Book Club

Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey

Sisterhood Book Club


Next Meeting: Monday November TBA at 7:00 p.m. via Zoom or socially distanced at the Temple

The Sisterhood Book Club is open to all temple members. The group usually (but not always) meets on the third Monday of the month at 7:00 or 7:30 pm at different homes or the temple Simcha Room.

Our book for November is How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. It was chosen on the recommendation of Rabbi Dubin.

All are welcome to attend all meetings, even if you haven’t read the book!



The August(pandemic) selection was The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. It is based on the real story of the horrific Nickel Academy which operated for 111 years and harmed many children. In the 1960s a young black boy, Elwood Curtis, is unfairly sentenced and faces life at Nickel Academy.

The selection for February was American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Lydia Perez and her son are forced to flee a Mexican drug cartel’s overlord who has committed heinous crimes and threatens their very existence. A timely tale of migrants attempting to reach the United States.

The January meeting covered The Furious Hours – Murder, Fraud, and The Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep. True crime, courtroom drama and a mini biography of Harper Lee who was desperately seeking a story to help her create another Mockingbird–this book blends all three into an interesting insight into the famous author’s life.


For October the group read The Tiger’s Wife written by American novelist Tea Obreht. “In a Balkan country mending from war Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death…she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book…a tale of marvel and magic…” ensues. Named one of the ten best books of the year (2011) by the NY Times.

The club chose Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate for their August gathering. It is based on the true story of a Memphis-based adoption agency run by Georgia Tann who was responsible for the kidnapping of underprivileged children and selling them to wealthy childless families. Her agency thrived for many years before her crimes were uncovered.

In July, the group read two books: The first book, The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant (she wrote The Red Tent) is the story of Addie Baum, a young Jewish girl born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for American ways and their impact on their three daughters. Critics have described Addie as ‘an irresistible heroine’. We discussed if we agreed!

The second book was Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep. In the 1970s a famous reverend was accused of murdering his family but was saved by a savvy lawyer. The same lawyer later won acquittal for the family member who killed said reverend. Harper Lee traveled to Alabama and stayed for a year planning to use this trial as her single attempt at non-fiction (mimicking her friend Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood). Obviously she did not succeed but Casey Cep took all her notes and created this book about the trial and Harper Lee’s efforts.

For the May meeting the group read Small Fry a memoir by Lisa Brannan Jobs, daughter of Apple founder Steve Jobs. The book has been described as “frank, smart and captivating”.

In April, the group read Educated by Tara Westover. Her memoir describes the arc of her life as the child of a survivalist family who would not allow her to go to school to earning a PHD from Cambridge.

The February selection was Becoming by Michelle Obama.


The November selection was The Tatooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. The story is based on interviews with Ludwig Sokolov, a Holocaust survivor, and details the extreme horror and extreme kindness he witnessed at Auschwitz.

The book for October was Cemetery Keeper’s Wife by Maryann McFadden, the story of two women – one real and one fictional. Rachel Miller moves to Union Cemetery (on Mountain Avenue in Hackettstown!) after marrying the caretaker whose family has had the job for seven generations. While exploring she discovers the stone marker of Tillie Smith, who died in 1886, which reads “She Died In Defence Of Her Honor”. The tale of this murdered kitchen maid becomes an obsession for Rachel as she delves deeper and deeper into the questions surrounding Tillie’s life and death. Eventually secrets from the past that had long been buried are uncovered, touching the core of Rachel’s existence.

The September book was The Woman In the Window by A.J. Finn. The title character suffers from agoraphobia and while she never leaves her house, she does spy constantly on all of her neighbors. The story expands after she witnesses something she should not have seen–we were all thinking of Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window!

For the June get-togther the club read The Fixer by Bernard Malamud. This classic is the story of a Jewish handyman living in Russia in 1911 who is accused and jailed for the murder of a Christian boy during Passover. He is imprisoned for two years without legal counsel during which time he learns much about his own life and the world around him.

The selection for our April meeting was Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This highly acclaimed novel was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and always promises to be a great read.

To kick off the new year the club read and discussed A Legacy of Spies, the latest offering from John LeCarre, credited by some to have altered the ‘spy novel’ genre with his 1963 cold war story The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.


