Mourner’s Kaddish for My Grandfather’s Relatives

April 15th, 2015 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in family, Jewishness

It is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), and I lit a Yahrzeit (memorial) candle for my grandfather’s relatives and said the Mourner’s Kaddish for:

Pesha Rajsman
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba b’alma di-v’ra
Doba Srodogora
chirutei, v’yamlich malchutei b’chayeichon
Beila Srodogora
uvyomeichon uvchayei d’chol beit yisrael, ba’agala
Tema nee Rajsman and her unknown husband and children
uvizman kariv, v’im’ru: “amen.”
Estera nee Rajsman and her unknown husband and children
Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach l’alam ul’almei almaya.
Aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives whose first names I don’t even know
Yitbarach v’yishtabach, v’yitpa’ar v’yitromam

I can only say the Mourner’s Kaddish for them in a group because I don’t know when or where they died.
v’yitnaseh, v’yithadar v’yit’aleh v’yit’halal sh’mei
Because there is no one else left to say it.
d’kud’sha, b’rich hu,
Because even though I never knew them, I keenly felt their absence.
l’eila min-kol-birchata v’shirata, tushb’chata
Because they were loved by someone I loved dearly.
v’nechemata da’amiran b’alma, v’im’ru: “amen.”
Because his loss was so enormous, he could never bring himself to speak of them.
Y’hei shlama raba min-sh’maya v’chayim aleinu
Because they are lost among so many others
v’al-kol-yisrael, v’im’ru: “amen.”

Because I don’t want them to be forgotten
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol-yisrael, v’imru: “amen.”


The Passover Story, Minus Charleton Heston

April 4th, 2015 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in hilarity, I am a bad person sometimes, Jewishness

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story of Passover, it originated around the time when the Jews were slaves in Babylonia. Everyone was upset and lo, a Babylonian myth about a baby fetched out of the water (“Moses” is not Hebrew in origin and means brought from the water) who goes on to free his people from bondage was adopted into the story we all know and love today. I know that is not what people are generally taught, but so it goes.

Anyway, the saga begins many generations before, when Jacob brings all the mispocha down to Egypt where his son Joseph, interpreter of dreams, has become a viceroy. Things are good for a while, but as it always seems to go with the Jews, eventually the leaders sour on us and we are enslaved. Still, the pharaoh is freaking out about an uprising, so he decides that all Jewish baby boys have to be killed. Moses’s mom, Yocheved, saves him by putting him in a basket in the river where the Pharaoh’s barren daughter will find him, take him as her own, and hire Yocheved to nurse him. (Very clever plan!)
Years later, Moses observes an overseer beating a Jewish slave. In defending the slave, he goes overboard and kills the Egyptian. So he does what any prince who killed someone on accident would do and ran away so he wouldn’t have to account for his actions. While he’s wondering the desert, a burning bush starts chatting him up. The Bible says nothing about hallucinations, though, because supposedly God wants to have a heart-to-heart and what better way to get a dude’s attention that to set a bush afire and talk through it? (Some might prefer other sorts of talking bush, but I digress.)

The bush/God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and demand that pharaoh free the Jews. (If Egypt was anything like NYC, it was being grossly overdeveloped, so this would be good for the Egyptians from a planning perspective as well. I’m just saying.) Instead of saying, “What the fuck?”, Moses goes back to Egypt as commanded. Pharaoh is not at all into the plan (he’s sort of like Donald Trump and likes big ugly luxury buildings), so Moses says that God will fuck them up. Pharaoh’s like, “Whatev.”

