Jewish Inspiration Podcast · Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe

Ever wondered how a non-observant Jewish kid from Melbourne becomes a leading rabbi and author? Rabbi Mordechai Becher's journey is nothing short of inspiring. In this Special Sunday Edition of the Jewish Inspiration Podcast, we chat with Rabbi Becher about his transformative experiences at the Yeshiva University outreach program, Counterpoint, and his educational adventures in Chabad Yeshiva High School and the Itri Yeshiva in Israel. Despite initial cultural challenges and an unconventional background, Rabbi Becher’s story is a testament to perseverance, parental support, and the power of faith.

Discover the impact of Rabbi Becher's influential book, "Gateway to Judaism," which has become a go-to guide for converts and learners, even within the US Armed Forces. We explore how the book ingeniously blends Jewish law and philosophy, inspired by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's "Chorev." Rabbi Becher also shares personal updates, including his family's accomplishments, such as his son's service in Gaza and his rabbinical work in Dallas, and his move to Passaic, New Jersey.

Get practical advice for embracing a more observant lifestyle, with tips on taking manageable steps and the significance of Torah study. Rabbi Becher reflects on the lessons from the Holocaust, the importance of Jewish unity, and the profound role of Shabbos in contemporary life. Plus, be inspired by the story of Eden Golan's composure during the Eurovision Song Contest and learn how to foster a vibrant Jewish community. Don't miss this enriching discussion filled with personal anecdotes, historical reflections, and valuable guidance for a meaningful Jewish journey.

Special thank you to Rabbi Danny Masri & Congregation Beth Rambam in Houston, Texas for bringing Rabbi Becher as Scholar in Residence to our community!

Rabbi Mordechai Becher, originally from Australia, is an instructor at Yeshiva University and alumni Rabbi of Neve Yerushalayim College. He received his ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and holds an MA in Medieval Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School. He taught at Ohr Somayach and Neve Yerushalayim in Jerusalem and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Rabbi Becher has answered thousands of questions on,  presents a Talmud class, Dimensions of the Daf, on cable TV with the Jewish Broadcasting Service and was senior lecture for Gateways for 20 years. Rabbi Becher’s latest book, Gateway to Judaism, published by Artscroll/Shaar Press, is in its tenth printing. He has taught in the USA, Canada, England, Israel, South Africa, Australia and Russia, and is a scholar in residence for Legacy Kosher Tours. He has led tours in Africa, Australia, Czech Republic, China, England, Hungary, India, Italy, Israel, Japan, Panama, Russia, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Recorded in the TORCH Centre - Levin Family Studios (B) in Houston, Texas on May 31, 2024.
Released as Podcast on June 9, 2024
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What is Jewish Inspiration Podcast · Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe?

This Jewish Inspiration Podcast is dedicated to learning, understanding and enhancing our relationship with Hashem by working on improving our G-d given soul traits and aspiring to reflect His holy name each and every day. The goal is for each listener to hear something inspirational with each episode that will enhance their life.

00:01 - Intro (Announcement)
From the Torch Studio in Houston, texas, featuring leaders and personalities from Jewish communities around the globe. This is the Sunday Special Edition of the Jewish Inspiration Podcast with Rabbi Ari Abole.

00:23 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Welcome back everybody. Welcome to the Special Edition Sunday edition of the Jewish Inspiration Podcast. Our guest this week is a very special guest visiting Houston, and Rabbi Mordechai Becher, welcome to Houston.

00:36 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Thank you very much Pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me. How is your travel here? A little lengthy Storms prolonged the flight by about an hour and a half.

00:49 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
We're very, very happy that you're here, and I wanted to start with asking a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you grow up?

01:02 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
I grew up in Melbourne, australia, in an outer suburb of Melbourne, not in the central Jewish area, a place called Doncaster, and I grew up in a traditional family. My father, oliver Sholem, grew up in Poland, modern Orthodox family in Poland. He went to college, the war interrupted, et cetera, so he was traditional. After the war kept put on to fill and we but you know, we, we we drove to shul. You know kashmir, we, we only had kosher meat, but you know it was somewhat lax. And um, an older sister, two years older than me, my mother, came from a non-religious family in england, had moved to Australia just before the Second World War. So we were brought up traditional but not observant, very Zionist, went to a day school called Bialik College, named after the great Hebrew poet who actually learned in Voloshin it, who actually learnt in Voloshen, but anyway. And then in about when I was about 13, it's actually the 50th anniversary of Counter there was a program called Counterpoint which was run by Yeshiva University. They used to do it in Australia and South Africa and it was an outreach program and my sister and I I was about 13, she was about 15, went to this program and decided to become observant, and so my parents were very happy, went along with it and we became the first Shom HaShabbos family in our neighborhood and I went to the Yeshiva High School, the Chabad Yeshiva High School. My parents said, wherever you want to go, I said, great, I went there as a Yeshiva High School and I was there till I finished high school and then went to Israel, to Yeshiva, to Itri, which is where I met your father-in-law, correct yeah. And I went to Itri, which is where I met your father-in-law, correct yeah. And I went to Itri after high school, which is a really bit of a surprise Kurdish Itri. It was a bit of a culture shock. I went to Itri, not because I'd heard of it, but in my before 12th grade we took a trip to Israel and I was looking for a yeshiva to go to.

I'd heard of four yeshivas. I heard of Kfar Chabad, but I'd pretty much four years. I'd had enough of Chabad so I wanted to do something else. I heard of Yeshivada Kotel, where my B'nai Kivu friends went, merkazah Rav. I knew one guy who went to Merkazah Rav and Kol Torah, one guy who went to Merkaz Harav and Koltora, where some Australians went. So I went to Yishvara Kotel. The guy who did interviews was not there that day, so that was out. I went to Merkaz Harav. It looked too big for me and so I left.