The November book was Evicted: Poverty and Profit In The American City by Desmond Matthews. As described by Amazon: “In Evicted, Harvard sociologist…Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Hailed as “wrenching and revelatory” “vivid and unsettling”…unforgettable scenes of hope and loss…” it reminds us of the centrality of home.” It is the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.

For October the book club read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. A fascinating (and NYT Bestseller/National Book Award Finalist) story of an American Indian tribe that became amazingly wealthy once oil was discovered on their land, but then many of whom began to die in suspicious ways. This is a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.

In May the Book Club read Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Dr. Eitan Green is a good and successful doctor whose car strikes an African migrant worker late at night. When Dr. Green sees that the victim is beyond help, he flees the scene. However, the dead man’s wife appears at Dr. Green’s door with proof of what he has done. At this point his life changes forever–what follows is gripping, suspenseful and morally devastating.

In April the group discussed Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. If you don’t recognize his name he, is the young comedian who replaced Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Born in South Africa to a white Swiss father and black Xhosa mother at a time when interracial marriage could be punished with five years in prison, he spent his young years being hidden away for fear the government would take him from his family. Once liberated from tyrannical rule Trevor and his mother lived a fascinating life. He tells his story with his trademark wit and incredible honesty. Described as alarming, sad and funny the book gives a glimpse into life in South Africa under Apartheid.

January’s book was Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, a best seller which couldn’t be more relevant or timely. Vance is a former marine and Yale Law School graduate who grew up in a poor Rust Belt town. He gives a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis – that of white working-class Americans. The author tells the true story of what social, regional, and class decline feels like when you are born with it hung around your neck as well as the unlikely possibility of being able to achieve upward mobility and success. It is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American Dream for a large segment of this country.


In December we discussed A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Ove is a neighborhood curmudgeon who glares instead of smiling, a grouchy guy on the surface but his actions reveal something much deeper and more complicated. The impact he has on those neighbors is surprising to say the least.

We read Notorious: RBG The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik in November. This is a collection of assorted portraits and vignettes from family members, close friends, colleagues and clerks as well as an interview with the Justice herself piecing together the story of RBG.

In October the group read a new selection entitled In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed, MD. It is the story of a British Muslim doctor whose visa is unexpectedly denied and she accepts an exciting position in Saudi Arabia–a place she thought she understood. Gail Sheehy writes “I’ve rarely experienced so vividly the shunning and shaming, racism and anti-Semitism, but the surprise is how Dr. Ahmed also finds tenderness at the tattered edges of extremism…”

For the summer the group read A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel Prize winner and best-selling author. It tells the tale of an Istanbul street vendor and the love of his life: Melvut Karatas comes to Istanbul at the age of 12. As time passes he never quite achieves his goals. After spending three years writing love letters to a girl he saw just once he elopes by mistake with her sister. The story is told from different perspectives and cast in the changing city of Istanbul–a story of human longing!

For the May meeting we read A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz – a family saga and magical self-portrait. The story of a small boy growing up in war torn Jerusalem who witnesses the birth of a nation living through its turbulent history.

The February book was The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It has a five star rating and is described as “…equal parts family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama…the story of an affluent Indian family forever changed one fateful day…” (NY Times Review)


The November selection was another memoir, Negroland by Margo Jefferson. The author, the daughter of a prominent physician and a well known socialite, describes her upbringing as a member of Chicago’s black elite social set. Race, sex, American culture and the difference between entitlement and privilege are recurrent themes. (NY Times Review)

The selection for October was The Girl From Human Street by Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist. This memoir traces his family on a ‘Jewish odyssey” from Lithuania to Africa, England, the USA and Israel. As he recounts the story of his mother, who lived on Human Street, and his father who lived on Honey Street, he is also giving us the story of the Jews from the 19th century to present day. (NY Times Review)

Our September selection is The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman, the author of The Dove Keepers which was made into a TV movie. This is a fact-based fictional story which revolves around the life of a young woman who lived with a group of Jewish escapees who fled the Inquisition and settled in St Thomas in the 1800s. Forced into an arranged marriage, her life changes course and eventually she gives birth to Camille Pissarro who was to become ‘The Father of Impressionism’.