Then the first plague arrives. God turns all the Egyptians’ water into blood. (This is worse than the current drought in California.) It reeks. So Pharaoh says to get the fuck out as long as the smell goes away. Yay! The Jews rejoice. The blood turns back into water. Pharaoh is all George W. Bush then and renegs on his promise, leading to the next plague.
After the first plague ends and Pharaoh revokes his promise to let the Israelites leave Egypt, Moses and his brother Aaron bring a second plague upon the land. Suddenly, everything is crawling with frogs. They hop into bed with the Egyptians, shower with them, and join them for dinner at fancy restaurants. The worst part was that the croakers would not shut the fuck up. Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit, day and night. Even if the Egyptians did not believe they could get warts from the hoppers (since everyone knows that toads brings warts, geez!), the noise is unbelievable. Pharaoh’s court magicians could not get rid of them, so he finally agrees to let the Jews go so long as Moses gets those green fucks out as well. Moses is like, “Right on. Just pick the time, and our God will shut the frogs up.” At the appointed time, all the frogs die. I assume that the en masse deaths and subsequent decaying frog bodies stank as bad as when the water turned to blood. Maybe that’s why Pharaoh changes his mind about letting the Jews abandon their positions as slaves.

Now God is pissed. If the shenanigans with blood and frogs didn’t convince this Pharaoh shithead to let his peeps go, God must unveil something really gross. So Aaron is instructed to stretch out his staff and strike the dust. The dust become lice. As one might imagine, there is a lot of dust in a desert. If you’ve ever had even a mild case of lice (as I did in 2nd grade), you know how unpleasant this is. Imagine a desert made of lice. Even though I think I read somewhere that ancient Egyptians were big into body hair removal (maybe even the original perpetrators of shaved snatch – we should really call Brazilian waxes Ancient Egyptian Exposed Cooter; I could be remembering wrong though), this was not cool. In fact, the Biblical scholar known as Wikipedia asserts that, “This plague killed the most people by far; bugs covered bodies in everyplace that you could not even touch.” Yes, I am itching as I write this. Pharaoh must have been really fucking miserable (or maybe this is what made the Egyptians hate body hair, huh?), as he again agrees to let the Jews go.

Basically, after Pharaoh renegs on letting the Jews leave once the lice were removed from their crotches, they are followed around by swarms of flies. At that point, I suspect they regretted having the frogs (plague 2) killed off, as the fly population would have been greatly reduced by the presence of hungry frogs. But, too late! Hindsight is 20/20.
Of course, the Egyptians hate it when flies swarm them everywhere (I picture it sort of like Pig Pen, surrounded by a cloud), so Pharaoh says the Jews could take off if the flies are withdrawn. The flies went wherever plagues of flies go when they are called away, but Pharaoh changes his mind again. So God fucks with the cattle, giving them a “very grievous murrain.” I kind of feel bad for all the horses, camels, oxen, sheep, and asses that die as a result. What did they have to do with this dispute? Nada. Just innocent victims in a battle of wills. It’s always the bystanders that get screwed the worst, I tell you.

After five plagues came and went, you’d think that Pharaoh would have figured out that more were on the way if he didn’t let the Jews leave Egypt, but I think we all know that it is really really hard to cut slave labor loose once you get used to it. One might note that these conditions still exist around the world today – from sweatshop basements and brothels in New York City to the indentured construction workers building skyscrapers in Dubai – but that is far more serious than I want to be, given that the sixth plague is boils. But I duly note that injustice continues without divine intervention.
So after the “very grievous murrain” fucks with the Egyptian livestock but Pharaoh still refuses to free the Jews, God tells Aaron to throw some soot around. The dirt led to boils infesting the skin of the Egyptians and whatever livestock hadn’t been fucked up by the “very grievous murrain.” (When I was growing up, my grandparents used Haggadahs at our abbreviated Passover Seders that they somehow got free from Maxwell House coffee. These books also had some very graphic depictions on the plagues, and I was always transfixed by the boils. They were drawn as ginormous lumps leaking pus off a guy’s arm. It was hard to eat gefilte fish after looking at something like that.) My guess is that there weren’t enough sterile needles in ancient Egypt to properly lance all the pus-infested boils, so Pharaoh gives in and says the Jews can leave. Once the boils are gone and everyone is comfortable in their 800 thread count Egyptian cotton robes, of course he changes his mind.

That’s when the hail starts. “Eh, what’s the big deal about hail?” one might wonder. The Maxwell House coffee Haggadah indicated that this hail was mixed with flames, so that fire and ice rained down upon the Egyptians. The crops and whatever livestock still managed to survive were badly damaged. I partly wonder how the hail did not melt from the heat of the fire and then douse the fire, but whatever. That is why it is a miracle.

