Nebach: $1 Million NYC Bar Mitzvahs Among Less Religious Very Common

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bar-mitzvahThe following is from a report by Stefanie Cohen of the NY Post. All we can say is, “Nebach.”:

The ballroom of the Plaza Hotel had been transformed into a giant amethyst. Just that morning, it had been recarpeted in lavender; purple theatrical lighting glowed from the vaulted ceilings. Towering vases dripping with violet orchids, hydrangea, and roses bloomed on the crystal-covered tables. Two massive posters of a child with blue-green eyes hung from the ceiling.

Suddenly, the girl herself appeared from behind purple lamé curtains. She was dressed in a cropped circus jacket. A troupe of performers surrounded her, and the whole entourage broke into a dance.

The crowd of close to 400 erupted into wild cheers. Her mother wiped away tears of joy. The guest of honor had made her Grand Entrance. The party could commence.

It’s supposed to be a bar (for boys) or bat (for girls) mitzvah — a rite of passage in the Jewish tradition in which a child becomes an adult in the eyes of the community, usually on his or her 13th birthday. But in certain circles of New York City and Long Island, these parties seem less like religious celebrations than coronations.

Ryan Sandler, whose blowout was in October, had the best night of her life. And she deserved every second — and dollar — of the reportedly six-figure event, said her mom.

“Your child works hard, she studies the Torah for a year,” said Liza Sandler, of Old Westbury, LI, “My kids have values, and they appreciate what we give them. I don’t care if people judge how I spend my money.”

Plus, she said, unapologetically, “It was a pretty amazing party. You didn’t know where to look, there was so much happening in the room. There were contortionists on the ceiling, performers walking on stilts — it was like going to a show.”

Ryan’s bat mitzvah is just one of thousands thrown in local ballrooms, country clubs, hotel lobbies, galleries, and grand estates each year as the Jewish children of New York come of age.

But some critics say these extravaganzas have gotten too extravagant, not only disconnected from the tradition they’re celebrating, but putting too much pressure on families to top each other — or even bankrupt themselves just getting the right gifts.

“It’s called ‘Keeping up with the Steins,’ ” said Rabbi Alan, er, Stein, the cantor of Temple Sinai in Massapequa, LI. “I think some of these families need to concentrate more on the ‘mitzvah’ and less on the ‘bar.’ ”

“Unfortunately, sometimes people get caught up in the party and don’t remember the importance of having a solid Jewish education to pass down to future generations, which is what the day is about.”

Cantor Sherwood Goffin, of Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, was more pointed.

“I think it’s a tremendous waste of resources, especially in today’s world,” he said.

“There’s so much poverty in the world and Jewish programming that could be supported.”

Sandler’s older daughter, Carly, had an even fancier party in 2008.

For Carly’s grand entrance, she descended from the ceiling of Cipriani Wall Street harnessed to a wire.

“My husband did well that year and he was proud of himself, and he wanted to throw a huge party,” Liza explained.

Liza wouldn’t disclose her budget for her older daughter’s birthday bash, but a source estimated that party ran into seven figures, easily.

But even those who don’t go to such lengths certainly don’t pinch pennies when it comes to their child’s coming-of-age ritual.

The children spend a year, if not more, studying Hebrew, learning prayers, and preparing to read from the Torah. And while the kid is bent over the books, his parents are bent over their checkbooks.

Event planners spend that same year planning the elaborate bashes, which each have to be different from the one the weekend before. Some children and their families will hit three or four such parties a weekend, depending on how many Jewish children they are friends with.

“Some of these kids have 100 friends,” said Lynn Silverman of Creative Event Planning in Manhattan. “I have no idea where they all come from.”

Families deliberately book their parties for earlier in the school year so they don’t have as much competition, sources said.

“Everyone wants to top the bar mitzvah they went to the previous week,” said another event planner. “It’s insane how competitive they are. Every single mom wants to be the mother that everyone is talking about.”

One family rented out the Museum of Natural History for the night, hosting the cocktail hour in the African Mammal room and the main party in the Hall of Ocean Life, beneath the life-size model of a blue whale.

Premier partly planners Pat James and Glenn Jacinto — who executed both Sandler girls’ events — wouldn’t reveal the budget, but said the family first had to make a sizable donation to the museum in order to close down the public space.

