#MeToo: Everyone Needs to Speak Up!!

Our various newsfeeds these past few months have been dominated by the reports of sexual harassment and assault. In business, in media and in politics. We wake up each day in anticipation of what the news will bring. Who else will be accused of taking advantage of their authority and power?

Jewish communal and non-sectarian organizations and synagogues – all houses of worship – are really no different.  Rabbis have been dismissed from their congregations and expelled from their professional organizations. Agency CEOs, too. Think of the Catholic Church.

Societal pressure as well insurance companies have strongly encouraged – even required – organizations and synagogues to provide an annual seminar/training to staff as to proper behavior. But is such training ever mandated for board members? For donors? Even the Jews in the Pews?

I was thinking about a number of instances in my own career:

-Early in my career, I found myself in a living room where a program for donors is being held. I am chatting with the organization’s CEO when a board member, who is also a $100,000 contributor, walks into the room and asks “Is there a Chippy in the other room?” I remain silent leaving it to the CEO to respond. He simply changes the subject;

-Joe, a past president, and a World War II veteran, is the Chairperson of the Capital Campaign. He greets me and my boss Jake with firm handshakes, and my colleague Becky – a young woman in her 30s – with a very big smile, an encapsulating hug and then blows in her ear;

-I ask Angela, a member of our Admin team to bring an envelope of checks to the Finance Department. She returns to our work area and shares with me that in the elevator on the way back Lee, a staff member from the Finance Department, had fondled her breast. Angela asked him what gave him the right to do that, and he responded he liked to touch her.

Of course, mainstream views of sexual harassment and assault have changed over the arc of one’s career. Maybe having more life experiences today, I would have the guts to speak up to the $100,000 board member in front of the CEO.

Joe was admired by everyone, staff and board members alike. Today, I would I hope I have the courage to tell him privately that such behavior is totally inappropriate. The recent news stories about President George H.W. Bush reminded me of Joe. He was a wonderful partner in our work together. But there are those in leadership positions today in organizations and in synagogues who still treat women – young women, in particular – inappropriately.

Angela’s experience prompted me to walk down to the Finance Department and speak with Lee’s boss, Scott. This is before organizations were providing any staff training about this issue. I told Scott he needed to speak to Lee about what is appropriate behavior. Or I would.

Staff must certainly lead by example for board members. And male staff must be quick to speak up when behavior by either colleagues or volunteers makes for an unwelcoming work environment. We all have to “speak truth to power” so that everyone we work with is treated justly and with dignity.

#GivingTuesday and My Email Mailbox

#CyberMonday to #GivingTuesday – lots of time on our computers or phones!

It will be interesting to see the results from #GivingTuesday for 2018. I am amazed by past results. Last year, more than 40,000 not-for-profit organizations and houses of worship participated in raising $168 million – $54 million more than in 2015.  There were more than 1.5 million donations with an average gift of $166.

I am sure the 2017 results will be even better with more organizations and more people participating.

If you were to average out the dollars raised to the 40,000 organizations last year, that would be only $4,200. Colleagues who I have spoken with in the past few days have reported mixed results. $20,000 for a camp with a goal of $10,000, $145,000 for a national organization supporting education initiatives in Africa, and $200 for a national organization whose constituency is local community groups. Organizations that did well in terms of dollars raised and the number of gifts seemed to integrate the use of email and social media, particularly Facebook.

My Facebook feed was inundated with posts from friends involved in various organizations. There were videos from donors that told an organization’s story. Even a few Facebook Live posts. When you think about it, such reach is really in the millions!

I also wonder how many emails were sent out on Tuesday asking people for philanthropic support. Since #GivingTuesday started in 2012, I hadn’t really stopped to determine how many requests I receive. So, I decided to save all of the emails in my mailbox on Tuesday requesting a contribution.

I received 39 requests for contributions from 23 different organizations. One organization sent me 5 emails throughout the day. And there were a handful of organizations that sent me 2 and 3. Senator Bernie Sanders’ organization, Our Revolution, which is a 501 c4 organization – so there is no charitable deduction – also sent me a request.

Of course, my synagogue sent out two requests.

It is also important to keep in mind that today is the last day of November. And while Hanukkah is just 12 days away, there are still 32 days to December 31 – and numerous opportunities to help your synagogue have a very strong cash month.