Next comes a plague of locusts. The locusts destroy any crops that somehow managed to remain after frogs, flies, murrain, and all sorts of other nasty shit decimated the land. People were probably not so impressed by the locusts for that reason as well. If anyone had consulted me on what the 8th plague should have been, I’d have chosen bedbugs. Bedbugs are evil, evil, evil fuckers. There’s a plague of them in NYC now. Again, I wonder what we’re doing that we are so afflicted.

After the locusts’ darkness was recalled, the next plague was darkness. (This strikes me as silly: In the previous plague, supposedly so many locusts swarmed Egypt that the bugs cast a shadow over the land. How is darkness supposed to follow that? It was already dark.) Apparently, however, this darkness was heavier, and Egyptians are physically weighed down by it. According to Wikipedia, the darkness was a direct smackdown on the sun god Ra. It was dark for three days. These people would probably not do well in Scandinavian countries or Alaska in winter if they couldn’t make it through a mere three days of darkness. I hear the vampires love it, though.

The 10th and final plague involves killing all first-born sons, including that of animals. (Once again, totally innocent bystanders.) The Angel of Death roams the towns of Egypt, sparing no one. Except for those who had been warned in advance. Those people (the Jews) marked their doors with lamb’s blood, and the Angel of Death passed over. I guess he is not down with lamb’s blood.

Once the Egyptians suffered, Pharaoh calls Moses in and tells him to get everyone the fuck out of there. So they pack their shit up as fast as they could. This does not allow their delicious bread to rise, so their descendants are condemned to eat matzoh during Passover to show that we still feel the pain. Long story short, the Jews vamanos, and Pharaoh, back to his fickle self, changes his mind. He sends his army to bring them back. The Jews arrive at the Red Sea and despair because we are good divers (evidenced by Mark Spitz) but not good swimmers (Phelps? Not Jewish). God tells them to stop whining and creates a path for them to cross through the Red Sea. Yay! The Egyptians follow. I picture a bad game of “Red Rover,” with the Jews on the far side of the Sea linking hands and yelling, “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Pharaoh come over.” The fool charges at the line, and whoops! God closes the sea back up and everyone drowns.

Which will bring me to my final point: anyone who says that God loves life and therefore is against abortion clearly has not read the Bible.

What They Read

April 2nd, 2015 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in sadness, writing

There is an intense essay by the Polish poet Wladyslaw Szlengel called What I Read to the Dead. Szlengel wrote it as the Nazis were liquidating the ghetto in 1943. He captured the final months, weeks, days, and hours of Jewish life in Warsaw:

One day, I was supposed to read these poems to the persons who had believed in their survival; together with them I was to browse this little volume as a memoirs from the luckily survived nightmarish period, recollections from the bottom of the hell – now, the companions of my wandering are gone and within one hour these poems have become the ones that I read to the dead.

It is then the high time to sort my papers.

I am thinking about this essay now because I am doing a revision on my novel. (Unlike Szlengel’s work, I end the story in late 1939, when the main character leaves Warsaw to escape the Nazis.) As part of this work, a wonderful woman in Poland is translating the last issues of a Polish Zionist newspaper so I can see for myself what the last days of pre-occupation Warsaw were like, and what the Jews of Warsaw were reading as the Nazis bore down on them.

But it is hard. It is hard to read these things knowing that 99% of the people who read these stories when they were fresh off the presses were dead within five years. It is hard to see their bravery, their optimism, their fears captured in stories noting that there are free clinics for the injured, in ads searching for lost family members, in recaps of the mayor’s speech to boost the morale of the population. I am reading what a doomed and damned people read, and they could not even begin to fathom what was to come, but I know. I know and it is hard.

Here is what Mayor Starzynski said, quoted in the paper on Sept. 20, 1939, “The whole world has united in the fight against Germany. Warsaw will resist, survive and in the end – win.”

(The city capitulated a week later.)