Another family rented out the Frank Gehry-designed IAC building on the West Side Highway for two days at $40,000 a day, and flew in a giant band from Israel. The budget? Close to $500,000, said an insider.

Mothers say these affairs are appropriate — and even commonplace — in their circles.

“It’s a fun night of dancing and happy and food and celebrating, and best friends being together,” said a woman who recently rented out the Skyline Gallery Studios on 36th Street for her son’s affair.

“It’s a unique time in his life, and we wanted to create a unique memory for him,” she said. “I would have been just as happy doing something smaller, but all of his best friends had parties this year, so it’s just something we do. If you’re around it all the time, you get used to it.”

Some, if not all, of the following are present to keep the children entertained: photo booths, casino tables, stilt walkers, fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, emcees, disc jockeys, bands, karaoke machines, theatrical lighting and special effects.

One family even paid $30,000 to have Big Apple Circus performers do a high-wire and trapeze act, said Robert Kurlander, of DDM Entertainment.

Party-planner Eric Silvey said the pomp and expense is justified — and all the dressing doesn’t take away from the meaning of the day.

“For many people it’s the most important day of their lives,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to thinks it’s just a party and the religious aspect is thrown out the door.”

Plus, he said, his clients can afford it.

“My feeling is that what anyone wants to spend on their party is their own business. If your worth is $500 million and you want to throw a party worth $500,000, you should be able to.”

Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein, of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan, said that while in general he didn’t approve of such lavish bar mitzvahs, he has heard compelling arguments for them.

A temple-goer said to him once: “I am the child of a Holocaust survivor, and I want to celebrate this day. For my parents, such a thing would be unthinkable, so I want to celebrate for them. I want to go a little over the top.”

“I could understand his reasoning,” conceded the rabbi.

{NY Post/Noam Newscenter}


  1. And what about some of our own chasanehs – where enough food is thrown out to feed a large family for a week, and enough is wasted on other narishkeit that could pay a yeshiva rebbe’s salary for a year.

    THEY don’t know any better. WE do. So who are the real nebs?

  2. If the fundraisers would appeal to these types of guys and sell them on the chashivus of Torah, perhaps we would not have the tuition crisis that we have today. Instead, we rip these guys and they go further from the Torah.

  3. #3: excellent point.
    When one thinks of the travesty and turmoil that faces Rubahkin,instigated by those in these circles crying “Tikoon Ohlam” (phonetics intentional),one can better understand their misguided intentions.

  4. Why are we so busy with how other people spend
    their money? It is sad that money stories good or bad keep making headlines all the time.

  5. The truth is that our non-Torah oriented Jewish brethren themselves admit that this “inflatation”* of Bar Mitzvahs and other celebrations is something that is not correct. Several decades ago they actually made a very famous joke that really shows up the complete utter foolishness, silliness, and absurdity of this phenomenon.

    * Inflatation: This is my own made up word for this subject. It is obviously an extension of, or more precisely — and a pun is intended — an inflation of the word “inflation.” It is meant to convey a state of hyper-inflation of something; of a state of a very extreme blowing up and severe distorting something totally out of proportion to what it really is.

    The joke is called ” The Bar Mitzvah Safari”; for those of you who either never heard it joke or would like to hear it again, here it is. It is based, with a number of my own embellishments, on the version I heard in the late 1960’s on a comedy record titled “When You’re in Love, the Whole World is Jewish.”

    The Bar Mitzvah Safari

    Act I

    The skit opens with an evening scene, it is probably after dinner, of a middle age husband and wife in a room of their home. The husband, we will call him Marvin, is trying to do either his bookkeeping work or read the newspaper. The wife, we will call her Shirley, is a little bit of a pestering type person. She is near her husband, also doing one of her evening activities.

    After a short while, the wife, in a tone of voice that expresses the criticism of “You always put things off and never get anything done,” says to her husband:

    “Nu Marvin, don’t you think it’s time we start thinking about, eh, what we are going to do for, eh, Joey’s Bar Mitzveheh?”

