Albuquerque, originally settled in 1708, lies on the Rio Grande River in New Mexico, some sixty miles south of Santa Fe. Running through the city is the ancient Camino Real, laid out by the Conquistadores from Mexico to Santa Fe; it is now U.S. 85, part of the Pan-American Highway. The Rio Grande valley is one of the few fertile areas in this region and when drought hit the country to the northwest in the 13th century, most of the local Indians, who had been living on the sides of cliffs, abandoned their villages—“pueblos”—and migrated into the valley. There are pueblos to the north, west, and south of Albuquerque today.

To the east of the city are the Sandia and Manzano mountains, which rise to peaks of 10,000 feet; a high long ridge to the west is punctuated by extinct volcanic cones. Albuquerque, itself a mile high, lies between these two rises; the older residences and the business section are on the valley floor, the newer sections on the “heights.” The city features splendid open panoramas of mountains and of desolate, brown tableland—“mesa.” Cactus and other desert plants grow freely on the mesa.

Although most Pueblo Indians now dress like other city dwellers, some still visit Albuquerque wearing their headbands, their hair long in back, and crimson velvet shirts and blouses, with elaborately worked silver belts and necklaces of silver and turquoise. Visiting their religious dances is a favorite local recreation. (At the Santo Domingo Corn Dance, a Pueblo father complained to me that the youngsters were abandoning the orthodox ways of their parents. One old gentleman dancing away at this festival had a crew-cut and a clipped mustache: he worked at Los Alamos and had come to the dance to maintain his tribal privileges.) The Bernallilo County Indian Hospital, a huge modern pile of brick, concrete, and glass, attracts Navajo Indians from greater distances than the Pueblos; they usually come in a pick-up truck, with adults and children crowded into the cab. The women wear huge bright blankets and soft squaw boots.

Since Albuquerque is not a cattle or sheep center, there are fewer authentic cowboys in town—even during the state fair in the fall—than in Times Square during the Madison Square Garden rodeo. A good number of residents affect wide-brimmed Stetsons, as well as clomping, spurless cowboy boots, and bolo ties (leather strings with an Indian worked silver centerpiece). But the only holsters you see with active pistols in them are on the hips of the local, white-helmeted motorcycle police, or, during fair time, of movie-type cowboys who belong to the Bernallilo County Sheriff’s Posse, a ceremonial organization.

The dominant culture of the city until recent times was Spanish, and the native architecture, ever since the Conquistadores, is a combination of pueblo (after the low, long flat-roofed buildings of the Indians, which had small windows and few of them) and adobe (the mud bricks with which the Indians built their homes). While many of the new housing developments still follow pueblo style, none of the mass production builders use mud bricks, which are a foot thick and must be made by hand; instead, they use machine-made cinder or concrete blocks or simply stucco. Today only the very rich (who can afford to pay the high labor costs) or the very poor build with adobe. Spanish is still the first language of many Albuquerque residents, and the only language of some; easily half the city’s population is bi-lingual, including the Jewish businessmen downtown. State law requires election ballots and legislative hearings to be printed in English and Spanish.

East-west highway 66, which forms Albuquerque’s central avenue, misleads the tourist: it is garish and honky-tonkish, all flashing neon lights and moving signs. Yet there are quiet, tidy neighborhoods only a few blocks north or south. On the fringes of the city, the speculative housing developers have thrown up whole rambling villages: clusters of square, squat homes, bristling with utility poles and television antennas. Peaked roof, California ranch-style modern, with sliding glass doors and “picture” windows, alternates here with pueblo, all of the houses done in pastels of pink, green, blue, and brown. The first builder to venture to the outskirts was a Jew, Sam Hoffman, who put up solidly built, low-cost brick homes, all identical in plan and appearance, just after World War II. The houses, which now sell for double their cost, are still much in demand, and all the urban facilities as well as other builders have come out to the development, formally called Hoffmantown.

Albuquerque’s economy revolves around the University of New Mexico and such large government installations as contract and research facilities for the Atomic Energy Commission and the Air Force. There is relatively little manufacturing. As a result, the government personnel are predominantly middle class, ranging from technological and statistical assistants to research engineers and scientists. The physicians and the university faculty swell the middle-class ranks. While Albuquerque cannot boast as many retired millionaires as Santa Fe, many of the South-west’s banking, industrial, legal, and commercial interests are centered here.