And I went to Koltora, which was a disaster, you have to understand. I was wearing a kipas rugah, knitted yarmulke hair over my collar, jeans and t-shirt. And I went to Kol Torah Wow, and they look at me like what do you want? I said oh, I'm looking for a yeshiva after high school. The guy here I said oh yeah, like I had no clue, no idea, no idea. The guy he says could you learn a Gemara? I said I don't think so. That's why I want to go to Yeshua. And I said how's your Hebrew? I said excellent.

I went to Bialik College. He said oh God, he's like wincing. He says where's your father? I said he's at Bar Elan University with my sister. This is like all nails in the coffin of kaltura. He then says the only way you could possibly, because his city is if you have a very good recommendation from my second cousin in melbourne, who is a rebbe at the yeshiva high school. I said okay, he told me his name. This rebbe despised me, hated me, actually called me. His nickname for me was Nachash the snake, wow, snake. He did not like me. That may have had something to do with the fact that I was running a youth group which had regular discos and other, anyway, but whatever. So I said, okay, forget Kaltura.

So I'm standing at a bus stop and this American guy comes over to me with schmooze. He says what are you doing? I am looking for you, sure? He says he thought of it, rios, I never heard of it. And he says oh yeah, get on this and this bus, go to the end of the route, walk down the hill, okay. So I went and I met. I walked in. I did not see the base mattress. Had I seen the base mattress, I wouldn't have gone there, because they look like crazy fanatics, you know, black and everything. But I met Ravosha Rubenstein and Ravosha Rubenstein said you're accepted? And I said oh great okay.

05:52 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
I hit the jackpot.

05:53 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
It was unbelievable, I mean, but the way I was dressed and everything it's like unbelievable. And he was totally. He says how's your Hebrew? I said my Hebrew is excellent. He says good, can you read this? I read something. I forgot what it was and I read it. And he said good, good, during the year, his 12th grade, I wrote to Itri.

This is the time. There was no email at the time. This is letters. You can ask your grandfathers, anyway.

So I wrote to Itri asking for the curriculum and texts that are required. They must have had a big laugh in the office there. But I got an official letter on the Itri letterhead that said Talmud Maseches, yovamis Halacha Mishnaburah Musar Masul Shisharim. So I bought all of those and actually my going-away party with my friends. They gave me a mishabur, I don't know how they even knew about that, but okay, and none of them were from. So I went to Itri and I was in Itri for a couple of years until it split and I was in Splitri where Baruch Hashem, I ran into Ramosha Shapiro, who's Rosh Hashiva. I learned there and then was learning there for quite a while until about 1985.

So Counterpoint in Sydney, that same program that I was the YU program. Yeah, so it was taken over by Nevaeh Yerushalayim in Sydney and they were looking for someone to go. So a good friend of mine who was in Colel at Mishkan Jeff Wogelanter and his wife, with a couple running the program and he told me we're doing this in Australia. You want to go? I said are you kidding? Of course. I said who's running it? He said Rabbi Revson. So I said I'd never heard of him.

Nevaeh Rishalim, the women's seminary. So I asked Ramosha Shapiro, what do you think? He said well, tell me about it. I said I'll have to take two months off learning. It is a mixed sleepaway camp for non-from Australian teenagers. I'll be working with four women from Nevaeh Rishalim and Jeff Wogelander and his wife are coming. He thinks about it. He says you're obligated, you have to go. I said really, I said what he said. A you'll get to see your parents. B you'll give something back to the Australian community. C it'll be a valuable teaching experience. D you never know what good will come out of it. So I got to see my parents. I gave something back to the Australian community. I decided to go into teaching as a result of that and one of the Nevaeh Madrigot counselors, ended up being my wife, so we met in Sydney and where was she from?

Philadelphia? She had been from family in Philadelphia. She went to Bryn Mawr, which is an excellent women's college in Pennsylvania, very brilliant. And she had gone after college she decided to do Shalhevet, which was the advanced Nevaeh program. So she was part-time in Shalhevet, part-time in Bravenders, whatever she was studying. And then she was, you know, they asked her to go to Australia. She had a bachelor's also at teaching qualification, so they asked her to go to Australia. She also had, she had a bachelor's also at teaching qualification, so they asked her to go to Australia. And she was actually asked by the school to stay there for six months and we dated and so we met. Yeah, she's from Philadelphia, I'm from Melbourne.

We met in Sydney Amazing and then went back to Israel, got married in Israel, was in Colel for a while, then started teaching at or Sameach, taught at or Sameach for many years. Then or Sameach asked me to go to Toronto because Rabbi Uzi Almalevsky, oliver Shalom, who's gone and was the teacher there, had come down with cancer and so they asked me to help out. Unfortunately, he was nifter. We ended up staying there for four years and then went back to Israel and then four years later went back to Israel. It was 96. Yeah, four years later I got an Ramosha Shapiro suggested that I move to the States, to Kirov in the States. Ramosha Shapiro suggested that I move to the States, do Kirov in the States and Gateways was just starting then. So that was a good shidduch. And then so I worked for Gateways for quite a few years, then quit and started working at Yishuv University. So I've been teaching at YU now for about 12, 13 years.

They have a program called JSS which has been around since 1950s. It's an outreach program, basically guys who are not from, who are at YU or who have little background, and I teach for them and also for IBC. That's for guys who do have a background but not so interested in just playing Gamora, so more academic stuff et cetera. So I teach for those programs and that is what I'm doing. I do tours in the summer for legacy kosher tours to exotic locations. We've done all over asia, africa, the middle east, it's like name it, you know, south korea, japan, singapore, india, zimbabwe, botswana, south africa, tanzania, turkey, mor, morocco, egypt, etc. Etc. So I'm scholar in residence for those tours. So I have a master's in medieval Jewish history, which is one of the few ways you can monetize that, so I do that. I'm actually working on a doctorate now, which is going a lot slower than a glacier, but nevertheless.

11:27 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
So at what point did you write your famous book, the Gateway to Judaism?