Remember, December is always the best month for not-for-profit organizations – and synagogues – for cash. Many people do wait for the end of the calendar year to take advantage of the tax deductibility of charitable giving. Beneficiaries – your synagogue – still need to provide the vehicle and opportunity to make this happen. Happenstance and luck won’t work here.

And who knows what will happen with the new tax cuts being debated in the Senate this week and the impact on charitable giving.  Stay tuned.

My recent Blog outlines a game plan which will work. You still have some time to organize and plan and implement. Use pictures, stories about how the synagogue has touched congregants’ lives. Even a 30 to 60 second video. All you need is a paragraph or two of copy. And a couple of links to an online donation page.

 

5 Ideas for End-of-Year Fundraising and Cash

Thanksgiving is in just 9 days. We take a break from the typical hustle bustle of life and experience enjoyable times with family and friends and of course good food – and lots of it. And then on Friday morning, when we open up our email and our USPS mail, it starts:

The barrage of requests for contributions from many worthy causes.

If you signed up for a newsletter from a not-for-profit, you know that you will have at least 4 emails beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving and ending on December 31 asking for a contribution. And if you are already a supporter of that organization, there might be more than 4.

Many organizations drop their end of year mailings to arrive just after Thanksgiving. Some even before, the idea being so it doesn’t get lost among the holiday cards, and other organizational requests. Some even send a second mailing mid-December.

So what should synagogue leaders do?

Maybe you don’t want to be a part of this donor barrage. But, as a number of my mentors have preached to me, the mantra should be “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. There is no need to be embarrassed about asking congregants for money. Many of them have outstanding dues/annual commitments. There are tax advantages for making payments and contributions in December. That combined with the very real budgetary need for cash, contributions, and the satisfaction of commitments calls out for action now.

Here are 5 ideas you might consider:

  • Invoice on November 27th. Maybe not the usual invoice. Add in some “warm and fuzzy” text about how quickly the year has gone. That Hanukkah starts in December 12th and will be another opportunity for celebration with family and friends and as a community. Encourage payment by December 31 to take credit on their 2017 taxes.  And always allow congregants the opportunity to make their payments online.
  • Ask Congregants to consider paying with gifts of appreciated stock. The synagogue will have to have a brokerage account. For congregants, gifting appreciated stock is one of the most effective means of tax savings available. Donors avoid capital gains and paying tax on such a gift. And congregants are able to take a charitable deduction for the full market value of the stock at the time of the gift.
  • Have an email campaign through December 31. I know, everyone else is asking and you are hesitant. Congregants won’t know that the synagogue needs the money unless you tell them, and ask. Send out 4-5 emails: one the week of November 27th (participating in #GivingTuesday is an option). Use 30-60 second videos of congregants who share how the synagogue has impacted their lives. Don’t forget to include a link – a couple of times – that allows and encourages online giving.
  • Boomers 70 and 1/2+ can contribute through an IRA distribution. I get that this is a selective group. But for congregants who are in this demographic, this is a really good deal that benefits them and the synagogue. For congregations who utilize IRA distributions as charitable contributions, such distributions aren’t included as income, so they are not taxed. And they receive the benefit of a charitable contribution as well. So send out a couple of email blasts between Thanksgiving and December 10th to remind such Boomers about this option.
  • Make A Plan, Do Something, And Don’t Be Afraid To Ask! You have to create your end-of-year campaign plan today. As Thanksgiving is on 11/23, you have an extra week for implementation.

Don’t wait until December. Do something now!

Dues: How Much Of An Increase?

If you needed to raise the dues level for next year’s budget, what do you think?

Jane, the president of a synagogue in a Midwestern university town called me recently. Besides Hillel, Jane’s synagogue is the only game in town. They have a few hundred families. There is a Conservative as well as a Renewal Minyan, and other times Reform is the worship mode of choice.

Jane shared with me that they need to build a couple of classrooms and upgrade the grounds to deal with a serious drainage issue. Many congregants are employed by the University, as professors and in various administrative roles. And a number of doctors.  Current dues are $1400 for a family, and $900 for a single person, and have been at this level for several years. 35 % of the congregation is on dues relief. The synagogue does not have any real history or a comprehensive building campaign of any substance. They have been able to build up a building fund to cover half of the $1 million projected expenses.