The lower class can be divided into three groups. There are urbanized Indians, who maintain nominal contact with their nearby pueblos but do housework and unskilled construction labor in the city. There are the Spanish-speaking groups, by far the largest, who live in such slum areas as “Martinez-town” in the city and on marginal farms stretching out along the Rio Grande (a substantial number of the native Spanish-speaking population has risen into the middle and upper classes). Finally, there are “Anglos” (which includes Negroes) who are still drifting with the movements stimulated in the 30’s, from Texas and Oklahoma, the Deep South, and occasionally the Northeast. Since there is no large-scale employment of unskilled labor, the lower class is not a stable one, nor is it as large as might be expected from the size of the city.



There are some 750 Jewish families—more than 2,000 persons in all—among the nearly 200,000 people of Albuquerque. Nearby cities of similar size, such as El Paso and Phoenix, have about twice as many Jews. Tucson, with half as many persons as Albuquerque, at last count had five times as many Jews. Denver, perhaps three times the size of Albuquerque, has ten times as many Jews. And in all these cities, the Jewish population is growing faster than in Albuquerque.

Community leaders explain Albuquerque’s relative paucity of Jews by two factors. First, Jews were barred from the area when it was under Spanish and Mexican domination and subject to the Inquisition. Jewish settlers first came to Albuquerque in the 1860’s, somewhat later than to Santa Fe and other parts of the state.1 Second, Albuquerque is not a prime resort, health, retirement, or industrial center. Jews heading westward generally come to Albuquerque only if they have a specific job to fill. When they go west without a particular job, they tend to choose Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, or Phoenix. “We have never felt the need to swell our size as a means of defense or security,” one Jewish community leader told me. “We welcome Jews to Albuquerque, of course, but we don’t recruit them.”

There has never been a Jewish “problem” in the city or state. The serious minority issue involves relations between the Spanish-and English-speaking populations. The Negro population is minuscule, and Jews and Negroes are usually classed as “Anglos.” The English-speaking citizens constitute better than 60 per cent of the population, and keep increasing; the Spanish population has remained relatively static for decades. The attitude of most Jews toward the Spanish population seems indistinguishable from that of other “Anglos”: detached, aloof, not really “prejudiced,” but hesitant about “mingling.”

The earliest Jewish settlers in the Southwest almost all came from Germany and France. They arrived in such small numbers and at such widely separated times that, except for members of the same families, there was little contact among them. The fortunes of Jewish enterprise paralleled those of other pioneers. When Las Vegas was the main commercial center of the region, Jews settled there and sold general merchandise. When business shifted to Albuquerque with the extension of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad at the turn of the century, Jewish merchants moved with the general trend. (Even before the railroad passed through the city, there were Jewish ranchers in the area.) When general wholesale merchandising (ranging from groceries through hardware to dry goods) was hit hard by specialized merchandising, the Jewish merchants were scattered as thoroughly as the non-Jewish ones. Indeed, only one Jewish name—Ilfeld—survives prominently from the days of general merchandising; one brother pioneered in Las Vegas, two others in Albuquerque.

East European immigrants came into the state as miners and peddlers, but soon shifted to retailing. As the early retailers moved into the wholesale ranks, enlarging their original shops or opening branches in other cities, their places were taken by Jews who came in during the 1920’s and 30’s and opened new retail shops. Many of these newcomers were from the Midwest, particularly from Cleveland, and most were of East European origin.

Except perhaps for the pawnshop trade and insurance, no profession or business in Albuquerque is dominated by Jews. There are many Jewish doctors, but it was the Lovelace Clinic, founded by non-Jewish physicians, which helped establish Albuquerque as a medical center. (During the 30’s and 40’s, the city began to compete with Denver, Phoenix, and Tucson as a place of treatment for the tubercular and asthmatic.) In the lower echelons of the civil service, one finds more and more Jews transferring here from less congenial climates.



