Rare Images: When the Land of Israel Shook in 1927

These photographs document the powerful earthquake that led to hundreds of deaths in 1927.

On the 11th of July, 1927, Mandatory Palestine and Transjordan were struck by a powerful earthquake. The tremor measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. This was the most significant natural disaster in the region in the past century, as well as a seismological research milestone – the first earthquake in the area to be documented by scientific instruments.

Hundreds of people were killed and hundreds more were injured. Damage to property was severe. Nablus, Ramla and Lod were heavily affected. Jerusalem, Jericho, Amman and Al-Salt also suffered, on a smaller scale. In Nablus alone, more than one hundred people were killed. In Jerusalem, the Hebrew University buildings on Mount Scopus were badly damaged, including Gray Hill House, the temporary home of the Institute of Jewish Studies.

That fatal summer saw preparations for construction of the Jewish National and University Library building on Mount Scopus. At the time of the earthquake, the precursor of today’s National Library of Israel was still located in its old building at Beit Ne’eman (at the end of Habashim Street – now Bnei Brit Street in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood). According to one report, the Library building was not damaged at all and the books within were also unharmed. Life in the library continued as usual. To attest to this fact, only a few days after the terrible disaster, the library staff hastened to hold a small exhibition on the subject of historic earthquakes in the region.

Naturally, on the day after the disaster, the daily newspaper, Doar Hayom, devoted its pages, above all else, to the earthquake.


“A Great Tremor in Eretz Israel – It started at seven past three – the greatest tremor in its history – felt in all of the land’s cities and villages…” The article in Doar Hayom on the day after the earthquake. Click on the image for the full edition



The National Library Presents: The Earthquake of 1837

On July 13th, alongside a feature on the damages caused to various public buildings in Jerusalem, was an announcement in the paper that the Library had put together an exhibit on the history of earthquakes in the Land of Israel.


The article in Doar Hayom was published on the 13th of July, 1927. Click on the picture for the full newspaper

This article gives us a rare glimpse into what was offered in the improvised exhibition put together by the Library staff. The majority of focus in the exhibition was on the powerful earthquake that had preceded that year’s quake – this was the famous earthquake of 1837 which mainly affected the cities of Safed and Tiberias.

What was displayed in the 1927 exhibition?

The article in Doar Hayom explained that the exhibition presented three letters sent from the Land of Israel after the 1837 earthquake. They were written by Mr. Israel Mashkelov, Mr. Aryeh Yerachmiel, and Mr. Raphael Yitzchak Alfandari.

It appears that printed versions of letters sent from the Land of Israel to members and officials of the Amsterdam Jewish community were presented at the exhibition. The original letters made a great impression on the Jews of Amsterdam at the time, and they rushed to publish them in a small, three-page booklet. The booklet was widely distributed throughout Europe and became well known in the Jewish world. In these letters the earthquake is described in great detail. They also include a list of the villages and towns that were affected by the natural disaster, as well as the number of dead and injured in each locale.

This was how one of the survivors described the disaster of 1837:

“On the 24th of Tevet, during the afternoon prayer, a great and terrible tremor rose up, and any who looked upon the land could see the shaking, and here [Jerusalem] some houses and courtyards were also damaged and the whole city was afraid, but thankfully no one was hurt. And in Nablus houses fell and all the shops and sixty people perished and not one of them was of the People of Israel thank the Lord, but in Holy Galilee, ahh! Safed and Tiberias were left in ruins…Fallen and destroyed were all the houses, and all the synagogues, the Sephardic community, the community of Hasidim and our community of Pharisees were destroyed, and no house or street or marketplace was longer visible, even the wall of Tiberias fell, a fire broke out and the Sea of Galilee flooded the city.