Here is a missing persons ad: “REJDER BEJNYCH is looking for his son DAWID (Dadek), who got separated on Thursday, 7th September about 4 a.m. at the outskirts of Warsaw. He’s staying at a dentist Szejnwald, Warsaw, Zlota Street 39″

Here is an article reporting how bad things are in Czechoslovakia: “UNBELIEVABLE TERROR IN CZECH REPUBLIC – according to the news from Belgrade over 10 000 people have been arrested in Prague over the last days, including many prominent politically active persons.”

Here is an advisory: “SAFETY IN THE STREETS: during bombings several balconies were destroyed and now can easily fall down to the pavements. Same can happen with the glass from broken windows. For that reason pavements in dangerous places should be marked and barred.”

Yes, this is some of what they read in the last published issue of Nasz Przegland – Our Review. It is painful to sort these papers.

Do read it.

This is our history.

This is what I read to the dead.

The Pot and the Kettle

February 8th, 2015 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in Jewishness, other rants, sadness

Speaking of displaced persons camps (see post below), today’s New York Times has a fascinating (random) article on how badly Americans treated Jewish displaced persons after WWII. Many people I know have been very surprised. When I was researching for my book back in 2009, I learned a lot about how bad things were, so the article just makes me sad.

Here’s a highlight:

“We entered the synagogue, which was packed with the greatest stinking mass of humanity I have ever seen,” [Gen. George S.] Patton wrote. “Of course, I have seen them since the beginning and marveled that beings alleged to be made in the form of God can look the way they do or act the way they act.”

For every American Jew who has been so critical of anti-Semitism in Europe, remember that the US has historically not really loved Jews any more. (And you just need to read the completely fucked up comments on the article to see that this is not just something that is a historical problem.) This country is just much better at hiding our anti-Semitism, just as we are experts at whitewashing the true history of “freedom” and “democracy” in a land built on the backs of slave labor, the 3/5 Compromise, and votes only for white male landowners. We are as failed at living up to our ideals as any other country, but really, really great at being sanctimonious.

What we know from history is that Jews can find refuge in places for quite some time, but it always comes to an end. Husband always says we should be ready to flee because the US is really no different. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way, but people really love believing the lies – that the Constitution is for everyone – because it means we don’t have to do the hard work to make it true. And yes, I realize that I still have it pretty good living here compared to some other places. But that doesn’t mean I have to settle for what is. I want to see the US really be the shining beacon of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, and it hurts me that so many of my fellow countrymen like to settle for half measures. The truth shall set you free.

Mumps: A Fairy Tale

February 4th, 2015 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in family, mortification, other rants

MumpsOnce upon a time, in a displaced person’s camp in Austria, the only child of Holocaust survivors came down with the mumps. For parents whose entire families were lost – either to the Nazi death camps or to the Iron Curtain – this was beyond devastating. They would have done anything if only they could have prevented their little boy from contracting this terrible disease.

Fortunately, the boy survived. The family moved to the United States, where the boy grew up, married, and had his own family. Everyone was very excited that the children could receive a vaccine that would prevent them from going through what they had experienced decades ago. Many, many years later, one of the daughters of the boy with mumps had her own baby. He, too, received a vaccine.

The very idea that a person would not take this precious opportunity to protect his or her child, and to protect the children of other, is horrifying to this family. What evil, wicked forces would brainwash parents to turn down a lifesaving option? They cannot understand.

This fairy tale does not have to have an unhappy ending. The spell of the anti-vaccination, anti-science advocates can be broken. It will take bravery and moral courage, but as this family knows, the alternative is even scarier.

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Doing a Mitzvah

September 19th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in hilarity

Thirty-five minutes before my train was set to leave, I arrived at the gate. The line already extended out of the boarding area and was starting to snake down the hall. I never really understood why people feel the compulsion to arrive so early for a train with a guaranteed eat, and yet there I was, early for the train.

My stomach rumbled. I opened a baggie of pistacio nuts. I had just begun shoving them into my gaping maw by the handful when an older white couple joined the line behind me. The man was short, wearing navy pants, a hideous navy shirt made of some polyesther looking fabric, and navy pants. The woman was wearing a woven blazer and tasteful gold jewelry. A blond man, maybe in his twenties, wearing a navy jacket, pink shirt, and khakis, assisted them.