For June we selected On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks. Sacks is a practicing physician (neurologist) at the NYU School of Medicine. His memoir is an intimate look at his life and is described as “impassioned, tender and joyous.” (See his website for more information. One of his earlier books, Awakenings, was made into a film starring Robert DeNiro.

The book for May was Redeployment by Phil Klay, a series of stories about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the soldiers who face unspeakable situations and then face returning home to try to live “normal” lives. Chosen as one of the best books of the year by the NY Times, this timely selection touches on the themes of brutality, faith, fear, guilt, helplessness and survival to name a few.

In April the group read Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Those who have read Loving Frank, the novel detailing the tempestuous love life of Frank Lloyd Wright, will be familiar with Ms. Horan’s work. This time she tells of 35 year-old Robert Louis Stevenson who falls in love with a spirited and independent American ten years his senior. With her wonderful writing style she follows their lives over several decades as they travel about the world.

The January-March selection was The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men by Erich Lichtblau. The following description comes from Amazon: “Thousands of Nazis–from concentration camp guards to high-level officers in the Third Reich–came to the United States after World War II and quietly settled into new lives. They had little trouble getting in with scant scrutiny, many gained entry on their own as self-styled war “refugees,” their pasts easily disguised and their war crimes soon forgotten. But some had help and protection from the the US government. The CIA, the FBI and the military all put Hitler’s minions to work as spies, and leading scientists and engineers…” Erich Lichtblau is an investigative reporter who has used newly discovered, once secret documents along with scores of interviews to tell this important story.


In November the club read Rachel Calof’s Story by Rachel Calof and edited by J. Sanford Rikoon. Rachel emigrated from Russia in 1894 to face an arranged marriage to an immigrant homesteader in North Dakota. Her story is a memoir of the hard pioneering life and the rigidity of Orthodox Judaism. It is accompanied by essays that provide historical and cultural background.

In October the club read The Other Half of My Soul by Bahia Abrams. Rami and Rayna meet at the University of Maryland where she is escaping the rigidness of her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and he is a pawn for a Syrian Muslim group sponsoring his education. This is a look at prejudice from two sides.

The September book was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Theo Decker is 13 when his mother is killed in an accident. Abandoned by his father he is sent to live with wealthy friends on Park Avenue but cannot fit in and cannot overcome his longing over his great loss. Once he reaches adulthood his only reminder, a small 1654 painting of a goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, ultimately draws him into the underworld of art. This best seller has been #1 on several book review listings!

The July book was Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes. The story involves a simple girl who is employed to be caretaker for a young paraplegic who was a ‘world class’ businessman and athlete before a tragic accident left him crippled. His inability to accept life as he must now live it comes to affect this innocent but oddly savvy young woman very deeply.

The June reading was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This best seller is based on the real lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, southern sisters who became abolitonists and women’s rights advocates in the 19th century. Their story parallels that of a young slave girl who was ‘gifted’ to Sarah on her 11th birthday. This is an interesting read with many issues that resonate even today.

For May, the Book Club selection was An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine.

For April the Book Club will be discussed The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

The March Book Club selection was Zealot: The Life and Time of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. The book deals with not only the life of Jesus but how he viewed himself religiously as well as politically. Rather than relying on the Gospels, the biographer draws his research from historical documents to describe the complexity of the world that Jesus knew.


In December, 2013 the Book Club read and discussed Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky. In 1980, a twenty-three-year-old student named Aaron Lansky set out to rescue the world’s abandoned Yiddish books before it was too late. Twenty-five years and one and a half million books later, he’s still in the midst of a great adventure. Filled with poignant and often laugh-out-loud tales from Lansky’s travels across the country as he collected books from older Jewish immigrants — books their own children had no use for. Outwitting History also explores brilliant Yiddish writers and enables us to see how an almost-lost culture is the bridge between the Old World and the future.

The November, 2013 selection was The Last of the Just by Andre Schwarz-Bart. According to Jewish tradition, the Lamed-Vov are 36 ‘just men’ born in every generation to take the burden of the world’s suffering upon themselves. This book tells the story of two Jews divided by eight centuries and the sufferings they endured. The author is himself the son of a Polish Jewish family murdered by the Nazis.