O that my head were (full of) waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people, for we have lost two hundred souls, and I have been sent the list of our remnant, left naked, except for those who went with me to Jerusalem and who had departed from there before…”

The article also reveals that the exhibition featured a first edition Jerusalem printing of the book Seder Avodat HaKodesh, printed after the Israel Back printing house moved its printing press from Safed to Jerusalem in the wake of the earthquake. The book deals with Kabbalistic issues and was originally written by Chaim Yosef David Azulai. The1841 edition was accompanied by an unusual introduction from the printer. Israel Back was one of the pioneers of the art of printing in the Land of Israel, and he saw fit to preface the book with a long apology. He tells of the hardships he suffered, which forced him to move his printing press from the city of Safed, which was destroyed in the earthquake, to Jerusalem.

Forward by the publisher describing the earthquake in the book Seder Avodat HaKodesh.


Back’s “apology” gives readers of the book, almost one hundred and eighty years after its writing, a firsthand account of the devastation caused by the earthquake.

“…a great tremor which the Lord inflicted upon his land and his people… And the doorposts quaked from the voice of him who called, and the holy cities of Safed and Tiberias were destroyed and twenty-one souls were struck down in one moment. O that my head were (full of) waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the House of Israel … And it came to pass after that tribulation, the Children of Israel were dispersed to all corners of the Land of Israel …”

The Doar Hayom article, also mentioned another book displayed in the exhibition – Ahavat Tzion by Rabbi Simcha of Volozhin – which also adds to the recorded history of the earthquake in Safed and Tiberias.

The book includes an account of the 1837 earthquake described from a tourist’s point of view:

“And the doorposts quaked from the voice of the tremor and two hundred courtyards were ruined and in each courtyard several homes, some of which fell to their foundations…and some 120 souls perished. And before the tremor one Hasid of the Land of Israel was told that great trouble would come to Safed but they did not know what it was. They arranged prayers and study as is customary in our country, but our sins were such that the verdict was not torn. And some wise scholars were found dead with their faces on their books, and the Hasid was among them. And in the morning light they found a few more people alive, but several days later the tremor returned and some twenty more were killed.”

Unfortunately, we have no documentation of the public’s reaction to the Library exhibition. However, it is likely that it aroused great interest, and it seems that its success encouraged the Library’s management to collect documentation of the more recent 1927 earthquake.

On March 5th, 1929, around a year and a half after the great earthquake of July, 1927, the following announcement appeared in Doar Hayom:


The public announcement published in March, 1929 in Doar Hayom. Click on the picture for the full newspaper


“The National and University Library is assembling a collection of valuable photographs from the earthquake of 1927. Anyone who has historical material is requested to present it to the library as a gift or for copying. It is recommended to attach to all photographs the name of the photographer, the name of the location in which the photograph was taken (city, village, street, building) and the exact date on which the photograph was taken.”

This public call was a success and the Library received an influx of very interesting photographs, creating a unique record of the damage caused by the earthquake in July, 1927.


What was captured in these rare images?

The most intriguing group of photographs is comprised of thirty-two silver prints of various sizes, which were apparently photographed with the same 6 X 9 cm camera. These photographs were taken by members of the “delegation” seen in some of the pictures. They captured the damage throughout the Land of Israel, as well as Transjordan. Members of this group (Mr. Reiser, Mr. Neumann and three members of the Badian family) traveled in their cars and documented the destruction caused by the earthquake. The captions were inscribed in Hebrew and English.

The photographs were donated to the National Library in 1929. Who were the five travelers who decided to tour the country and its surroundings in their car during the great earthquake? Unfortunately, no additional documentation beyond the names has surfaced to provide an answer to this intriguing question.

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Earthquake damage in Nablus


Earthquake damage in Lod


A picture of the photographers who toured the country in the wake of the earthquake.


Earthquake damage in the village of Reineh Village in northern Israel


Earthquake damage in the village of Reineh Village in northern Israel


A street in Tiberias that was damaged in the earthquake

Another set of photographs includes 18 silver prints of various sizes, including photographs from the cities of Jerusalem and Nablus. The backs of some of the photographs are marked with the stamp of the German-based Internationale Foto-Aagentur press agency, as well as typewritten annotations in German. Apparently, these photographs were taken by various photographers and sent to the European press through the same news agency.