    The husband, in a tone of voice that expresses “I will give full attention to answering your question, but I obviously want to get back to what I am doing,” calmly replies:

    “Well, we’ll use the temple social hall, call Max Caterers, a three piece band . . . ”


    The wife obviously hears her husband’s exclamation but does not agree with it and is not going to keep quiet about it. With a tone of voice that conveys this attitude, after a brief pause she thus continues:

    “Oh no!” “We won’t make a big deal out of it!” “I mean not like your partner Sid’s doing for his Hymie’s Bar Mitzveh!”

    The husband, now giving the matter total urgent attention, in a voice of sudden shock and anger at his partner’s betrayal, inquires:

    “What’s he doing behind my back?”

    The wife sarcastically continues:

    “Oh, nothing ‘special.'” “The New York Hilton ballroom, the Lawrence Welk* Orchestra . . . ”

    Lawrence Welk, 1903 – 1992. Director of a large singing group and band. For many years, they put on a weekly television show of renditions of various popular songs, often with a “bubbly” style. Their singing was thus nicknamed “champagne music,” with bubbles being part of the theme; the early shows actually closed with a pack of rising bubbles. So in the story of this joke, the husband sarcastically puts down “Lawrence Welk and his noisy bubbles!”

    At this, the husband disdainfully interjects:

    “Lawrence Welk and his noisy bubbles!” “We’ll do better!” “We’ll get a Bar Mitzvah consultant!”

    Act II

    In this scene, the husband and wife are sitting in the plush wood paneled office of the Bar Mitzvah consultant. The office is located on one of the upper floors of one of the major skyscrapers in the city. In the background is playing soft piano music.

    The meeting has already started and the situation has been fully explained. After a moment of thought, the consultant, we will call him Mr. Levine, speaks to the couple:

    “OK Mr. and Mrs. Mandelbaum, I’ve got the perfect idea for your son’s Bar Mitzvah.” “Right after the services, you and your entourage will be limousine escorted to the United Nations World Headquarters; personal welcome by U-Thant.*” “Then your son will proceed to deliver his Bar Mitzvah address before the UN General Assembly!”

    U-Thant, 1909 – 1974. Served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971.

    The husband, in a tone of voice that coveys: “I fully understand why you are saying that, and I fully appreciate your intention to be helpful, but I need something that is completely different,” immediately responds:

    “Oh no, no, no!” “That’s a common one!” “We were just — ” (He turns his face slightly toward and briefly looks at his wife, who nods her head in agreement as he relates:) “Right Shirley?” “We were just at two of those last month!”

    Now, looking fully back at the consultant, he empathetically states his point:

    “Mr. Levine, we want to have something that is TOTALLY ORIGINAL! That’s right — never been done before!”

    The consultant, trying to take in the full impact of these words and quietly repeating them to himself: “Hmm, never been done before, never been done before . . . ” now goes into very deep thought. After several minutes, he gets up from his chair and slowly walks over to the glass wall/window of the office. For again a long time he gazes out over the panoramic view of the city, but his mind is obviously on something that is far, far off in the distance.

    After a few more minutes — there are already very faint sounds of wild animals being heard in the background
    — the consultant slightly nods his head and quietly murmurs to himself “Aha! Aha!” Then he quickly walks back to his desk and sits down and briskly announces to his two husband and wife clients:

    “All right Mr. and Mrs. Mandelbaum, I’ve got the perfect idea.” “Right after the services, you and your entourage will be limousine escorted to JFK International Airport; there, you will board a chartered flight to The Congo . . . ”

    (his voice is raising in excitement with his eyes wide open)


    Act III

    In this scene, everyone, the family and the guests, are all now over in Africa, in the countryside jungle. The landscape is thus of the towering tropical trees with monkeys, giraffes, and other rainforest creatures darting about; loud chirps of jungle birds and other wild sounds form an almost constant din.

    The group is standing in a small dirt clearing next to the buses which brought them to this point from the nearby air field. Everyone is mulling around but is eager to start the safari hike. They are thus beginning to get tired and impatient at their just standing there in one place for what seems to be an endless piece of time. The consultant, who is now the tour guide, is running around and for the umpteenth time, is checking on all the minute details of the program.