“Sir,” he said, which of course caught my attention. Who the fuck talks like that? “You’ll take this piece of paper” – and he handed him the boarding pass – “and show it to the person when you get to the gate.”

The couple asked a variety of questions about where to put their bags and what it would be like coming back to DC from Philly, when they were on their own. I turned around and told them it would be less crazy on the way back, explaining that people don’t really line up so early, but also that the train would be more crowded when they boarded, since it was coming from somewhere else.

The woman nodded. “We usually just fly, but it seems silly to fly to Philadelphia. And it’s expensive.”

Thinking about the clusterfuck of hell that I dealt with back in December when I flew to Philly to connect to a flight elsewhere, but 36 hours later found myself on Amtrak back home, I nodded. “Actually, if Amtrak runs smoothly, it’s a pretty relaxing trip.”

She seemed pleased. I began reading my book. Suddenly, a man darted into the line. “Are you…..” he asked, but I missed what he said. I turned slightly to observe. “I’ve been following your career for a few years. You are truly a great American!”

The man in navy beamed. Now I was really curious. Who was this dude with the white boy assistant? I tried to peek at the name on his boarding pass. Fail. I tried to glimpse the name on the woman’s boarding pass. Another fail. However, she did pull out her driver’s license. I still didn’t see the name, but it was from Indiana.

Richard Lugar, I thought immediately. Must be. The line moved forward. I asked if they needed help, but they said they were fine. I rushed ahead to get on the train and figure out if I had just offered to assist an anti-choice Republican.

As soon as I sat on the train, I googled his name. The accompanying picture indicated that yes, I had been kind to a Republican former Senator from Indiana who is a quiet anti-choicer, as I had suspected. I felt charitable. Let the weekend begin.


Stranger on the Plane

September 16th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in random

The woman sitting next to me on the plane looked vampiric and was reading a VC Andrews novel. I was already seated in the middle seat when she boarded the plane, but she didn’t give me a chance to move out before trying to climb over me. She was weird.

So it freaked me out a bit when, halfway through the short flight, when she leaned over and asked me what I was reading on my kindle. She had a strange look on her face. It was obvious she’d been reading over my shoulder, although for how long I was not sure.

“Uh, The Outside World,” I told her. I was pretty sure that she was not reading novels about Jews seeking more meaning in their religious practices, and wasn’t sure where she was going with this.

“Oh.” She seemed disappointed. “I thought it was something else.”

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman?” I asked. Maybe she did like reading books about ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“Yes, that’s it. I read that. I thought this might be that book.”

I was confused. If she read the book, did it not strike her that none of the characters have the same names or live in the same setting?

She leaned toward me. “Do you live in New York?”


“How come you’re traveling?”

“I’m going to a conference,” I said. I really did not want to talk to her. I picked up my Kindle again.

“Oh, you work? Do you like working?”


Then she asked me where I live in New York. By this point, we were landing. I was increasingly nervous that she was going to follow me off the plane, onto the subway platform, and shove me onto the tracks as a train pulled into the station. Fortunately, the women on the other side of me decided to tell me all about her trip to Cancun with her husband. Vampir-O shrunk back. I can’t say for sure if she was hissing, but I swear she might have been.

I should not travel for work.


New research

September 9th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in Jewishness, oh happy day, writing

While working, training for a half marathon, and seeking representation for my novel set in Warsaw in the 1930s, I was hit with an idea for a second novel. (Really, a third novel since a lot of the material I cut from my original idea for my Warsaw-Chicago novel is a partial second novel, but whatever.) The new novel involves adoption, the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, and triplets born in London in 1910.

This means: RESEARCH! Good god, I love research. I am very excited to be in a research phase again. The nice thing about this research is that it is also primarily dealing with documents in English. (Much easier for me than Yiddish and Polish, since I speak neither of those languages.) Plus, I love London.

The triplets born in London in 1910 who form part of the family saga are actually my husband’s grandmother and great aunt and great uncle. The only thing better than research in general is genealogical research. Especially when records actually exist. (Major problem I have with finding information about my grandfather and his family in Warsaw: no records left after the Nazis destroyed not only the people who lived there, but their paper documentation, as if to erase this world completely.)