The October, 2013, selection was The Light Between the Oceans by M. L. Stedman. The story takes place near an isolated light house in Australia where a lonely couple discover a boat washed ashore with a live baby and a dead body. Their choices from that point forward lead to unforeseen consequences and hopefully to a good discussion.

The September, 2013, selection was This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – plus plenty of valet parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital, by Mark Leibovich. The book is an insider’s blistering, stunning — and often hysterically funny — examination of our ruling class’s incestuous “media industrial complex.”

Leibovich, the New York Times Magazine chief political feature correspondent and former NY Times political reporter, discusses his own role when he writes: “I make no claims of immunity. Or – Lord knows! – superiority. I am part of this system and under no illusion it cannot reinforce my worst tendencies at times: vanity, opportunism, tackiness, pettiness – it’s all there on the psychic resume.”

The group agreed it was a fun read.

The book for July was The Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev, an important Israeli writer debuting his first novel. The story involves four families in a rural village prior to the creation of the state of Israel. The meeting was filled with much discussion. Some having to do with the book we read, but also on political and social issues of the past and present. Lots of interesting points of view.

For May the Book Club read Not Me by Michael Lavigne. The author is from Newark and his first novel poses interesting questions about identity, guilt and redemption.

The April selection was The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, a young writer whose novel has been described as a hauntingly beautiful story of two characters whose lives are woven together in complex ways. The story spans 60 years and travels from Nazi-occuped Eastern Europe to present day Brighton Beach and has received rave reviews.

The book continued its discussion of Sacred Trash by Adina Hoffman at the February meeting. The book is a cultural tale of the discovery of the Cairo Geniza. This story of the discovery and the discoverers which shed new light on Jewish happenings during the first half of the Temple period (536 to 165 BCE) is described as well-written, easy to read and informative. This selection promises good discussion.


The December, 2012 meeting was a rescheduled gathering due to November’s cancelation. The group discussed A Sense of Direction written by Rabbi Lewis’ son Gideon. His writing style – both elegant and ‘down to earth’ – was certainly a highlight and infused with rich description. The steps of his pilgrimage as we ‘walked with him’ were at times grueling but also insightful and often humorous. Uman, which was the final trip recorded, provided much laughter and for several of us tears of tenderness by the conclusion.

For June, 2012, the selection was People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called “a tour de force”by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in 15th Century Spain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding (an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair) only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

The May selection was The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

Here’s what Rita found about the book:

Dove Keepers is Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel, a tour de force of imagination and research, set in ancient Israel. In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and an expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. The Dovekeepers is Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece.

The April selection was Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich. It was not overly enjoyed by the group. It is summarlzed by Google Books as follows:

Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her gift at coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers—a gift aided by the secret “birthing spoons” she designed. But when a count implores her to attend to his wife, who has been laboring for days to give birth to their firstborn son, Hannah is torn. A Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians, but the payment he offers is enough to ransom her beloved husband, Isaac, who has been captured at sea. Can Hannah refuse her duty to a suffering woman? Hannah’s choice entangles her in a treacherous family rivalry that endangers the baby and threatens her voyage to Malta, where Isaac, believing her dead in the plague, is preparing to buy his passage to a new life. Not since The Red Tent or People of the Book has a novel transported readers so intimately into the complex lives of women centuries ago or so richly into a story of intrigue that transcends the boundaries of history.

Rabbi Lewis offers the following link for those who want to read more about the author and book:

For March the Book Club read Time and Again by Jack Finney. The story, set in the present day and 1882 NYC, should get everyone in the mood for the walking tour scheduled for April.

As far as the book itself, Google Books has this:

Science fiction, mystery, a passionate love story, and a detailed history of Old New York blend together in Jack Finney’s spellbinding story of a young man enlisted in a secret Government experiment. Transported from the mid-twentieth century to New York City in the year 1882, Si Morley walks the fashionable “Ladies’ Mile” of Broadway, is enchanted by the jingling sleigh bells in Central Park, and solves a 20th-century mystery by discovering its 19th-century roots. Falling in love with a beautiful young woman, he ultimately finds himself forced to choose between his lives in the present and the past. A story that will remain in the listener’s memory, “Time and Again” is a remarkable blending of the troubled present and a nostalgic past, made vivid and extraordinarily moving by the images of a time that was…and perhaps still is.