11:32 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Ah, I was living in Israel so that would have been in. Started writing it before we moved to the States, probably 98 or something. Art Scroll approached me and they said they would need a book of this sort, something that would be a guide to what, how and why of Jewish life, which is what the subtitle of the book is. And they said I want you to write it. I said sure, sounds good. And so I wrote that book. That was. I think it was published, maybe 2002. I forgot when, but it's Borech Hashem.

It's been very valuable. It's sold, I don't know, 40,000, 50,000, which is, I think, reasonable for a Jewish book. That's amazing. I know that a lot of Batei Din use it as a guide for potential converts. Read the book, et cetera. Potential converts read the book, etc. Um, I know that partners in torah, your father-in-law's organization, a lot of the people there, learn the book with their non-religious partners, which is, which is mind-boggling to me, why you have to learn it. I mean, so you just read it and it's not like there's not, it's not like every word is counted like my monodies. You know what I mean it's like. But okay, they, they discuss things. I guess they don't actually learn the book. It was also bought by US Armed Forces for their chaplains who administer. Chaplains have to administer to people of all faiths, right, right right.

So if there's a chaplain who has to administer to Jews, he needs to know. So, united States, I think the Air Force bought a few hundred and the Army I forgot who else but yeah, so A few hundred and the army, and I forgot who else.

13:05 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
But yeah, so, yeah, I'm very happy with that. That's incredible. So what first is?

13:09 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
how long did it take you to write it? A few years. I wasn't, you know, doing full time. I was doing other stuff, teaching, et cetera. So, and really it only got completed because my mother, alea Sholem, would phone me every now and again from Australia and said, have you done another chapter? Al Sholem would phone me every now and again from Australia and say, have you done another chapter? And I said, oh, mom, but eventually I did finish it.

13:29 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
And what was your structure that you worked?

13:36 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
with to write that book. I decided to do it as of chronological almost Jewish life cycle birth to death type thing, jewish daily cycle, jewish yearly cycle and then tacked on other stuff that didn't quite fit into the cycles. The second theme that I tried to do in the book was modeled it on Chorev, which was of Hersha's famous Sefer. I once asked Ramos Shapiro, who is not Hershian by any stretch of the imagination. I asked him what Sefer should I use to teach beginners Halacha? He says Chorev.

I said Chorev. He said yeah, he says it's the only Sefer that shows the unity of Jewish thought and Jewish practice, the halacha and the hashkofer, the law and the outlook right, the weltanschauung, as being united. So he told me that and I anyway had been a big fan of Chorev. I used to learn it during Musa Seder, actually much to the chagrin of the Mashkiach, but anyway. So I decided to try to do that in my book as well, to show that the integration between Jewish, between halacha and hashkoffah philosophy. But I also tried to integrate history. So if you look at a yontif you'll see the history of that yontif, the philosophy and how that expresses itself also in the various mitzvahs and so on and so forth.

15:09 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Amazing. I love the book and I recommend it to all my students. If I had the ability to put this banner right here, I'd put a picture of the book right in this video so that everyone gets a copy of Gateway to Judaism. It's a fantastic book. I'm not just saying it, I bought the books. I bought, I think, maybe two or three hundred copies myself. Oh wow, we've given them out to our students over the years. So I'm not just saying it, I'm actually. I actually have done that. Okay, where do you currently live? I live in passaic, new jersey.

15:40 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Oh, never heard of it, uh, no. So, passaic, new Jersey, we changed when we moved to the States in 2000. My wife made a definite halachic ruling that it was prohibited to live in New York. So we did not. That was New York was out. I said, how about Monsey? She said Monsey is New York. So I said okay, so that left really New Jersey. Because I had to be near New York. That's where the Jews are. You know, like that bank robber. When he was captured he was asked why do you rob banks? And the guy said that's where the money is, so it's where the Jews are. So I had to be near there. So, passaic, I have a good friend who is a rob in Passaic, rabbi Menachem Zubnik, his shul's next door to your father-in-law, and so I already knew him and he told me about Pesaik and we decided on Pesaik, beautiful, been there since, yeah since 2000.

16:35 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
And about your family, okay.

16:39 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
So I have a son in my oldest is in Philadelphia. He's an EMT and firefighter forest fighters. I have a son in Israel who is married with three children. He's a lawyer and he was actually wounded in Gaza. He was fighting in Gaza, he was wounded, he went back after being wounded and then his unit was released, so he's home now. Baruch Hashem.

17:10 - Intro (Announcement)
How's he doing?

17:11 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
It was. The wound was shrapnel through his upper arm, had to have an operation to have it removed. So he's still got some nerve issues but he's doing okay. I mean, he was good enough to go back in Shukach on his service Protecting our homeland, protecting our people, Thank you. And his wife's a nurse, and she's actually, you know, Rabbi Pesach Lerner. Sure, His youngest daughter, oh, very nice. And then I have another son, Shmuley, who is a rabbi. He's learning in Colel in Dallas, Data Dallas area Torah Association. They were in Israel for 10 years and they moved. I got to know him well. I know he's a graduate of the Jerusalem Colel.

17:50 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Correct, yes, my alma mater, oh yeah.

17:53 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Yeah, his wife is Ahuva Lewenstein, granddaughter of Ronnie Greenwald, actually, sure. And then I have a daughter who is a pediatric nurse, lives in Givat Ze'ev in Israel. Her husband, aaron Dubin, is in Colel there in Israel. I don't even know the name of the Colel, but whatever. And then I have another son in Israel who is single. He is an industrial organizational psychologist and he was working here in the States, but when war broke out he went back to join his unit. He's a paratrooper. So he also was fighting in, he was in the North and he was also in Gaza and his unit was also released. He's now looking for a wife and a job living in Tel Aviv. Okay, so shout out to anybody out there. There you go. Yeah, he's very, very bright, good sense of humor, okay, paratrooper, okay, anyway. And I have a all the qualities. Yes, yes. And my youngest son, who was learning in israel, in a yeshiva in geula called yeshiva sagram, is ruby heel soloveitchik. It's one of the soloveitchiks. That, yeah, that my son-in-law learned there.

19:04 - Intro (Announcement)
Oh yeah.