    He comes back to the father and goes over the list: ” . . . OK we have here twenty jungle horns . . . forty sun hats . . . ten elephants — all decked in blue and white . . . ”

    At the mention of each item, the father responds: “Good!” “Good!” “Very good!” Then when the consultant/tour guide finally completes his inventory, the father exclaims the old super, super, super cliche:

    “OK!” “So, uh, well — let’s get the show on the road!!”

    At this, the consultant/guide, glancing at his watch, expresses his agreeing concern:

    “Yeah, its been well over an hour now; let me see what is holding things up!”

    He thus goes over to one of the natives who will be accompanying them and asks him what is happening. The native replies in the native language ” . . . Unga Wanga Toonga!”

    The consultant returns to the father; slightly nervous, he explains:

    “Uh, it is going to be a little while —


  6. How sad and absurd- Bar mitzvahs for thse who will never observe a mitzvah in their entire lives, except for the mitzvah to not study torah on Nittel Nacht and to not say divrei torah in a bathroom.

  7. Yes, this virtually insane inflatation* of Bar Mitzvahs and other life milestones celebrations is extremely sad and is totally against the Mitzvos and teachings of our Torah. HaShem clearly instructs us:

    “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, AND TO WALK DESCREETLY WITH YOUR G-D” (Micah, chapter 6, verse 8) (emphasis mine). (Translation from the Judaica Press Complete Tanach, edited by Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg, online at

    [Merriam-Webster Dictionary Results: discreet:

    1. having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech: prudent especially capable of preserving prudent silence

    2. unpretentious modest – the warmth and discreet elegance of a civilized home – Joseph Wechsberg

    3. unobtrusive unnoticeable – followed at a discreet distance


    A one million dollar plus show off “Bar Mitzvah”?? A one million dollar plus show off “Bar UN-Mitzvah” is the more correct word!!

  8. The truth is that the B-(UN)-Mitzvah children themselves sense and realize that something is not right with all this silly hullabaloo inflatation that is being done — and they don’t like it!

    Now, of course, biographies about certain super famous Broadway/Hollywood actors will relate how even when they were just very young children, they had no hesitation at all in getting up on a huge stage in front of large professional cameras and even larger audiences of thousands of people and putting on masterpieces of theatrical performances. Yes, there definitely are a few children who are like that.

    But the vast majority of children are NOT like that! Of the several Bar Mitzvah services which I had attended at the Reform temple, I well remember the images of 13 year old boys — again, they are only 13 years old! — standing at the fancy large podium facing the congregation — excuse me, more correctly: facing the “audience”! They are speaking very slowly; in what is obviously a good bit torturous for them, they are struggling to pronounce the words — which they barely know — of the particular Berachos and Tefilos that they were assigned to say. I once felt sharply pained when I actually saw one boy, who was clearly twisted tight up there with the sick nervous tension, mix up the recital of some of the Berachos! (Boruch HaShem though, the Chazzan — whom they call the “Cantor” — quietly got up and showed the boy the correct line.)

    And this is just at the “service”! This does not even begin to discuss the next phase of the super hullabaloo production called “the party”!

    You saw that a few sentences ago, I used the word “sick”; you bet I did because that is exactly what all this is — outright totally sick!!

    So deep down in the back of his mind, the kid is asking: “WHY??”

    His Christian counterparts, in their induction to adulthood rituals that they do that they call “Confirmation,” do not have to go through any nightmare thingy like this!!

    So everyone around him answers him: “Well, it is because you are Jewish!”

    Because he is “Jewish”??

    Because he is “Jewish”??

    Because he is “Jewish”??


  9. (continuation of previous comment)

    I can never forget one time when I was having a telephone conversation with the Chabad Sh’liach in Berkeley, California. I was discussing with him the issue of some of my relatives who are, very unfortunately, quite far away from the ways of our Torah. He though, very bluntly stated to me:


  10. (continuation of previous comment)

    There are two other extremely famous Bar Mitzvah jokes. They are certainly nowhere near as long as the “Bar Mitzvah Safari” joke and are nowhere near as funny. But they very pointedly show how the B-Mitzvah kids themselves are quite sick of this B-Mitzvah business, and that the only thing that this B-Mitzvah thingy accomplishes is that it does a very excellent job of driving the B-Mitzvah kids AWAY from Judaism.