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Three black and white photographs from the city of Nablus were accompanied by a poignant letter from Yeshayahu Blechman, a loyal reader of Doar Hayom:

“… I am sending you three photographs that were taken a few hours after the tremors in Nablus. The photographs were taken by the manager of the Nablus branch of Spinney’s Ltd. The picture of the British police in the car seems to me to have been taken several days after the earthquake, and in the car we can see bread that was sent from Tel Aviv …”

Spinney’s was a supermarket chain that maintained branches across the Middle East. The chain supplied most of the products to the British colonies. It is, therefore, possible to infer that the shipment of bread that arrived in Nablus (in an open truck, without any cover) was taken by a representative of this company, who ordered the shipment from the branch of Spinney’s in Tel Aviv.

Another collection of photographs was donated to the Library by one of the photographers of the American Colony. The Colony’s photographers (chief among them, Eric Matson) documented the earthquake in various places throughout the country, including Jerusalem. The complete American Colony collection is kept in the Library of Congress, including photographs from this event.




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Unicorns in the Holy Land?

Is it possible that the unicorn, that graceful and noble mythological creature, in fact originates from the Land of Israel?


For thousands of years, unicorns have intrigued the human soul. Generations of writers have described a large beast with a single horn, its features varying from one account to the next. Great myths were attributed to it and are still a part of today’s popular culture. Unicorns didn’t always appear as we imagine them today – a white horse bearing a large horn. At times it resembled more the image of a goat, donkey or even a combination of different animals, sometimes there were no horses involved at all. Depictions of unicorns come from all over the world; Chinese figurines can be found, for example, in the shape of single-horned dragons. Stories about unicorns were told everywhere, though somehow, the beasts were always said to come from a far away place.

Could it be that the myth of the unicorn originally emerged here, in Israel? That is one assumption. Ancient descriptions point to locations such as the Indus Valley in India; others claim that the beast’s depictions are based on the African rhinoceros or Narwhals from the Arctic Ocean. In addition, a common theory ties the stories of unicorns to an animal whose natural habitat is the Negev desert in Southern Israel, its name appearing for the first time in the Bible – the re’em. We know it today as the oryx.

A white oryx (re’em) in Israel’s Arava desert. Photo: Shlomi Chetrit

The re’em/oryx, is a type of large antelope; there are several different species of oryx living around Africa and the Middle East. The kind found in Israel and the surrounding Arab countries is the white oryx, or the Arabian oryx, its coat mostly white, with two long, straight horns on its head.

Wait a minute – two horns? Here we are, discussing an elusive, mysterious creature whose name clearly suggests a single, majestic horn, and now you tell me we’re dealing with a plain old antelope?

Bear with us for a moment please…

It may be that the confusion surrounding the re’em and its identification with the unicorn first appeared due to a translation issue: Ancient translations of the Bible into Greek (the Septuagint) and Latin (the Vulgate) interpreted the Hebrew word re’em as ‘unicorn’ (monoceros/unicornis). The re’em is mentioned in many verses in the Bible; it was associated with virtues of strength and power; it is also one of the symbols of the Tribe of Ephraim. Some Hebrew sources, however, have suggested that the Tahash mentioned in the Bible, often translated as “badger”, was in fact the unicorn we have in mind.

An illustration of a unicorn in the 14th century Duke of Sussex Bible, held in the British Library

Yet it could be that the link between the re’em and the mythical unicorn is based on actual sightings. The Holy Land was always a desired destination for pilgrims and tourists who came to walk the paths traveled by Jesus of Nazareth. Some of the travelers, among them various monks and artists, described their arduous journeys in vivid detail, including accounts of the region’s geography, as well as its flora and fauna. Some of these accounts, primarily from the early modern period, contain depictions, occasionally illustrated, of a mysterious unicorn.