I’m super excited.


August 14th, 2014 by Suzanne | 1 Comment | Filed in family, hilarity, Jewishness

Look closely

I love this photo of my grandfather at B’Nai Jacob on Artesian in 1987. At first glance, it seems like a man praying with his peers, probably as a minyan. But then you look closely… and it so perfectly captures who my grandpa was and his relationship with Judaism.

I thought about this picture out of the blue this evening. I was suddenly struck by how much I would love to talk to him again, just one last time. Generally when that mood strikes, I feel like I’d use an opportunity for another conversation to ask him about his past. This evening, I just wanted to hear him tell one of his jokes.

Man, it is hard sometimes.

SCOTUS Gives Hobby Lobby & Other Employers Right to Kill Me

June 30th, 2014 by Suzanne | No Comments | Filed in Asshole idiots, Damn, evil, fuck

Back some time in the early 2000s, I was diagnosed with a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It’s a pretty common ailment these days, unfortunately. In my case, both my ovaries are covered with little cysts. These bastards secret their own androgens that fuck with the rest of me. For example, I have a chin full of lovely whiskers, have to watch my weight like a sentry at a max security prison, and am prone to depression.

The bigger problem is that people with PCOS have increased risks of various types of cancer. According to the National Institute for Health, “The risk of cancer of the endometrium… the inside lining of the uterus, is three times as high for women with PCOS as it is for other women… Women with PCOS also may be at higher risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Small studies have suggested that a lack of ovulation (anovulation), as occurs with PCOS, is linked with a risk of breast cancer that is three to four times that of women without anovulation. In other research, results showed more than a doubling of the risk of ovarian cancer in women with PCOS, but scientists have not confirmed these links in large population studies.”

One of the reasons, as cited above, for these risks is a lack of ovulation and menstruation, which was a problem I have because of the cysts and their damn androgens. Fortunately, birth control is available to resolve that. When I was on the Pill, I got my period more regularly than when I was not. My risk of cancer decreased dramatically. Yay!

However, studies also show that it’s not really great to be on the Pill indefinitely. When I turned 35, I’d been on the Pill to combat my PCOS for over 10 years. My doctor suggested that I consider switching to an IUD. I wasn’t crazy about the idea (*cough*Dalkon Shield*cough*), but eventually it made sense. After a farcical failed attempt to have one inserted in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (let’s just say my cervix does not like shit being pushed through it, and I thought I might understand what an abortion done with knitting needles might feel like), I finally got one in June 2013. My insurance covered it. And it’s been great.

The problem is that certain employers, thanks to the Supreme Court, are now considered people with religious beliefs. It seems that these non-human people were upset that they may have to allow their employees to have certain kinds of birth control on their company insurance that offended the company’s religion. The Supreme Court today decided that my potentially life-saving contraceptive device violated the non-human person’s First Amendment rights. Therefore, in four years when I need a new IUD, I better not work for a non-human company with religious beliefs that conflict with my medical needs, or I could be denied an IUD with insurance.

So people have gone pretty crazy about this, insisting that I can just “skip a few cups of Starbucks and buy contraceptives for $20 from Wal-Mart.” (This is an actual quote.) Who cares that the decision is so narrow that Jehovah’s Witness non-human people are still forced to cover blood transfusions against their religious beliefs? I’m just being a whiny, feminist bitch who doesn’t want to get cancer. (How demanding!) Any woman can just wander into 7-11, according to that loving defender of priests who molest children, Cardinal Dolan, and get one. (Yes, he seriously said that.) Who cares that an IUD is actually a few hundred dollars and then the cost of the insertion?

An IUD can save my life. It’s nice that my potential future employer might be forced to cover it if I sit down with them and explain to them why I need it. Just like men are forced to do when they want vasectomies. Wait – they aren’t? Oh rats. I’m just being a demanding, whiny bitch again. It’s so wrong of me to be upset that these companies that claim their religions value life so much that I can’t have a contraceptive that will possibly save my life unless I beg and plead!

The best part is that when I mentioned this on twitter, the delightful NY Post columnist Jon Podhoretz responded, “aaaand scene.”

Yep. It sure could be.

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