through the generosity of the Israeli-owned Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, BAN and Cooper University Hospital in Camden shipped close to 50 tons of food and medical supplies out of Bayonne to the Royal Caribbean port in Labadee, North Haiti. Rabbi Lawrence Zierler of the Jewish Center of Teaneck came to Bayonne with a check from his congregation to help defray costs.

“Our slogan was ‘From the dock to the doctor in six days,’” said Davis, a member of Temple Beth El in Closter.

That was not an easy goal to meet. Because the Haitian airport was shut down, he hopped on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, got off at Labadee to receive the first shipment, and escorted the goods over treacherous mountain passes with the help of a Nepalese U.N. convoy. Along the way, Davis discovered For Haiti with Love just five miles from Labadee in Cap Haitien, and mounted an effort to staff and stock the facility.

Though he had intended to focus on burn victims, Davis could not ignore other medical needs he witnessed at Cap Haitien’s Justinian University Hospital. “It was swamped with earthquake cases and badly needed equipment and physical therapy help because they didn’t have a PT capability to tend to all the amputees,” he said.

Securing permission from the Haiti Ministry of Health to start a physical and occupational therapy clinic at Justinian, Davis returned with Jim Ressler of Medical Angels and Premier Home Health Care in Fort Lee; Karen Canellos, a licensed physical therapist from Englewood Hospital and Medical Center; and Dr. Thomas Bojko, an Israeli pediatric specialist from Tenafly who is director of medical services and clinical operations at Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Among their self-appointed tasks was training a crop of local therapists.

At the April 27 dedication of the facility, presided over by a Catholic priest, Davis and his team wore clothing bearing the logo of BAN’s Israeli burn camp. “They knew we were Jewish,” he said. “As a result of the Israeli field hospital, the entire country has a favorable view of Jews and Israel and many people expressed that to us.”

BAN also arranged for Royal Caribbean to bring over a new $155,000 life-saving oxygen processor from Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck to the Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot, and recruited a team of burn surgeons from Shriners hospitals, therapists from Weill Cornell Medical Center, and doctors from all around the country who belong to the American Burn Association.

“We are committed to taking the burn care system in Haiti to a point where they’re able to do skin grafting and care for more serious cases,” he said. “We will see how we can coordinate care offered by small satellite clinics like For Haiti with Love. With a little more education and supplies, they could save more lives.”

Davis likened the current standard of care in Haiti to “Civil War medicine,” citing many cases of patients undergoing amputations without anesthesia. “They use coconut and herbal paste on burn wounds, which is not going to keep patients alive for long once infection sets in,” he said. “We’re still raising funds and finding volunteers to keep antibiotics and bandages and medical equipment flowing to a place where burn cases often take years of care. The biggest challenge right now for those burned in the earthquakes is to get scar surgeries, because their hands and feet can start to claw.”

Davis pledged to secure kosher food for any Jewish volunteers who come forward.

Ressler wrote in his blog that the Sacre Coeur Hospital is expected to become the national facility for serious burn cases. “The catchment area would extend the 70 miles to Port-au-Prince and beyond.... It is our goal to enable For Haiti with Love patients who require a higher level of care or surgeries to get that care at [Sacre Coeur] and return to FHWL for wound aftercare.”

Davis is convinced that additional burn injuries are inevitable. “The next big disaster in Port-au-Prince will be a burn disaster because thousands are living in tent cities in close proximity and they’re cooking and storing fuels there,” Davis predicted. “When this disaster hits, there will need to be an expanded capability to deal with the injuries. Hopefully through this program at Sacre Coeur, there will rotations of clinicians and educators. It will not be an American style burn center, but it will offer a more organized system to save more lives given the resources they have.”

For information, go to or call (877)-BURN-411.

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