    Here they are:

    JOKE 1. The party is now at the point where the presents are being opened. The boy reverently takes each item and carefully peals off the beautifully colored in various shades of blue wrapping paper. For this most momentous occasion, the assembled guests soon see that books, of course, yes, Jewish books, certainly form the bulk of the gifts given to the budding little scholar.

    The gift from the boy’s grandfather: a large beautifully bound Siddur – prayer book! Ah! Perfect! Everyone agrees.

    The gift from the boy’s uncle: a large volume titled “The History of European Jewry, by . . . ” Ah! Will be very informative for him!

    The gift from the boy’s aunt: a beautifully colored: “Pictorial Tour Guide to Israel.” Ah! Very perfect! He will find that one quite handy when he make his trip to the Holy Land!

    The gift from his second cousin Moshe, who actually attends a yeshiva in . . . : “The Code of Jewish Law, the English translation of the (he can barely pronounce the words) ‘Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.'” “Yea, that’s that book that the ‘Orthodox’ follow? Right?” “Thank you!” “Thank you!”

    Now, the most precious, the gift from his parents: a large beautifully leather bound new translation of the Bible; in its rag paper centerfold is the “family history” page, with the date of his Bar Mitzvah having been professionally inscribed as the first entry!

    There is still one more: the gift from the rabbi. Everyone is thinking: “What will that one be? A Bible in Hebrew? Another Siddur? A Machzor for the High Holidays? A Haggadah for Passover? Maybe — what is that book his cousin says they study in the yeshiva? Oh yea, ‘The Talmud’! — So maybe it will be a volume of the Talmud?”

    As the boy picks up the gift, he and everyone present already have puzzled looks on their faces. The box is certainly as thick as a book, and it is certainly as long as a large book; however, it does not have the rectangular shape of a book! In fact, it is quite narrow; its width is exactly the same as it is thick!

    The boy finally removes the wrapping paper; on the black box is printed in large white colored letters: “TOTES.” He opens the box and takes it out; yes, it is AN UMBRELLA! Of course it is not one of those cheap umbrellas that you get at the checkout counter at Walgreens or Wal-Mart for $2.79, and which tear apart at the second windswept rainstorm! This is a high quality expensive umbrella from the top of the line Totes Company, but it is still an umbrella nonetheless.

    Understandably, everyone is even more puzzled than before, with many murmuring about the so-out-of-place gift that the rabbi gave.

    A bit latter, the rabbi and his wife are back at their home. As the rebbetzon now has some private time with her husband, she asks him about his seemingly strange choice of a gift: ” . . . especially since a few people did give some Torahdike items: a Siddur, an English TaNach, an English Kitzur.” So the rabbi responded to her and pragmatically explained:


  11. (continuation of previous comment)

    JOKE 2. There is a moderately large shul in a large American city. It is located in a fairly old building; like most old buildings in large American cities, it is heavily infested with cockroaches. Therefore, the building’s custodian, we will call him “Max Brownberg,” has in his supply cabinet a whole collection of cans of “Black Flag” brand and “Raid” brand “Roach Killer,” “Ant and Roach Killer,” “Insect Repellant,” “Insect and Bug Spray,” etc. Whenever and wherever of these repulsive bugs appear, he gets out one of these cans and sprays until they are dead and disappeared.

    This one week though, there is suddenly a huge swarm of roaches; they seem to be everywhere. Congregants coming in for daily prayers and noticing this mention it to the rabbi, who merely shrugs and remarks that Mr. Brownberg is supposed to take care of that. Hearing the tumult, Mr. Brownberg goes over to the supply cabinet and takes out his can of the best one, the one that says on the label: “Roach Killer – ‘Special Inner City Formula,'” and heavily sprays it around the building.

    The next morning though, there are as many roaches all over as ever. The rabbi, quite puzzled at what he sees, finds Mr. Brownberg and exclaims: “Nu Max, I thought you said that you would take care of this!” The custodian innocently replies that he did spray last night, but it didn’t work! So the rabbi instructs him: “So call an exterminator; they’ll get rid of them! ‘TERMINEX’ is the best one: 1-800-TERMINEX!”