An illustration of a unicorn, Gershom Bar Eliezer Pentateuch, 14th century. The Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford

For example, in one of the first books (as opposed to manuscripts) containing an account of a journey to the Holy Land, composed by the German traveler Bernhard von Breydenbach, we find an illustration of various animals he spotted during his travels. The book was written between 1484-1486. Von Breydenbach traveled from Venice to Jaffa, making his way to Jerusalem before later heading south to the Sinai desert. The illustration shows a number of exotic animals including a camel, a crocodile, a goat, a salamander and – a unicorn. Von Breydenbach wrote that he got a brief glimpse of one in Sinai. Could this have been the re’em, whose natural habitat is the Negev and the surrounding desert areas?

An illustration from Bernard von Breydenbach’s book, 15th century. The Eran Laor Cartographic Collection at the National Library of Israel

Felix Fabri, a Dominican friar who traveled to the Land of Israel around the same time, also left a detailed description of a unicorn. Fabri’s sighting also occurred in the Sinai desert, with the friar describing a noble animal, with an energy like no other, its horn over one meter long. He quoted locals who told him it was nearly impossible to hunt the unicorn, though he noted that earlier writers expressed the belief that the wild beast could be tamed by the hand of a virgin.

During the 16th century, the Franciscan friar Noe Bianco made his own pilgrimage and, naturally, wrote a travel journal describing his journey. He too retraced the pilgrims’ path mentioned above, beginning in Venice before traveling to Jerusalem and then Mount Sinai. In his book we find an engraving similar to the one in Von Breydenbach’s book, depicting exotic animals spotted along the way. The engraving features an illustration of a baboon next to a unicorn, which in this case resembles a large goat.

An image from Noe Bianco’s book, Viaggio da Venetia al Santo Sepolcro, et al monte Sina, 16th century

What might explain these sightings? According to one theory, the re’em‘s long, straight horns may appear as a single horn if the animal is viewed from the side. A viewer who is only able to get a quick glimpse from such an angle might mistake the oryx for a large horse with a single horn. Nonetheless, the locals who hunted the beast were clearly aware it possessed two horns. Therefore, another theory suggests that the stories are based on re’ems who lost one of their horns at some point, as these protrusions never grow back.

What, then, were the unicorns that appeared in the records of travelers to the Land Israel? Were they indeed the large, noble re’ems, who nonchalantly chewed the leaves of desert shrubs as they stared at the excited onlookers? Did the travelers truly encounter mythical horses who surrendered to the touch of a young virgin? Or are these all figments of imagination and campfire legends? We will probably never know. Luckily, we can still search for unicorns today: If you wish to relive the experiences of these early European pilgrims, make your way south to the Arava desert; there you will find, at the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, approximately 200 oryxes who have been reintroduced to nature as part of a local reacclimation project. We prefer to call them ‘unicorns’.


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100 Years of Ford and the Jews – From Antisemitism to Zionism

Henry Ford was one of the most notorious American antisemites of the 20th century. His grandson, however, was an ardent Zionist. A collection of rare photos from Henry II's little-known visit to Israel appears here for the first time.

Henry Ford II (center, looking towards the camera) examines one of his models at the Ford plant in Northern Israel, February 1972. Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

In 1919, Henry Ford bought a small local newspaper operating at a loss.

In the coming years, The Dearborn Independent would liberally cite and elaborate upon “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, blaming the international Jewish conspiracy for war, poverty, Bolshevism and even “Jewish Jazz-Moron Music”. The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem – a sort of “greatest hits” of antisemitic articles published in the paper – was released soon thereafter as a four-volume set, distributed in Ford dealerships across the United States and translated into German.  Interestingly, the American edition does not mention Ford’s name, while it appears prominently on the best-selling German one.

Less than a half-century after The Dearborn Independent shut down following a libel suit, Henry Ford II was in the State of Israel visiting a Ford plant in the Galilee. If the elder Henry Ford’s antisemitism is legendary, his grandson’s Zionism and support of Jewish causes is certainly less well-known.

Click on the photos to enlarge

Henry Ford II is shown around the Ford plant in Northern Israel, February 1972. Photos by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

In September 1945, just a few weeks after his 28th birthday and the official surrender of the Japanese, Ford II became the dynamic new president of the automotive giant. Known as “Hank the Deuce”, the young executive led the company for the last two years of his grandfather’s life and then for the decades that followed.