Albuquerque Jews have always been well integrated. They were among the founders of the city’s country club. When members of the Seligman family came to the state from Germany, around 1900, they learned Navajo and Spanish before English. Henry N. Jaffa, first president of the Temple, was a mayor of Albuquerque. Leading Republican and Democratic figures, the president of the city’s United Fund, the chairman of the state parole board, principals of several public schools, are Jewish. So is the present head football coach at the university. Jews are ranchers, archaeologists, Indian traders, engineers, foresters. One Jewish rancher who married an Acoma Pueblo girl was received into the tribe and eventually elected its governor. The Rabbi of the Temple exchanges pulpits with Protestant ministers, speaks frequently before Christian groups, and has been president of the city’s Ministerial Alliance. Will Keleher, a Catholic lawyer in town and an authority on Billy the Kid, is one of the best-informed sources on the history of Jews in Albuquerque and New Mexico. The subject of the annual research lecture at the university this year was the Jewish merchant in New Mexico, and the lecturer was Professor William J. Parish, who is not Jewish.

Social mixing seems as complete as business and professional integration. Magidson’s, a downtown restaurant which features traditional Jewish dishes (as well as shrimp and fish on Friday), is regarded by many as a non-sectarian luncheon club. Most Albuquerque Jews have close friends among their working colleagues who are not Jewish—the engineers and scientists at Sandia Corporation, the officers and men at Sandia Base, Manzano Base, and Kirtland Air Force Base, the faculty at the university, the physicians at the Lovelace Clinic and the Veterans Administration hospital. Activities at the country club generally involve Jews and non-Jews. Marriage between Jews and non-Jews is common: the non-Jewish partner usually converts, particularly if it is the woman. (A recent marriage linked a Seligman, name changed to Sullivan, and the daughter of one of the earliest Spanish families.) A number of such converted persons are prominent in Jewish community life.

Of course, there is the usual range of exclusively Jewish social circles, and the members of the Shul tend to mix less with non-Jews than the members of the Temple. The social affairs at both the Shul and Temple are many and varied. In one week recently, there were meetings or parties sponsored by Hadassah, B’nai B’rith, the Temple’s men’s club,2 the Temple’s sisterhood, the National Council of Jewish Women, the city’s Jewish Youth Group, Young Judea, and the Jewish Welfare Fund. The women meet for fashion shows, bridge lessons, or teas, and Hadassah sponsors a “study group.”

Almost all of the Jewish families live in the Heights—not in any one neighborhood, but in clusters, depending on their economic level. Most live in lots of limited size in California-style ranch houses, sometimes with swimming pools or tennis courts. A colony of older Jewish families has settled near the country club, one of the wealthiest areas in town. Only one Jewish family is known to live in the older valley.

Since the original Jewish congregation in the city was of the Reform persuasion, there has never been a mohel, a shochet, or a mikveh here, and no kosher butcher has been able to hold out very long. From six to twenty families observe kashruth in their homes (which figure you get depends on your informant), obtaining their meats by refrigerated express from Denver. A local bakery has only just put in separate equipment for making kosher products under the supervision of the Shul’s present rabbi, who is Orthodox. (The equipment was paid for by the ladies’ auxiliary.) A Jewish physician performs ritual circumcision with a rabbi in attendance, and a swimming pool has been used for immersion in the ceremony of conversion (when immersion has been requested). Jewish life, of course, centers around the two congregations, though it may be that the unaffiliated Jewish families in town constitute a larger number than the membership of either Temple or Shul.



Temple Albert, the Reform congregation, was founded in 1897 at a meeting where the honor of naming the congregation was auctioned off. The Grunsfeld family claimed the honor with its bid of $250, and named the Temple after Albert Grunsfeld. Most of the early families were of German or French origin; other prominent names were Jaffa, Ilfeld, Dreyfus, Ravel, Lewinson, Mendell, Moise, Meyer. Although most of the original Temple members were local retail and wholesale merchants, a few were real estate men and ranchers. Some came to services from outlying sections of the state, by stagecoach or private surrey or on horseback. In 1900, the first Temple building was dedicated; in the late 40’s it was sold to the American Legion, which subsequently turned it over to one of the city’s many Protestant sects. The building, which is now being razed, for many years bore the Star of David in its circular windows and a huge sign in front which read “Jesus Heals.”

The Temple’s present building, completed in 1951, is a long, low brick edifice with a flat roof. The chapel (called the “sanctuary” by the Rabbi) occupies the main portion of the building, its walls of bare red brick. At the rear of the chapel is a lobby, and beyond this a social hall with a raised stage. The building also contains a kitchen, a library, and classrooms.