Jane said she believes the leadership can raise $300,000 and will be okay with taking out a mortgage of $200,000 to cover the rest. She wants the dues increase to cover the mortgage payment, approximately $12,000 additional to annual operating costs.

How high can the dues go?

If the dues levels were raised by $100 and $50, that would cover the mortgage payment. Jane thought there might be some people who would complain about such an increase, but she could live with that. I asked some questions about annual raises for staff, health insurance (only the rabbi is covered), and what would happen if at some point a new roof was needed, or a new HVAC system – how would the synagogue be prepared for these challenges.

For many people like me, $1400 is a good deal. $1500, too! At synagogues in NY-NJ suburbia, dues are hovering in the $3000 range.

Projecting annual costs and income streams from dues, religious school, and fundraising is both an art and a science. Being able to figure out a synagogue’s annual costs in terms of staffing and its programmatic agenda and sharing that with the congregation should hopefully allow you to present a number for dues that won’t be overwhelming or cause many ill feelings.

I also suggested that Jane call a handful of synagogues that are in college towns within a 3-hour drive, and find out their dues levels. No sense in a comparison of synagogues of similar size in areas with very different economic and competitive forces.

Of course, my fundraiser’s gut made me ask Jane about the possibility for a capital campaign, for either the whole $1 million, or for the $200,000 for which they intended to secure a bank loan. The businessmen and entrepreneurs who were the congregants in the 1970s and 1980s have sold their business and either moved away to warmer climates, to be closer to children and grandchildren, or have passed away. There are handful of people who can give $5,000 or $10,000 who she will be approaching. But a comprehensive campaign just won’t work in their synagogue community.

Adding operating costs to cover mortgage payments that in turn impact dues is not the best way to go for not-for-profits. Capital expenses traditionally come from a comprehensive capital campaign – whether it be at a college, hospital, church or synagogue.

Synagogues can raise the level of dues, but not dramatically. And it is always good practice to engage congregants in a discussion about the reason for the increase, through focus groups and town halls, in addition to emails and other written communication.

 

 

 

 

Facebook: The Place For Synagogue News

Facebook posts tell a sad story of synagogue life.

On Friday, Rabbi Barry Lutz posted his Facebook page that he can be reached at his Gmail address. That spurred my curiosity that something was wrong. Barry had been at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, CA since 1984, and served as the Senior Rabbi since 2009.

There is so much about this story that I don’t know. We have tremendous access to information on the Internet, but we don’t know all of the facts. People share lots of feelings, especially when such a life-changing experience occurs.

So I have read hundreds of Facebook posts. And what I have been able to surmise is – and pardon my bluntness – that Rabbi Lutz was fired late last week, and that the Assistant Rabbi resigned. And just today, both the bios of both rabbis have been removed from the masthead on the synagogue’s website.

The synagogue’s board had scheduled a Town Hall to be held next week, and actually scheduled another one yesterday encouraging congregants to attend one of them. We all know that employment issues are legal issues, and a synagogue board will rarely share any details as to the reasons. Nor should they.

In reading through the Facebook posts, I was struck by many things. So many people – many congregants and colleagues – expressed support and appreciation for Rabbi Lutz. I was also struck by the number of former congregants who shared their dismay as well as love and appreciation for Rabbi Lutz.

The synagogue’s board minutes were also posted on the synagogue’s website (great transparency). The Minutes told a story of financial challenges around dues and fundraising and that there appears to be a number of resignations of congregants. The Minutes state that at some point in the summer they were projecting a membership of 291, far below their current membership listing of 531 families on the URJ website.

Unless there is a substantial endowment, it also seems a bit low to support a clergy team of two full time rabbis and a cantor, let alone other fulltime staff.

From the Facebook posts and the Minutes, I also learned that there are 32 B’nai Mitzvahs to be held in the coming months. I feel especially badly for those families, and the Cantor to whom the brunt of the preparation will fall.

The Facebook posts describe statements from board members that changes had to be made as there was a threat that the synagogue would have to close its doors in January. The reports from yesterday’s Town Hall shared that board members expressed a need to develop a 3 to 5-year plan.