19:05 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Yeah, okay, yu doesn't recognize credits from there, even though it's a Soloveitchik, but anyway, so he was learning there. He's now back in the States learning in a yeshiva called it's actually now called Yeshiva Gadola of Elkins Park, but colloquially known as Rubanowitz after the Rosh Hashanah.

19:22 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
My son-in will learn there as well. Cool.

19:26 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
I'm sure they know each other. They probably do, so that's the Becher family. My wife has her master's in educational psychology from Peabody University. She used to run the resource room at Bais Yaakov in Passaic, but she just teaches there now and tutors, and she also is a professor at Sarasnira where they teach. It's a college but much of it is online, so she teaches research methods in psychology and statistics. Actually, my son, israel, is also teaching for Sarasnira. He's teaching a course in industrial organizational psychology Beautiful. So there's two professor bechers at Sarasnira and I teach at YU and do the tours and gigs et cetera.

20:09 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Amazing, all right. So many of our listeners are people who are struggling with the transition from a less observant life to a more observant life, and one of the things that we try to do throughout all of our podcasts is give people the tools they need to make change meaningful change in their own lives. One of the principles that we continue to reiterate is taking small steps, because it's essential, because if you jump too high, too fast, you will fall. What can you share from your life's experience, particularly growing up in a less religious home, becoming more religious or non-religious at all, and becoming religious? What number one can you say as a guide to people, so that someone listening out in Huntsville, alabama, or who may be contemplating making a huge change in their life, what would you say is a good guide for people to help them with their transformation?

21:13 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
It's a good question. A few pointers A. Anything that any step you take on, try to back it up with knowledge and learning and study about the meaning of it and the background and so on and so forth. The study of Torah is really the great fuel that drives observance, change, meaningful activities. The more you know the better, even if you're not necessarily going to observe everything that you learn. But just knowing is important and having the basis of Torah knowledge, I think, is essential. So if there's one thing that, to start with, I would say is setting aside time to study Torah, that would be a number one. Number two don't care too much about what other people think about what you are doing. Care about what you feel and how you feel God reacts to it.

I just remembered, I recall that when I was becoming observant I had a pair of tzitzis, because that's the undergarment with the fringes. I didn't realize it was mostly observant, otherwise I would have used more English in my previous parts, but I apologize. So I had it because I had played Tevye in the school production of Fiddler on the Roof, so part of my costume was that. So I decided to start wearing them, but I hadn't yet decided to start wearing a yarmulke. So you had the tzitzit spot without the yarmulke. So my sister said my sister gave me some great advice and she's wonderful and she lives in Melbourne, she has children, grandchildren et cetera. And she said to me she said the yarmulke is more about what other people think of you. She said this is between you and Hashem, no one else knows. She said why don't you try that first? I said oh, that's a great idea.

I think it's the only time in my life I listened to my big sister, but anyway. But I think that's an important point, which is not to worry too much about my label, About what people think and what people think, but just slow and steady. That would be a second pointer. And, yes, the third, which is what you pointed out small steps, and I would think the type of steps that I would choose would be the ones that I have the least resistance to Do the battle slowly. Just like in martial arts you attack the enemy where they don't have muscles, their eye, their throat, etc. So here also, the evil inclination where it has less power.

24:07 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
That's a good place to start the attack, so to speak, and to uh to work on those areas. So I mean baruch hashem I give great gratitude to hashem that I've had the privilege of living in houston almost 20 years now and I've seen many, many people transition their lives into a life of great connection with hashem, and everyone has a different turning point that this made the. This was the clincher, this was the thing that said to them, and it might be different for you because you were at a much younger age. I think you said you were 15. 13., 13. So it's probably. But what was the thing? And I'm sure you've had over the years teaching in gateways and influencing many, many people with your Torah teachings what is the clincher? Obviously, everyone has a different something that just lights that fire and says, okay, I'm all in, but what made it all in for you?

25:00 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
It's very hard. I don't know if I remember so well but if I recall correctly it was meeting people who were bright, who had knowledge of science and contemporary culture and who were observant and devoted to Torah. Contemporary culture and who were observant and devoted to Torah I was a bit of a science nerd when I was a kid and here I met some of these people from YU who one of them was doing a degree in physics and there was one who was a, I forgot, and I was just very impressed by the fact that the Torah, you could incorporate all of that into your life and it was not a contradiction. And they were able to articulate very well how their understanding of of Torah and science was integrated and was not compartmentalized and that, as a 13-year-old, that it wasn't a contradiction. It was not a contradiction. Yeah, that impressed me. Some of the teachers, some of the young counselors who came on the program counterpoint, one of them I'm still in contact with Rabbi Effie Buchwald, very famous.

26:20 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Ended up.

26:21 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Yes, I actually wrote two courses for them, one Crash Course in Jewish History, which Enjob does and distributes. I wrote that and I just did a course for them on Israel. It's called Israel on Our Minds, which is three classes Israel and the Judaism, israel and the Jews, israel and the world. So I saw him when I gave those classes in the Upper East Side. Who else was there? It was Joseph Telushkin and there was also Avshalom Katz. You've heard of the famous singers Shlomo Katz, sure, sure, their father, wow, it's the first time I heard Karlebach music. That was actually, you know what I got to say. That was also significant for me. That prayer could be so beautiful and joyous and the songs you know. Literally I felt my soul soaring with Absalom Katz's, karlobach's music and stuff. That was something impressive to me. It's not like I didn't like that. I was okay with prayer and I understood it because the Hebrew was pretty good, but the singing, that was incredible. That also made a big impression on me as well. It's amazing.

27:30 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
I've seen so many people who have been completely transformed in their life from their exposure to Shlomo Carbach and his music. So this is another, another powerful, powerful story. So what? What's one thing that, if you can bring back from your childhood today to your grandchildren, to this generation, that you'd say that I want to bring, that I wish that was back here, oh that's a great question.