The congregation has grown considerably in the last decade. In the late 40’s, it had 125 families, and there were 29 children in the religious school; today, it has 250 or more families, and over 200 children in the school. (This gives it about fifty families more than the Shul, and about twice as many children.) The growth reflects the influx of young married couples with children of school age. The average age of Temple members, excluding children, is in the late thirties, much younger than the average ten years ago. Almost all the Jewish lawyers, physicians, and dentists in town belong to the Temple; those engineers and scientists who join anything join the Temple; more university professors belong to the Temple than to the Shul, although a number of Jewish faculty members belong to neither.

“I like the Temple very much,” I was told by a friend, who had come from a large Midwestern city and had never before been affiliated with a Jewish group. “It takes itself very modestly, yet positively. The membership secretary guarantees that the Rabbi’s Friday night sermon won’t take longer than a half hour, and the entire service no more than an hour. That way you can plan a social evening or a trip to the movies.”

The Temple’s religious school has eleven classrooms. The classes parallel public school grades, and follow what is apparently a national pattern for religious school teaching,3 repeating the material three times through the entire curriculum, “enriching” it for the older children. For Bar Mitzvah, or Bas Mitzvah, the Temple requires a minimum of seven years of religious school and four in Hebrew classes. The Hebrew classes, with seventy students, meet forty minutes each Saturday, and spend the first year on the alphabet.

Rabbi David D. Shor, who was raised in Dallas and ordained at Hebrew Union College, has been with the Temple ten years. When it was the only congregation in the state, he was considered New Mexico’s Jewish “bishop,” and traveled a good deal to outlying communities. Most of these, however, now have congregations of their own. He is a calm, soft-spoken man, whose Friday night sermons do indeed take no more than a half-hour and are thoughtful, well organized, and well written. There is a neat, sensible efficiency about him in harmony with the architecture of the Temple, and the congregation has just eliminated the clause in its constitution calling for biennial reelection of the rabbi.

The board members, officers, and trustees of the Temple include representatives of the older families, but several members are very recent arrivals. Annual membership dues are a minimum of $75 a family, which includes the right of any children of school age to attend religious and Hebrew school, and the right of the whole family to attend Holiday services. Dues above the minimum are determined by a finance committee. Highest annual dues are $500, with many families in the $200-$300 bracket. Payment of higher dues is entirely voluntary; of 43 families which had their dues increased recently, 40 paid without a murmur. Many new members of the Temple, particularly those (like myself) who come to the city from the larger metropolitan centers, have never belonged to any congregation.



Congregation B’nai Israel, always referred to as the Shul, was founded in 1920 with the help of Temple Albert. Although associated with the national Conservative union, it has had both Conservative and Orthodox rabbis and considers itself “traditional.” The early members arrived in the city in the first quarter of the century, as part of the East European migration. On the average, its members are older than those of Temple Albert, and most of them are in small business or real estate. Several with whom I spoke promptly disparaged the Temple. “The Temple’s men’s club,” one said, “is where the Jews in town bring the goyim to prove that Jews are human.” The banter during lunch at Magidson’s between Shul and Temple members, however, is incessant and good-natured. A recent wedding between a boy whose parents belonged to the Shul and a girl whose parents belonged to the Temple was widely referred to as a “mixed marriage.” At a Hadassah show put on in the Temple’s social hall, the star, a Shul member, stopped to translate remarks in Yiddish, explaining that he couldn’t be sure he’d be understood, considering where he was. (He was largely correct.)

“We’d stop losing people to the Temple,” one Shul member declared, “if we built ourselves a big, modern-type building, too, and threw in a swimming pool.” The Shul’s building, although designed by one of the architects who worked on the new Temple, is quite traditional, of white stucco with vaguely Oriental arches. It is older and smaller than the Temple. Annual dues are the same as for the Temple. Regular Friday night attendance is about sixty, augmented by attendance at Saturday morning services, which the Temple does not hold.

The Shul has been changing rabbis just about every two years for as long as most residents can remember. I asked the president of B’nai Israel, Simon Goldman, about this turnover. Goldman is the owner of “Simon’s,” one of the largest stores in the country specializing in Western clothes and supplies: saddles, boots, spurs, lariats, and the like. “We just haven’t been lucky in getting a man with the right kind of personality,” he told me. “But I think we have the man now.”