Today, if you were to look at the synagogue’s Facebook page or website, you would not know that anything is going on.

Throughout the United States, churches and synagogues are experiencing membership challenges. Temple Ahavat Shalom is certainly no exception. Obviously, this synagogue has some very serious challenges. The congregation’s inability to hold on to congregants beyond B’nai Mitzvah or Confirmation is a phenomena experienced by so many synagogues today. Maybe the action plan to move forward begins with a change in clergy. For it to have happened how it did leaves many people with bad feelings.

I am a big believer in transparency. I love that this synagogue shares the board minutes on its website. But for what is the most serious challenge in the history of this synagogue, to have no mention of the Town Hall Meetings on its Facebook page or its website, the lack of transparency is troubling.

The synagogue’s board doesn’t need to defend its actions online. The board does need to acknowledge the feelings of congregants and to show that there is some game plan to move forward. Otherwise, it is likely that congregant resignations will continue.

Parsonage Under Fire

There are advantages for synagogues in being classified as a religious organization.

Regular not-for-profit organizations have to file a 990 annually with the Internal Revenue Service. Like our own individual tax filings. If the organization’s revenue is more than $1 million, an annual audit by a CPA is also required. Synagogues have no such requirements. In the spirit of transparency with congregants, an annual audit is always a good thing. But it is not a requirement for religious organizations.

Being able to offer ordained clergy a Parsonage – a housing allowance – is another advantage for synagogues through their IRS classification as a religious organization.

Parsonage is really a “win-win” for both the clergy and the congregation. It has been part of the tax code since the U.S. income tax system was created back in 1913.  That amount of salary devoted to expenses for housing that ordained clergy incur – mortgage or rent, real estate taxes, utilities, maintenance and upkeep, are not subject to Federal tax.

What is the financial impact? I examined my own housing costs from when we owned a larger home two years ago. For our house, housing costs which include mortgage, real estate taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance, amounted to approximately $40,000. We are in a 25% tax bracket. If I was an ordained rabbi or cantor, that $40,000 of income wouldn’t have been subject to federal income tax. It would have also meant that we would have had an additional $11,500 in disposable income.

A few years ago, I wrote about this topic, as well as about a Wisconsin lawsuit that was making its way through the Federal courts.  Its intent was to declare the clergy housing allowance unconstitutional. In 2014, a Federal Court of Appeals struck down the lower court ruling.

Recently, in a new case brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation before the Federal District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, the same Federal Judge struck down the ministerial housing allowance as an unconstitutional preference for religion.

So, what does this mean to synagogue leaders and to clergy? This case will probably take several years to work itself through the Federal Court system. And it will probably end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is important for synagogue leaders and clergy to be aware that the housing allowance remains under attack. One blog I read noted that the Wisconsin judge’s ruling may be affirmed on appeal and applied nationwide by the IRS. Should this happen, this will have a direct impact on our clergy as well as on synagogue budgets.

Clergy will experience an immediate increase in Federal income taxes. In my example noted above, I would have been required to pay an additional $11,500 in income tax.

Should this happen, synagogue leaders may want to increase the compensation packages for their clergy to offset the financial impact. For synagogues with multiple clergy, such financial impact will of course be greater.

I am not sure that there is anything synagogue leaders can do at this point. Other than wait.

 

Tickets Redux

Somehow my family always sits towards the back on the High Holy Days. And we usually arrive a few minutes before the start of Worship. We sit on the least comfortable of the 3 types of chairs. This year, I was thankful that there was a cushion – a small one, though. Better than those uncomfortable white ones.

On Yom Kippur, as we came in the police officers and ushers greeted us at the door with big smiles. No one asked for the tickets which I made sure were in my coat pocket, just in case. Maybe they were profiling – if you had on nice, clean clothes (coat and tie for me, skirt and a dress for my wife and daughter), you received the same warm smiles that we received and a “Happy New Year”.

The sanctuary seats 800. And there are two sessions of a family service with 400 at each happening that morning. As we approached the Torah Service, the main sanctuary became a little crowded with people standing on the side scanning for seats.

I recognized some people sitting in the sanctuary who were no longer “paying congregants” who had either come with friends or on their own to hear the last High Holy Day sermon of Rabbi Steven Kushner, who will be retiring in June after 38 years at Temple Ner Tamid.