28:05 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Something from my childhood I think there's not enough of just free play and free time, and also two things. A, just free play I remember we used to, you know, just after school we were running around the street on the block with my friends and stealing golf balls from the golf course nearby and et cetera, but we made go-karts and stuff. There's something about Physical activity, physical activity but unstructured physical activity. In Israel there's a little bit of that. There's a book that's called I forgot what it's called, but it's. He calls it the Balagan theory. Right, that a lot of Israeli kids grow up in like a bit of a Balagan, you know. So I think that's important.

One of my my son Pinchasas lawyer, who lives on a moshav which is right near Amat Beit Shemesh, his kids get that to some degree because they can roam around a little more, etc. But I think the world has become a little more dangerous so it's not so safe to have kids do that, but that's important. And the second thing is, I think sports are so important for the kids. I wish the religious schools would place more emphasis on that and have regular gym classes and organized sports. I think after school sports activities it would. There are kids today with a lot of resentment to the system and resentment towards Judaism. I know maybe this sounds simplistic, but I think if they had more opportunities to let their energy out and to let themselves go and outlets and competition and stuff like that.

It would be fantastic. So I'm hugely encouraged. I know that my grandchildren do a lot of extracurricular activities, um, so that's that's a great thing and but I think I think, yeah, from my youth, that that's that was so central. We used to play. We used to play cricket and australian rules, football and soccer, and we used to that's aside from gym class at school and where we used to learn all these type of weird things like discus throwing and, uh, no, we never did javelin.

30:26 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
I think they were worried that what we'd do, but, um, but other things like that and uh, and judo classes and just fantastic stuff I'm I'm not that old, I'm only 46, but I I remember we had karate and we had the stick ball and we I grew up in brooklyn, you know till I was 10 years old, and we also had a tremendous uh in in muncie. It was unbelievable, it was before it was uh. It was uh over occupied by yeah, that's, that's.

30:52 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Yeah, we've been taken over and and unfortunately it's becoming that, that stuff is becoming, uh, unacceptable, which is really, really a shame, which is baruch hashem.

31:03 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
We live here in houston is an incredible quality of life, yeah and uh. It's also growing leaps and bounds. So, baruch hashem, I want to ask you a question I did not ask previously on this podcast, and that is I. Typically, I would ask what? What do you feel are the lessons that we can all learn from the holocaust? But I want to change that now and ask since simcas torah, since october 7th, what do you feel is the most important lesson that us, as jews in the diaspora and those in israel, that we need to learn from this? I believe, I'm a firm believer that Hashem does everything for us to learn. Hashem does everything for us to grow and to connect. Hashem keeps on like a pinball, keeps on hitting us to get us into the right place that we need to be spiritually, emotionally, hopefully, and in our connection with Hashem. What is the lesson?

Again, I used to ask this only regarding the Holocaust, because I think that I thought, at least till October 7th, that the Holocaust was disappearing from the consciousness of our people and I felt, as a father, I felt that it was important to constantly reintroduce my children to the calamities of humanity, that it was important to constantly reintroduce my children to the calamities of humanity, and today we've seen it, on October 7th. So what do you think is something that we all need to take? I met, yesterday I met, a very famous Israeli singer. He was at the wedding that I was at and I went over to him after I said we need more songs on Achdut, on unity, more songs, more songs. We need this is what we need. We need to have our people United as one. You know that's. It's one of the important, I think probably the most important, but I don't know. I want to hear what your opinion is.

32:56 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Yeah, well, you know there was a. There was a rabbi, cousin ish, once said that People think you need prophecy to know the future. He says you need really prophecy to know the past as well and the present. So this is way beyond me. Is that, yes, is number one, to emphasize that which is in common amongst the Jews, not to emphasize our differences and to seek that type of unity. I think that's really so, so central. We did experience a lot of that. I mean just the experiences of my family and my sons during the war people reaching out to them and to us, and that was incredibly, incredibly powerful.

Probably the most central lesson is that Jews should look at each other without labeling and without division, and just to try to get it doesn't mean I have to agree with what someone is doing or says, but I have to love them as a fellow Jew, and that's, I think, one of the central lessons. And I think another one is that don't and this is something we learned from the Holocaust as well but you cannot trust the world, you cannot trust education, you cannot trust the institutions of education. They're not trustworthy, they're not conveying lessons which are good, and we just see from the support for Hamas and it's not a support for a two-state solution. They're not looking for peace, they're happy that they killed Jews, and that level of hatred, animosity and evil is something which I mean. There are some who would argue that, while it's not on the same scale as the Nazis, but the level of evil that we have been confronted by in terms of Hamas is worse, in the sense that and Douglas Murray has pointed this out and is one of my heroes but is that? Hamas feels no remorse. They feel joy, they celebrate. The Gazan citizens celebrate, they celebrate the death, torture, rape of Jews and the world celebrates with them and rewards them. So we cannot rely on the world, we cannot trust the world. We have to rely on God. Do we have friends out there? Yes, there are friends of Israel, friends of the Jews few and far between, but there are. But I think the only thing we rely upon is Hashem, is God and our own people and the fact that someone has a doctorate or a master's or goes to an excellent school meaningless?

I wrote an article about this for ash on their on their website, but I pointed out that I think it was the a third of the participants in the vanci conference, which was discussing the final solution, the nazis, final solution again, of the jew. A third of them had doctorates. Huge percentage of SS officers had advanced degrees. Two of the first groups that supported the Nazis in Germany were the academics and the student unions. So am I surprised by Columbia and Harvard? Not surprised, not angry. Yes, not surprised. And this is because they don't teach morality, they don't teach ethics. So I think that's another lesson, that Western culture I mean Eastern culture to a lesser degree is not really that involved. But Western culture is not something that can be trusted. Are there valuable aspects of it? Definitely Love, poetry, literature, science yeah, great stuff, great stuff.

37:10 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
But that's not where our moral compass has to come from. So one of the greatest gifts we have is the ability to forget things, so we're able to live a day. If we did something that's embarrassing, we're able to move past it because we forget things. But one of our biggest challenges as a people is that we forget things, and you know that's why you know I introduced this that I don't think that the Holocaust is on the consciousness of our minds or our children's minds, and I don't think that we need to live in a dark time. You, you know we have to move forward and we have to advance to a new world.