Shortly after Israeli independence, Hank the Deuce oversaw a trade deal that would see a major shipment of automotive parts to help alleviate the young state’s transportation crisis.

The next year, Hank the Deuce personally presented Israel’s first president with a Ford Lincoln Cosmopolitan. Reportedly the only other recipient of that specific model was U.S. President Harry Truman. A $50,000 contribution from Hank the Deuce in 1950 made him the top donor to the United Jewish Appeal’s first ever Christian Committee Campaign for Israel.

Photos by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Around the time of the Six Day War in 1967, Hank the Deuce nonchalantly gave his good friend, the Jewish businessman and philanthropist Max Fisher, a warm personal note with a $100,000 check inside for the Israeli Emergency Fund.

Shortly thereafter, Hank the Deuce fulfilled his promise to have a Ford assembly plant in Israel and maintain business dealings with the Jewish State, refusing to give in to boycott threats despite extensive and lucrative interests across the Arab world. The Arab boycott took effect and cars began rolling out of the plant in Nazareth, at which point Hank the Deuce reportedly said, “Nobody’s gonna tell me what to do.”

Photos by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

He later elaborated on the decision, “It was just pragmatic business procedure… I don’t mind saying I was influenced in part by the fact that the company still suffers from a resentment against the antisemitism of the distant past. We want to overcome that. But the main thing is that here we had a dealer who wanted to open up an agency to sell our products – hell, let him do it.”

The first Ford Escorts – with tires, batteries and paint “Made in Israel” – came off the Nazareth production line in the spring of 1968. A newspaper article reported the initial output: three vehicles per day, with plans to expand to eight!

Photos by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

In October 1971, a festive celebration marked the plant’s 15,000th Escort.  The next year, the plant began assembling a new four-door model, the Escort 1300, and Hank the Deuce came for a visit. A collection of rare photos of that visit from the Dan Hadani Archive, part of the National Library of Israel’s Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, are presented here for the first time.

As exports to Africa grew in the 1970s, Ford Transits, trucks, and buses were also assembled in Nazareth.

In 1975, amid reports that Ford would finally cave into the boycott pressure, he said, “We are going to continue doing business in Israel, and if we can do business in an Arab country, all the better. So we can do business on both sides… I assume that no one would seriously wish us, in a kind of reverse-boycott fashion, to abstain from doing business in Arab countries simply because of our dealings with Israel.”

Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The prime minister of Israel at the time of Henry Ford II’s historic 1972 visit to Israel was the Russian-born American-raised labor Zionist Golda Meir and the Ford plant in Nazareth was located just a short distance from Har Megiddo – known as “Armageddon” in English – the site of the Final Battle described in the Book of Revelation.

Some fifty years earlier, a Dearborn Independent article entitled “Will Jewish Zionism Bring Armageddon?”, had decried the “overwhelmingly predominant Bolshevik element” in the modern Zionist movement, the fact that the “Jewish government of Palestine is very much like that of Russia—mostly foreign”, and the misguided “Christian friends of the Jews” who supported the Zionist project. Interestingly, while The Dearborn Independent was unequivocally antisemitic, it also seems to contain a sort of perverse, couched respect for Zionism – at the least in its religious, messianic form; though certainly not the secular, socialist variety that largely characterized the Zionist movement at the time.

Henry Ford the grandfather once said, “Of all the follies the elder generation falls victim to this is the most foolish, namely, the constant criticism of the younger element who will not be and cannot be like ourselves because we and they are different tribes produced of different elements in the great spirit of Time.”

Bill Ford, current executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford’s great-grandson, visited Israel in 2019 to inaugurate the new Ford Research Center in Tel Aviv.