The February Book Club meeting focused on love stories.

The third book of the season was The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson, a 2003 non-fiction book presented in a novelistic style. The book is based on real characters and events.

The second book of the season was The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. Here is a short review:

At the heart of Edmund de Waal’s strange and graceful family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes, is a one-of-a-kind inherited collection of ornamental Japanese carvings known as netsuke. The netsuke are tiny and tactile–they sit in the palm of your hand–and de Waal is drawn to them as “small, tough explosions of exactitude.” He’s also drawn to the story behind them, and for years he put aside his own work as a world-renowned potter and curator to uncover the rich and tragic family history of which the carvings are one of the few concrete legacies.

De Waal’s family was the Ephrussis, wealthy Jewish grain traders who branched out from Russia across the capitals of Europe before seeing their empire destroyed by the Nazis. Beginning with his art connoisseur ancestor Charles (a model for Proust’s Swann), who acquired the netsuke during the European rage for Japonisme, de Waal traces the collection from Japan to Europe–where they were saved from the brutal bureaucracy of the Nazi Anschluss in the pockets of a family servant–and back to Japan and Europe again. Throughout, he writes with a tough, funny, and elegant attention to detail and personality that does full justice to the exactitude of the little carvings that first roused his curiosity. –Tom Nissley –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The first book selected for 2011-2012 was How To Breath Under Water by Julie Orringer: Nine brave, wise, and spellbinding stories make up this award-winning debut. In “When She is Old and I Am Famous” a young woman confronts the inscrutable power of her cousin’s beauty. In “Note to Sixth-Grade Self” a band of popular girls exert their social power over an awkward outcast. Alive with the victories, humiliations, and tragedies of youth, How to Breathe Underwater illuminates this powerful territory with striking grace and intelligence.

2009-2010 Book Club Summary

At the September meeting the group discussed Tracey Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. All agreed this was a highly readable, well written account of Dr. Paul Farmer’s tireless humanitarian work in Haiti, Peru, Russia, and other places around the globe. All in attendance were struck by Farmer’s brilliance, dedication, and selfless lifestyle. Time was spent in discussion looking at his childhood, educational path, personal relationships, religious beliefs, and approach to treating disease and lifting people out of poverty. All admitted feeling we do not contribute enough to our community and the world after reading this book, but understand the message is not to have us all live the life of Farmer. Rather, we just must do more.

The October reading was Who Has Seen the Wind by W. O. Mitchell. This book tells the story of a prairie boy’s initiation into the mysteries of life, death, God, and the spirit that moves through everything: the wind.

The year ended with the reading of Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. On December 15 the group got together to watch the critically acclaimed movie version of the book.

In February the group ate chocolate things, drank tea, and discussed January and February’s books. Those attending agreed the Dave Eggers novel Zeitoun was an important and moving story. Suggested by the Rabbi, this book chronicles a Muslim family living in New Orleans just before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Our government plays the story’s villain and the language of Islam offers the story’s greatest gift–hope.

Also discussed in February was Anita Diamonte’s Day After Night. This story of women recently liberated from concentration camps and on their way to new homes in Israel was new to most. The characters were well drawn and the story of their near re-capivity by the British was shocking. Questions of good and evil, right and wrong abound in this novel. Can circumstances change what is good and bad? The group seemed to have decided yes.

In March the Book Club discussed Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, first published in 1813. The story follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. Arguably Austen’s most famous novel, read it or watch the movie (you will find in ‘On Demand’ if you have Comcast).

The May meeting concerned Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This multinational story focuses on English and Indian medical professionals living in Ethiopia dealing with such issues as conjoined twins and a revolution – it is in fact, a beautiful story. This is a long book, so there were two months between meetings (no April meeting). For a taste of the author’s writing check out the author’s February 26 NY Times article. He writes objecting to the automation of hospital care in the United States.

All are welcome to come to Book Club discussions.



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Last updated: October 12, 2020

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