Yes, but what's gonna be with the next generation? Like, my children don't even know what September 11th was, mm-hmm. And every time I go to New York, I try to talk to them about it. So over here there were these two enormous buildings and evil people came and murdered over 3,000 people on that day. And I try to bring it to their consciousness so they know something and they feel a connection Our Holocaust, right, I have no living grandparents now, but three of them were survivors. Two were in Auschwitz, one was in the Kovne ghetto, and I want my children, I want my grandchildren to understand those dangers that you just mentioned. What do we need to do to ensure that the future generations don't live in an oblivion where they think that everything is kumbaya and it's just? You know? In a way, they're reminding us here.

38:45 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Look, I don't. Yeah, I'm not so sure if that's a, if that's such a problem now, but I will tell you, I grew up in Melbourne. In Melbourne, my parents' generation, probably about 80%, were Holocaust survivors. Many, many of my friends I would say probably most. I don't have data, I just have anecdotal evidence. Friends, I would say probably most. I don't have data, I just have anecdotal evidence. But I would say most of my friends didn't have grandparents. I didn't. I had one grandparent and so we were very aware of the Holocaust.

But I think there's a bit of a danger. The danger is that the Holocaust becomes central to Jewish identity and belief, which I think is problematic. You know, when I go to some dinner, happy event, siyam Hashas, et cetera, holocaust is mentioned continuously. I said what? A it's a downer right and B it's not a sanctification of God's name, it was a chelulah, it was a desecration of the name of God. If anything, it's a huge problem philosophically and theologically. I still cannot understand people who go to Europe and they come back inspired by. I don't get it, but okay, that's my personal quirk, I came back angry, I didn't come back.

40:03 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Okay, exactly.

40:04 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
I think there's a danger. You go to, let's say, barnes, noble or any bookstore and you look at the shelf of Jewish books. The majority of books are about the Holocaust. That's tragic. Judaism is not the Holocaust. I spoke there's a museum in New York called the Museum of Jewish Heritage and they haven't asked me back because I started the speech by saying this is called the Museum of Jewish Heritage or Living Jewish Heritage. I said 95% of the museum is about the Holocaust. I said is there not more to Jewish heritage than the Holocaust? Had the Holocaust not happened, we would have no Jewish heritage. We have thousands of years of wisdom and philosophy and spirituality and mysticism and poetry and literature, and the museum of Jewish heritage is the Holocaust. Come on Right. So they didn't like that.

40:56 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
It's also the Holocaust is dealing with the past. We have to deal with the future, of course.

41:00 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
You know it bothers me. Dealing with the past, we have to deal with the future. Of course, you know it bothers me. There are many rabbis out there who, if the Holocaust hadn't happened, they'd have nothing to talk about. So I think I want to take a little bit of a contrary view. I think we need to remember it and it needs to be taught in schools, on the one hand, but on the other hand, I don't think we should make it a central component of Judaism. Judaism is beautiful and wonderful and joyous and we shouldn't. In our minds and the child's mind, judaism should not be associated with the Holocaust. Part of it also is the Eurocentricity of a lot of contemporary religious Jewish culture, is the looking at Europe as the life of the Jews in Europe, as the epitome of Jewish life, which wasn't always. There was a lot of ignorance, there was a lot of. There was poverty, there was anti-Semitism. It was not great.

41:59 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Europe wasn't great so segwaying into something that is central, that should be central in our lives shabbos. What would be your encouragement to our viewers, to our listeners, about undertaking a step in their Shabbos observance?

42:23 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
I think Shabbos is, as a famous quote from a Jewish poet more than the Jews kept the Shabbos, the Shabbos kept the Jews. Nothing could be more central in Judaism and that is considered so central that Jews were identified by observance of Shabbos. Denial of Shabbos was a denial of Judaism. It's so central. But it's also from a purely sociological and psychological perspective. The value of having time where I'm not getting input from social media, from media, from electronic devices, et cetera. My mind is not full of static, I'm able to actually think, to have a conversation with my family and friends without being interrupted by buzz, etc. That is the greatest step forward. If you can do that, if you just want to start Friday night, have the Friday night meal, no phones, no television, et cetera, and then you can extend that, I think that would be an amazing first step. Amazing first step because it just will and it's not me, I mean Jonathan Haidt and others and Schreier, many, many researchers in the areas in psychology and sociology have demonstrated the negative effects of our total immersion in social media and our phones, et cetera, to the detriment of personal relationships, to the detriment of even being able to pick up on body language and social cues and so on and so forth. I think this is really one of the most central things and when you don't drive, just walk places, it also takes you out a little bit of the whole. Shabbos is not a time of people During the week. A lot of the time we're in competition with each other. We're in a state of tension. There's tension between body and soul. There's tension between myself and other people and there's tension between the human being and nature. You see a nice flower. Do you want to pluck it off the tree? You step on an ant no big deal. Pollute the world, okay. So there's tension between us and nature. There's tension between myself and other people because we're all competing, right Slice of the pie, malthusian struggle for survival, et cetera, a la Darwinism. That's all true, right, and that's all there during the week the parking spot, the lane, et cetera and between body and soul. On shabbos you can achieve harmony in each area. The laws of shabbos are designed that we don't mess with nature. Just leave it be for one day a week. Leaving aside the reduction in carbon emissions by one seventh I shouldn't say that I'm in texas, but it's like carbon emissions is a mitzvah, but anyway. Anyway, but there is that, secondly, between myself and other people, because, again, we're not competing either economically, on social media, for parking spots, nothing just being. And between body and soul, because on Shabbos, as you know, it's a time where we both enjoy, physically and spiritually, and they work together. You have a Shabbos meal. It's not just a bacchanalian orgy of food, although it's sometimes, but there's also a spiritual component and we don't only sit in the synagogue and say psalms all day, the Puritan Sabbath, et cetera, and no drinking. So we do both and I think that's so healthy, to have that time where you're in harmony with people, with nature, between body and soul. And I think a fantastic first step to that would be something like the voluntarily giving up some of those technological components that do make life easier and more enjoyable and more enjoyable. But giving them up will find that you can savor life much, much more.