“Luck is hardly the story,” a former Shul member said to me. “The Shul changes rabbis regularly because the congregation just doesn’t know what sort of man it wants. If they get a more or less liberal rabbi, they complain he’s too free, he rides to Shul on the Sabbath, he conducts a bris without a mohel. If he happens to be strict, they resent his imposing his ways. Temple members at least know that they want to be Jews with a minimum of effort.” Another Shul member explained to me that a rabbi’s theological position was less important than his poise, maturity, capacity as a public speaker, his “presence.” Still another Shul man said, “We’d like a $25,000 a year man, and all we can pay is ten.”



The present rabbi of the Shul, Max Leader, studied in Israel and at Yeshiva University. “The congregation is in need of strong spiritual leadership,” he told me. “The people have to be set an example and must learn the reasons for ritual. I always walk to Shul on the Sabbath and the Holy Days, even though it is two miles from my home. Many persons take a motel room nearby on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and walk over. There’s no reason why we can’t get a mohel from Denver or El Paso for circumcision, or send a woman to a mikveh in those cities. As a matter of fact, this is just what my family does since I’ve been here. There should be no smoking on the Sabbath. Also, a large community like this should have a kosher butcher. I’ll accommodate to the requirements of modern living as much as I can: I have no principled objection to Bas Mitzvah, for example, if the parents of the girl want it, and there’s nothing wrong with conducting services partly in the vernacular. But you can’t compromise on fundamentals.”

Some of Rabbi Leader’s innovations have startled members of the congregation. A class for teen-age boys, which parents thought would simply cover the meaning of certain religious customs, turned out to include practice in putting on phylacteries. He will not allow an “uncommitted” person, however qualified otherwise, to teach language, history, or customs to the children; “uncommitted” includes a Reform rabbi. As one admiring Shul member put it, “He will not countenance Reform-Judaism-with-a-skullcap-on.”

I spent two hours with Rabbi Leader and was impressed by the intensity and depth of his feelings. Most congregation members I have talked with regard him with admiration and respect. “Oh, I like him well enough,” one summed up. “He may be quixotic, but he’s serious and mature and the fierceness of his Orthodoxy sort of pleases me. I don’t object to anything he does, just so long as he doesn’t force me to do the same. And, who knows, maybe he’ll convert me yet.”



“We spend a lot of time and effort helping Jewish people in trouble,” Mrs. Rana Adler, executive secretary of the city’s Jewish Welfare Fund, told me. “A refugee Jewish doctor finds himself in a mess with a certification question; we try to straighten it out, calling on the leading people in town to help. The director of the welfare fund in a northeastern city telephones me to help the son of a big contributor of theirs—he’s traveling east on 66 from California, having deserted his wife and jumped bail; my job is to keep the police from getting to him before he has a chance to talk with his father and turn around and go back to California. We have lots of cases every year of Jewish families breaking up, and whether or not they’ve ever given a penny to the Fund, we help them get together, supplying money when necessary. If any Jewish man gets in trouble with the police, we go down to see that he’s treated right.”

Mrs. Adler also supervises the research of the committee that determines the allocation of other than UJA contributions (to 46 other groups), a sometimes touchy problem; acts as an amateur case and community worker; processes applications of local Jews and non-Jews to such places as the Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children, in Denver; answers innumerable questions from all over the country (“How many Jews have served on the State Supreme Court?”: answer, two); and maintains touch with the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. When twelve concentration-camp families came to the city in 1949, she was in charge of resettling them. She is also looking into the problem of building a Jewish community center for the city. She does all this on a halftime salary.



Albuquerque is an island surrounded largely by desert and mountain. Denver, the nearest large city, is nearly 500 miles away. The Jewish community seems as detached as the whole city is from national or world issues. International events receive skimpy coverage in the papers, although national civil rights events are reported somewhat more thoroughly. Recent agitation in behalf of a state “right to work” law was greeted by polite apathy. The city is liberal, in a large generous way, and that’s that.