    So right away, Mr. Brownberg goes into the office and calls the Terminex hot line and emphasizes that he has an urgent emergency. So less than two hours latter, three Terminex trucks are parked outside the shul, and a whole team of exterminators are at work, covering the whole building, from top to bottom, inside and outside.

    The next morning though, again, there are as many roaches as ever, and they are really running all over the place. The rabbi, now being quite annoyed, calls in the custodian and pointedly asks him: “Did you ever called Terminex??” So Mr. Brownberg replies “I sure did, and they were here for over two hours really doing the whole place!” So the rabbi retorts: “So call them again! There is a warrantee for this! I mean that is what they say is their motto: ‘We guarantee our work! If they come back, WE come back!'”

    The rabbi then continues with a bit of an ultimatum warning: “You know Max, you’ve been with us for over twenty years now; I don’t think that you or anyone else for that matter would want that this should be a cause for a ‘reconsideration’ of your contract!”

    Glancing at the clock, he then reveals: “I have to be at the airport at 1:00; my cousin is getting married tonight in . . . From there, my family and I will be flying to . . . for our yearly vacation. Cantor Wallstein will be filling in for me; he has my intinerary and contact numbers in case of emergency. May I request that when I get back, this problem will have been properly resolved?”

    It has been not only three weeks since the rabbi returned from his vacation, it is now well over three years since that early summer morning when the rabbi informed Max Brownberg of his travel plans. And for all of these “well over three years,” there have been — no roaches! Not in the halls, not in the classrooms, not in the washrooms, not in the attic, not in the basement, not in the kitchen, and not even by the outside garbage bins — nowhere! The congregants all continually remark about how clean the building always is; the cooks are amazed at how some rotten leftover meat could be left spilled on the floor for days — and nothing happens!

    On afternoon, the rabbi is walking down the hall, passing classrooms of the afternoon Hebrew school. He sees on top of one of the desks a student’s science textbook and notices that on its cover is a large photograph of an insect. At this, he suddenly remembers the encounter that he and the shul had had a little while ago with some “insects”!

    Turning to the custodian, who is walking right behind him, he happily exclaims: “Oh Max, I’ve been meaning to tell you — I really must apologize for not mentioning this to you sooner — I’ve been meaning to highly comend you for your superb job of keeping these premises so perfectly clean!” Of course, at this, the custodian replies: “Well, thank you! Thank you very much!”

    The rabbi though, barely notices Mr. Brownberg’s thanks, as his mind is on his question that he immediately asks: “By the way, that time with the cockroaches, what finally took care of it? Who was it that we were using, yes, Terminex; what happened: they came out again?” At this, the custodian flatly answers “No, they didn’t!” The rabbi, slightly startled at this news, probes further: “Oh, so you called another exterminator?” The custodian simply replies: “No, I didn’t!” The rabbi, now a bit puzzled, postulates: “Oh, so you went around again with your own sprays?” Again, the custodian flatly responds: “No, I didn’t! I didn’t do any of that at all!” The rabbi now becomes quite serious and confronts him: “You’re not saying that you suddenly became one of those crazy environmental-nuts who say that these insecticides* are bad things?” The custodian though, promtly defends himself: “Oh no, no, no! I didn’t say that at all!”

    The rabbi, now fully exasberated, strongly confronts him: “So then, please tell me, what happened??”

    So at this, the custodian calmly relates: “Well, you were not here for it, but your assistant, Cantor Mike Wallstein, did an excellent job. First, we put posters up on all the bullitin boards and also announced it over the PA system, that at 8:00 that evening, all of the cockroaches, without exception, were to come down to the main sancturary. Then, at five to eight, Mike and I went into the sancturary; it was packed!! There were roaches everywhere! It was literally smothered with roaches! There were so many roaches that it was hard to walk around in there without stepping on a big bunch of them! But we finally did make it up to the pulpit.

    “Again, you were not there, but Mike Wallstein himself — you know better than me how he is a very good cantor; wow, he did a really great job — he performed the Friday night service! Yeap, he did everything, the whole business! He motioned for me to help him as he took out the Torah and laid it out. We then called for the roaches to all come up to the bimah; they all said the blessings and we read the Torah. Then, Cantor Wallstein raised up his hands and pronounced on them the priestly blessing.

    “Then, Cantor Wallstein again raised up his hands and proclaimed:






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