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The Two Pages That Survived the Nazi Book Burnings

In May of 1933, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, organized the burning of thousands of books in Berlin. Two scorched pages survived the burning and made their way to the National Library in Jerusalem.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14597 / Georg Pahl / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The May 1933 book burning in Berlin is remembered by many as one of the key events of the early days of Nazi Germany. It is tempting to view the symbolic moment as foretelling of what was to follow during 12 years of Nazi rule; its significance amplified by Heinrich Heine’s famous quote, proclaimed more than 100 years earlier.


A brief report on the burning of Jewish books in Berlin, The Palestine Post, May 1933

Though the book burning at the Opernplatz was not an isolated event, it is likely that a person with a heightened sense of historical awareness would have recognized its symbolism and significance. Such a person was indeed present at the book burning – a publisher by the name of Rubin Mass.

The name may ring a bell for those of you who are familiar with Hebrew books, as the publishing house established by Mass still exists today in Israel, its books still appearing on the shelves of bookstores across the country. Rubin Mass Publishers and Booksellers is one of the oldest publishing houses still operating in Israel, founded by Mass in Berlin back in 1927. In his shop in Germany, customers could find Hebrew newspapers, books and practically any item printed in Hebrew and published in Israel, Poland, the United States and elsewhere.

After arriving in Mandatory Palestine in 1933, Mass became well-known for other reasons; he was among the first Jews to settle in Talbiya, a Jerusalem neighborhood then mostly populated by Arabs. His son, Daniel Mass, was the commander of the famous “Convoy of 35” (Lamed He) and was killed in the notorious battle on the road to Gush Etzion during Israel’s War of Independence. Following his loss, Rubin Mass served as the chairman of Yad LaBanim (Israel’s commemoration organization for fallen soldiers) and was particularly active in commemorating those who died in battle.

A newspaper ad for books on Hebrew and Arabic grammar. both published by Rubin Mass. The Palestine Post, August 1942

It is therefore no surprise that a man who had earned his living since the age of 21 by dealing in books would truly comprehend the significance of the unbearable event. That is precisely why Mass made a point of going to watch the massive burning which was publicized in advance through the Nazi party’s various propaganda platforms. When the flames that lit up the skies of Berlin died out, Mass approached the charred remains of the 20,000 books that had been thrown into the bonfire; he retrieved two half-burnt leaves of paper from the pile, a total of four pages, from a book written in German – historic remnants, literally snatched from the fire.1

Two charred pages retrieved from the Nazi book burning, Berlin, 1933. The National Library of Israel collections

As mentioned above, Mass made Aliyah later in 1933. It seems he understood the status of Jews in Germany would soon greatly deteriorate, and that the Nazis would not be satisfied with the annihilation of books. When he moved to Israel, Mass deposited the pages for safekeeping at the Jewish National and University Library (today’s National Library of Israel). Rubin Mass indeed possessed a heightened sense of historical awareness. The pages were kept in an envelope, on which Abraham Yaari, then the director of the Library archives, wrote: “Delivered by Mr. Rubin Mass, who pulled them from the fire with his own hands”.

The envelope containing the burnt pages with Abraham Yaari’s handwriting

As the years went by, the pages remained in the archives. The Library only began to keep a record of its archives around the same time as their arrival. Thus, the pages ended up in a collection with the curious title, ‘Miscellaneous Items’, along with various writings and items that did not quite fit in with the Library’s existing collections. To this day, the scorched pages remain somewhat of a mystery. Over the years, the Library’s top experts and researchers have attempted to decipher which book the pages belonged to and so far a final conclusion remains elusive. It appears that the book was dedicated to psychoanalysis or sexual education – subjects that were considered “Jewish” by the Nazis and worthy of being cast into the fire. Still, we do not have an exact identification of the book that was destroyed over 86 years ago in central Berlin. Perhaps you, our readers, might have a clue?


Update: We have received many suggestions regarding the book’s identity. It is highly likely that this was a copy of Sexualpathologie, written by the Jewish German physician and sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld was a world pioneer in sexual research and among the first to advocate for LGBT rights. He founded the Institute of Sexology in Berlin, which was the source of the majority of books burned by the Nazis on the infamous night of the 10th of May, 1933. Please comment below and offer your thoughts.


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