This remote sense of the outside world is very comfortable and comforting. Little time is spent on fruitless and enervating exchanges, and one sometimes thinks that there is indeed nothing to be troubled about. But occasionally it seems unrealistic, to put it mildly, when the city is bordered by jet plane installations and atomic bomb storage areas, and when it suppresses, as it unconsciously does, the subtleties of Anglo-Spanish tensions.4

There is a good deal of discontent about cultural matters. Recently a million-dollar city auditorium was completed; it had been heralded as a large step in a cultural renaissance. To justify the expenditure, and to recover the cost, it was designed to harbor both wrestling exhibitions and symphony concerts. Constructed as a circle, the auditorium excludes more than half of the seats for a stage presentation, and, because of the odd acoustics, erratically disperses much of the sound. Nevertheless, various city groups conscientiously continue to schedule concerts and recitals. Even the Jewish Welfare Fund board, at a meeting I attended, briefly considered the possibility of having several Jewish organizations sponsor a “cultural event” in the auditorium. The board kept its head, however, noting that its main function was to support charities. Last year B’nai B’rith wiped out a huge deficit and filled its treasury after sponsoring a concert by the First Piano Quartet in the auditorium.

The city’s feeling that there is a cultural dearth in Albuquerque is an exaggeration, for there are several good book stores and a fine public library. The university sponsors recitals of classical music and jazz, plays, art shows, symposiums on American education and science, and lectures by such men as Robert Maynard Hutchins, Thurman Arnold, and Dean Erwin N. Griswold—all of these events open to the public. The Temple’s men’s club even had two “intellectual” programs last year, sandwiched, it is true, between such things as lady judo experts and the local Shriners’ choir. And there is always the possibility of responding to the fascinating Southwestern landscape and local culture.

The annual Hadassah variety show, an unsparing, unsentimental running commentary on the entire Jewish community, is brilliant in its satiric insights. The Temple’s library has a good variety of Jewish reference texts, including the full Soncino Midrash, as well as current volumes of Jewish interest, and a fairly complete file of COMMENTARY. (The Shul has no library.) The Temple has been running a weekly Bible class for adults for several years, which, in addition to studying the Bible closely, ranges widely over all sorts of Jewish questions. Like the Shul’s similar enterprise, it is popular and well attended.

Members of both congregations, however, avoid serious discussion of touchy subjects, like intermarriage or the ideological differences between the Temple and the Shul. In spite (perhaps because) of the high percentage of happy intermarriages in the community, intermarriage is considered so self-evidently bad in some circles that even a non-committal reference to the practice is taken to be in poor taste. As for Reform versus “traditional” Judaism, I was assured by both Shul and Temple representatives that if members of the rival congregation would consider their allegiances honestly, they would promptly switch them and that, consequently, they prefer to pretend there is no issue.

In spite of its disproportionate smallness, the Jewish community of Albuquerque can hardly be said to be unique. One might perhaps have expected a somewhat more singular development from the fact that Jews in New Mexico have always been identified with the “Anglos,” but the only apparent result of this is that the community of Albuquerque is much like the ones in older and smaller Midwestern cities—well-integrated and almost indistinguishable from the community at large. The ubiquitous frontier tolerance which made it possible and comfortable for Jews to fit readily into the early life of the New Mexican territory, is ingrained in the Jewish community as well. There are no significant social barriers within the community, nor is there any sort of common consciousness of separateness from “the others.” The Jewish stranger to Albuquerque, vaguely anticipating some kind of unique Jewish way of life in a context so scenically, historically, and climatically spectacular, might well be disappointed when he finds that Albuquerque, after all, falls into a familiar pattern.



1 There is a record of a Jewish copper-miner in Silver City in the 1840's. He later settled in Las Vegas, New Mexico, as a merchant. See also Albert Rosenfeld's “In Santa Fe, the City Different,” COMMENTARY, May 1954.

2 Perhaps a half dozen non-Jews belong to the Temple's men's club and many Jewish members bring their non-Jewish friends to the monthly Sunday breakfast.

3 See “Suburban Jewish Sunday School” by Theodore Frankel, COMMENTARY, June 1958.

4 There is much agitation, for example, among “liberal” Anglos to teach Anglo children Spanish in the public schools. This is opposed by the public school administration, mostly on the grounds of cost, and also, less actively, by the Spanish-speaking population, which would like to wipe out the linguistic barrier that separates it from the Anglo community.

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