There's someone I know who once put it, rabbi Natan Lopez Cardoza. He said Halacha is the I can't do the accent. He's got a Dutch accent which is much better than Australian. So he says Halacha is the art of living in amazement. And when he explained, what he meant is that we go through life completely unimpressed by anything. It's just like no. He says Shabbos and blessings, you're amazed by an apple. There's a lot of amazement about the apple when you drive somewhere and when you walk somewhere. Those are two totally different experiences. When I walk somewhere, I notice things I don't notice when I'm driving. I'm also more relaxed. It's aside from the health component, but it's fantastic. Shabbos is also a time when I can get a little bit of that amazement of the world and the appreciation of it again by ceasing my regular weekday activities.

47:33 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Yeah, so for me, I grew up Shoma Shabbos, grew up Shoma Shabbos. I'm very privileged and honored to have parents who trained me growing up in a home that had Shabbos. It was never a question to me, it was never a challenge for me. To me it was a given, like every Friday at sunset. That was it. It was not a challenge. There are people who are really struggling with it. It's a huge struggle. So I want to just address that struggle that people are, if you can, that people are facing that fear that people have. I offered my students and again it's an offer I said I will have you for Shabbos, where you will have a like three-star Michelin chef cooked Shabbos dinner, shabbos lunch. We'll pick you up in a limousine, we will have like. This will be like the greatest vacation ever, and nobody took me up on the offer. People are just terrified. They're absolutely terrified. So what can you say addressing that fear that people have to Shabbos?

48:47 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Yeah, it's an interesting question. I'm not sure why someone would be terrified by it. I mean, you are voluntarily doing stuff and giving up I wouldn't say giving up. I mean, if I go into a store and the suit, which is normally $500, is on sale for $30, I don't feel that I'm losing $30. I'm not giving up. Are you kidding me? I just gained something. So what I'm gaining by keeping Shabbos in terms of family, in terms of my own development and my own soul even psychologically, sociologically, mental health, et cetera is so much greater.

I'm not sure what's there to be afraid of. Now, granted, there are challenges. You have challenges, people will. If you're in a social milieu in which people do things on Saturday and so on and so forth, aren't you coming with us? I experienced this when I was a teenager. Why aren't you coming? I said I can't shove us. So that's a challenge, but it's not to be afraid of. That's the type of thing where I have to know that I'm always in control of my responses to everything.

Viktor Frankl spoke about this a lot in Man's Search for Meaning, which is that all the physical circumstances can be out of your control, but the one thing that's always within your control, is your response and your attitude, and so that's not something to be afraid of, that's something to look forward to the fact that I can exert my free will as a proud, a proud, upright, independent, autonomous human being where, instead of just going with the flow the whole rest of the world is doing, I, as a Jew, say Shabbos is Shabbos. That's not something to be afraid of, that's like wow, that's courage and that's pride and that's the exercise of free will. What could be a greater? That's part of Shabbos also is that incredible joy of being able to do that. But there are plenty of benefits. Yeah, there's plenty of other side benefits, but I think that's so central that that's important to keep that in mind, not to be afraid of that. But that is.

I remember when I was also in the Israeli army, not in combat, but I remember the first time I did guard duty right, it was like 2 o'clock in the morning, on a guard tower near a place called Ramleh Sorry, Ramallah, not Ramlah different places and the officer tells me he says Beche Bechar, they used to always call me Bechar. He says Bechar. I said yeah, he says Beke Bechar. They used to always call me Bechar. He says Bechar. I said yeah, he says Tizkor, remember Lolo Fahed, don't be afraid. Don't be afraid. That's his order to me. Don't be afraid. That did not help. That gives you reason to be afraid. That did not help. I just got to mention there was an on the guard tower.

He says that telephone is a life and death telephone. Do not use that for anything but life and death situations. I said okay, fine. So it's three o'clock in the morning, the life and death phone rings. I almost died of a heart attack. I pick it up, right, it's the officer he says he says Bachar. I said Ken. He says you want coffee? I said yeah, I hang up. That's life and death. Right there he brings me Turkish coffee. He was like great, but how do you not be afraid in a military situation? So I just spoke with certain soldiers, including my sons, and it's to be focused on what you have the ability to do, your task, your protocols, what you're doing, I'm competent, I can do this, et cetera. I can't control anything else, but focused on what I can do. Same is true with Shabbos Focused on what I can do and I do have that ability and that's something to be proud of and to be happy about, not to be afraid of.

52:52 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)

52:56 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Now, on a personal level, what's your favorite part of Shabbos? What's my favorite part of Shabbos? I would say sitting at the Shabbos table and schmoozing, arguing conversations, et cetera. So I think that's probably my favorite. I I mean the food is phenomenal and good wine and I like a lot of the shabbos. Davening is beautiful poetry and I like the zmiris, the songs of shabbos. I have a class actually about about the songs of the zmiris of shabbos, the history and the philosophy. It's fantastic stuff and so I do enjoy the songs. But I think even more than that, I think just schmoozing at the table, no phone, all the time in the world, sitting around yeah, it's great.

53:45 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
You get to know your family in a unique way.

53:47 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Yeah, and we had some of the best arguments and conversations ever. My kids are great debaters, baruch.

53:56 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Hashem. Now I just want to end off with two questions that I typically ask. There are a lot of great things happening with the Jewish people right now. What makes you most proud to be Jewish today?

54:25 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
the level of the moral and ethical superiority of us over our enemies and their supporters. You do not see Jews on the whole there may be exceptions here and there you don't see Jews vandalizing mosques. You don't see Jews vandalizing mosques. You do not see Jews vandalizing halal stores. You do not see right. You don't see.