There were several congregants standing on the side who didn’t have seats. You could say it’s their fault for coming late. But they have tickets, and I assume paid up on their synagogue annual commitments. Shouldn’t that mean something?

I thought of Rabbi Avi Olitzky’s recent article decrying that tickets are only about generating income and are not very welcoming. I have also written about my own association with tickets to entertainment – plays, concerts, sporting events.

I am all for having the High Holy Days, like every Shabbat throughout the year, being open to everyone. But how do you balance on the High Holy Days being sure the expectations are met of congregants who fund the synagogue year after year with being warm and welcoming to the public?

To do this, you also need to be at a physical location where there are enough seats to accommodate everyone, congregants who pay fulfill their financial commitments as well as anyone from the general community who wants to be a part of the High Holy Day Community.

There needs to be buy-in by everyone in terms of this High Holy Day Welcoming Philosophy. Send out a message that there are plenty of seats, and that everyone – congregants and anyone in the community who wants to come and pray with us – is welcome.

It might also be a subtle way to hint to congregants to come on time.

I have always thought that having a shortage of seats on the High Holy Days is a good problem to have. Like double sessions of Religious School.

What you are doing to encourage and engage those who join you on the High Holy Days to become more active, and at some point, to become congregants, needs to also be part of a larger plan. It is great that High Holy Day Worship is open to anyone and everyone. But in order to build community, the relationship needs to extend beyond the High Holy Days.

If you don’t want to have open High Holy Days, then maybe Rabbi Olitzky’s premise about a synagogue’s financial gain is correct. Synagogues shouldn’t just be about money. But there does have to be some deference to the paying customers. As there is also the reality that bills have to be paid.

Where Should All The Past Presidents Go?

A vacation, of course! At least the immediate Past President, anyway.

After two or three years of countless questions via email and telephone calls, board meetings, staff meetings, and basically worrying about everything pertaining to the synagogue, what comes next for past presidents? Especially for the immediate past president, such people know the operations of synagogue and its DNA better than anyone. Particularly at this time of year, with the High Holy Days approaching, the shoulders of a synagogue president are pretty heavy.

So when the president pounds the gavel at their last annual meeting or board meeting, a vacation is well deserved!!

President George W. Bush wanted to give Barak Obama space to find his own way as president. And Obama has followed suit regarding President Trump, despite many pleadings for him to be more active.  I am not saying that past synagogue presidents should follow the practices of Bush and Obama. Or even do the opposite and become activists.

But past presidents of synagogues possess tremendous knowledge, leadership experience, and commitment in their hearts to help foster a strong Jewish community. And hopefully will not be moving away to another city of the ranch.

Isn’t that something we should take advantage of?

And the tendency is not to make an effort to involve past presidents. You can give them honors at the High Holy Days. Perhaps there is a regional or national board appointment through a synagogue movement or Federation. Most often the big reward for their service is appointment to the synagogue board with a life appointment. It may or not be honorary. And having their picture up in the gallery of presidents. Past presidents may attend and participate at board meetings. Or not. They certainly don’t have to be concerned about reappointment to the board.

So what should the current president, on behalf of the synagogue, do to take advantage of this bullpen of talent?

One idea is to create a President’s Council comprised of all of the synagogue’s past presidents. Invite them to a gathering at the synagogue or the current president’s homes 2-3 times a year, to share with them as insiders what is going on at the synagogue. Yes, they are more than capable to check out the wonderful calendar on the website. But maybe this group can be used as a sounding board for challenges the president is facing, or even new program ideas that the current leadership is thinking about.

Perhaps there is a special task force or working group where the presence of experienced synagogue leaders would be beneficial. A search committee for a new rabbi or cantor are the obvious ones that come to mind. But think about special working groups for strategic planning, governance, and interfaith relations with other houses of worship in the community. Even an audit committee. Something of import – to the synagogue as well as to the person – and that is time limited.

Synagogue involvement in leadership shouldn’t end with one being the president of the synagogue board. Past presidents have experience and wisdom. And we should make every effort to take advantage of that!!

 Not A Fellini Film…

Charlottesville. North Korea. Afghanistan. The Eclipse. The past couple of weeks have been kind of crazy. Perhaps it is fortuitous that the Eclipse and its path of totality across a swath of the United States happened at the time it did. Or maybe there is intention behind the timing and confluence of events. Regardless, spreading God’s light throughout the very dark places in our world – “By Your Light do we see light” (Psalms 36:9) – remains an appropriate and timely calling.

Alan Zimmerman, the president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA shared his story of the synagogue’s Shabbat experience during the White Nationalists march just 10 days ago.  Many of you have probably read it. It is a story that I have been thinking a lot about since it happened.

What would happen if White Nationalists were marching down Broad Street in Bloomfield, NJ in front of my synagogue – Temple Ner Tamid? Or on 5th Avenue in New York City in front of Congregation Emanu-El? Or on Ward Street in Newton, MA in front of Temple Emanuel? Or your synagogue?

I have always been an optimist – the cup is always half full rather than half empty. But Charlottesville caused me to do some thinking that is out of character for me. What if such a march happened on Yom Kippur? I am all for free speech and the right to assembly guaranteed by the Constitution. But hearing people outside of the synagogue chant “Jews will not replace us” and simply yelling “Sieg Heil” seems surreal.

45 states have open carry laws – meaning that people can legally carry guns holstered on their belts or slung on their shoulders for all to see. A bit intimidating, don’t you think?

It is like we are all stuck in a Fellini film and can’t find our way out. But this is real! Charlottesville did happen.

And in just 4 weeks, people will be gathering en masse in synagogues and in other places and spaces to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And each Shabbat – while most often in smaller numbers – before and after that.

There are many resources about synagogue security. I have blogged about it. Your local Jewish Federation, ADL, the Religious Action Center are organizations with some useful information on their websites.

In preparation for the High Holy Days, and for all that happens at the synagogue every day, now is the time to check in with the local police department. Walk through your building with local police officials to review the security protocols when people are not in the building. And review security practices for daily operations as well as for the High Holy Days.

I still remain an optimist. But what happened in Charlottesville was not a Fellini film. It is the shock of it that highlights the importance of preparation regarding synagogue security matters.

Are You Ready?

The last day of summer camp always was the marking point for the end of summer. Of course, there was that 10 days between the end of camp and Labor Day. This was taken up by camp reunions at Red Sox games (bleacher tickets were $2.00!!) and pre-season soccer practices. I thought everyone went back to school after Labor Day. There were those 3 Florida kids from camp who had to leave early. And the 6 Adelmans who lived in Mars Hill, ME where school started in early August because schools closed for 3 weeks beginning in late September so everyone could help with the potato harvest.

Only as an adult did I fully realize that the first day of school is often much earlier than right after Labor Day in other parts of the U.S.

In many synagogues outside of the Northeast, congregants are now back. The schedule of activities in terms of religious school, adult learning, and social action is more robust. And for synagogues along the Northeast corridor of the country, Labor Day will soon be upon us.

6 weeks from this evening marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. People are beginning to be in a synagogue frame of mind. Does your synagogue have a High Holy Day game plan leading up to six weeks from now? Of course, the Worship will be great. I am really talking about “welcoming”, utilizing social media, and of course fundraising.

Last year at about this time, I wrote a Blog about getting ready for the High Holy Days. Check it out. It gives you a roadmap to follow, if you haven’t begun your action plan already.

The High Holy Days is THE BEST TIME FOR FUNDRAISNG. Congregants are thinking about the synagogue. We are all together several times as a community.

DON’T BE AFRAID OR APOLOGETIC.

Studies show that this is the time of year that Jews are most likely to give Tzedakah. The numerous direct mail appeals, email blasts, phone calls, and social media articles and ads might give you that impression. You know the synagogue is important. You know there is a need for funds beyond Dues/Annual Commitments.

ASK.

My Blog from August 2014 is a High Holy Day Fundraising Toolkit that still has relevance today. In addition to what I have noted in this blog, you should utilize email and social media to maximize your efforts.  If you have online giving, be sure to include the link to your online giving page.

If the synagogue president is making a pitch for the High Holy Day Appeal on Yom Kippur morning, I would have an email reminder ready and programmed to be sent at sundown. Or at 9:00 AM the next day.

Holler if you have any questions. And let me know what happens.

 

 

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