You know, on the whole, israeli soldiers, many of whom I know and, as I said, two sons are not out there saying I want to kill the reluctant soldiers who are doing their job. That shows a superior level of morality which I am incredibly proud of, incredibly proud of the level at which the IDF takes care to avoid civilian casualties, way beyond the United States, way beyond the United Kingdom, way beyond any other country, way beyond the United States, way beyond the United Kingdom, way beyond any other country, despite all the accusations, the propaganda against us, just Hamas propaganda, which Julius Streicher would be proud of and Goebbels would be proud of. But I'm very proud of that, that level of moral superiority and of ethical, just the peaceful, the nature of the Jewish protests which, on the whole, 99% peaceful Songs Israeli flags, american flags, australian flags, whatever country we're not. Just look at the contrast, the faces. You look at Etan Golan, who is just one of my heroes. That she you know at the Eurovision Song Contest, with all the opposition and the security she had to have and her composure.

Again, I'm not you know, religiously speaking, I'm not happy with the singing Okay, leave that aside but the composure, the level at which she did not display hatred and her opponents, the evil level of hatred and vitriol, etc. I just look at that and I say she's my people, she is my people. And look at how she behaves, Look at how they behave. I look at protests at places like Harvard and Columbia and I look at them and I look at my people. Couldn't be prouder, Could not be prouder. That's unbelievable. That makes me incredible. That's really beautiful.

56:55 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Now there are some not such great things that are happening with the Jewish people right now as well. What makes you most concerned about the Jews today?

57:07 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
By the way, are we okay with time? Yeah, okay, what makes me most concerned, let me see, I I think, I think, uh, there is not enough, not enough unity. I think a lot of people still into the divisions and I'm embarking on a project, hopefully, to try to work on that a bit with some friends, but I think that's part of it is people live a little bit in their bubbles and not enough connection to those who are very different from them, very far from them, both geographically far away, but also ideologically far away. I think there needs to be a lot more of that connection. A lot of our schools could do a lot more in terms of that type of unity. I think that's a big problem. I think in the religious world it's maybe a problem too. Not maybe it definitely is a problem of divisions. Yeah, I think that's a huge, huge issue.

58:20 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
I mean personally. I've seen a tremendous unity in the religious community. Even though you have different hasidic sectors, you have different lithuanian uh, you know orthodox and etc. Etc. All these different types, I've seen a tremendous coming together. It has improved.

58:37 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Yeah, it has improved, but the fact that you've noticed that and you're impressed by that means that it has been an issue, and I think that's something we need to work on further. It should not just be because, unfortunately, some horrific tragedy has occurred. We're attacked from outside. That's where our unity comes from. It's got to be something we work on all the time and something which we have to recognize as being an issue to work on.

59:04 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
If you can just look at the camera and give a closing remark, to what should the people? What is the most important thing for the Jewish people to know today?

59:14 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
I mean, that's way above my pay grade. I cannot tell you the most important thing In your opinion. Yeah, even that is not that meaningful, but I think, as Jews. Just to quote Ramosha Chaim Luzzatto, the great Italian Jewish Kabbalist and philosopher from the 18th century in Italy, padua, italy, he has an essay. It's called Drus al Hakivui.

It's an essay on hope and he says hope is the most central feature of the Jewish people. Optimism and hope, he says, because a person who believes in God has hope. Optimism and hope, he says, because a person who believes in God has hope. The person who does not believe in God, person who doesn't believe in the promises of God and the Torah, has no reason to be optimistic. Jews, despite everything we've been through, incredibly, are optimistic. Israel is one of the happiest countries in the world. You ask an Israeli what's the response? It'll be good. You ask him what will be? It'll be good.

Where does this optimism come from? This optimism comes from the fact that, deep down, we all actually do believe in God and the promises of the Torah and hence that we have a destiny, that we're going to get to where we're supposed to go. That's an absolute guarantee and all of history has been leading us towards that final goal of the redemption, and it's not unreasonable. On the contrary, it makes a lot of sense for a Jew to have hope. Just look at our history, we now. If you would speak to someone a few hundred years ago and tell them there's going to be millions of Jews living in Israel, speaking Hebrew, an army that has kosher kitchens, thousands of places of people studying Torah in a land of Israel, they would say really Now, not all Jews would say really.

Some Jews would say, oh, that means the redemption is coming, and the answer is yes, it is so. Hope, tikvah, hope. That's the line that attaches me to the future. In fact, the word tikvah comes from the word kav, which is a line, as Rav Moshe Chaim Lozato points out.

I think that's what we have to say, that I want to be part of that destiny. I want to be part of that line that leading all the way back to Abraham, who was born in the Jewish year 1948, going all the way through to now, the establishment state of Israel in 1948, which we just celebrated a couple of weeks ago and that leading all the way to the final redemption. You and I can choose to be part of that, or God forbid, not it's our choice, but to be part of that hope, to be part of that line, to be part of that faith community central. And that's, I think, one message I'd like to leave you with, which is the message of hope and of optimism and of faith, and I can choose to be part of that and that is always my choice.

01:02:18 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Amazing, thank you. Thank you so much, rabbi Becher. This is a tremendous treat to me and hopefully for our listeners as well. Where can people find you online? Do you have a podcast, a website?

01:02:28 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Well, I am unfortunately lazy and I don't have a podcast or a website, but I do plan on one. I do plan on it, but I have a few hundred lectures available on YU Torah. So if you go to YU Torah, you'll see put in Mordechai Becha, that's my name, and there's a few hundred lectures there, many of them with source sheets, all free. Or if you go to Torah Anytime and Torah Anytime put in my name three, four hundred lectures there as well, and so I'm there but not in my own space. So I have to work on that. But in the meantime, why you? Torah, Torah, Anytime, All right, thank you.

01:03:10 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
Thank you so much Pleasure.

01:03:12 - Rabbi Mordechai Becher (Guest)
Thank you for having me.

01:03:13 - Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe (Host)
We're looking forward to having an amazing Shabbos together here in Houston. Amen.

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