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Ten Undergraduate Valedictorians Recognized for Their Academic Achievements by Respective Schools

More than 750 students from Yeshiva University’s undergraduate schools were presented with their degrees at YU’s 81st commencement exercises, held at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ on May 24. Ten received the distinction of valedictorian, an honor that reflects their exceptional academic achievement.

Valedictorians (L-R): Elana Sand, Chana Zuckier, Jennifer Lazaros, Yair Saperstein, Gregory Kupsin, Yehuda Safier, Anosh Moshe Zaghi, Avi Libman and Jesse Bernstein. Not pictured: Sultana Shoshani.

As the new graduates prepared to take their drive, creativity and dedication to a range of exciting careers and challenges, from medical school and finance to academic law and communal leadership, they recalled the close relationships with faculty, vibrant Jewish life and rich academic and extracurricular experiences that shaped their undergraduate years at Yeshiva. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ambassador Yehuda Avner Tells Graduates: “You Are the Vanguard of Our People”

“Can’t you feel the excitement and energy in here?” asked Miriam Goldstein, a newly minted graduate of Stern College for Women. “These have been the best four years of my life. I’m so glad to be here and part of this.”

“Here” was the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ, where Yeshiva University hosted its 81st annual Commencement ceremony on May 24. More than 750 undergraduate students received their degrees and heard a memorable keynote address from former Israeli diplomat Ambassador Yehuda Avner. Read the rest of this entry…

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On Brink of Professional and Academic Careers, New Graduates Reflect on Undergraduate Experience

They are art historians, human capital consultants and biotechnologists. They come from Jerusalem, Montreal and Miami. They’ll be pursuing cutting-edge graduate work at first-class institutions like Harvard and New York University. They’ll build their own businesses from the ground up. And they’ll also be giving back by teaching at schools for children with special needs and developing innovative educational programs about world issues.

They’re the Yeshiva University Class of 2012.

On May 24, more than 750 students will march across the Izod Center stage at Yeshiva University’s 81st Commencement Exercises, as they celebrate the completion of their undergraduate careers. However, these new alumni know their education is far from over.

As they begin the next chapter of their lives, members of the graduating class reflected on the good times, the defining moments and the takeaways of their unique YU experiences. Read the rest of this entry…

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Yeshiva University Museum Presents Fourth Annual Stern College Senior Art Show

Artwork by Stern College for Women students will be on display at the Yeshiva University Museum in Revelation: The Fourth Annual Stern College Senior Art Show. Presenting 38 works by graduating studio art majors, the exhibition provides a window into the art-making approach, as well as the personal observations and insights of 11 young Jewish female artists.

Leah Fried, “Self Explanatory”

A rich mix of styles, techniques and technologies, Revelation includes digital photography, oil painting, stop-motion animation and stone sculpture, among other media.  The wide-ranging subjects reflect the students’ intellectual and emotional curiosity, from Lauren Kahn’s striking sculptures of New York City manhole covers to Dina Wecker’s minutely detailed pen-and-ink aerial Manhattan skyline to Jordana Chernofsky’s pointillist nature paintings to Melissa Zehnwirth’s glam-inspired screen print.  The show was guided by Traci Tullius, the acclaimed video and performance artist who leads Stern College’s studio art program. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ambassador Yehuda Avner to Speak at May 24 Commencement; Honorees Include Alan Willner, Eleazer Hirmes and Ethel Orlian

Former Israeli diplomat, Ambassador Yehuda Avner, will deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary doctorate at Yeshiva University’s 81st Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, May 24, at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ.

Ambassador Yehuda Avner

Avner, an author of two books, served as speechwriter and secretary to Israeli Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and as an adviser to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres. Read the rest of this entry…

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Political Experts Discuss the Role of Religion in the Presidential Race at Robbins-Wilf Program

While religion has sharply divided voters in recent elections over issues related to same-sex marriage, abortion and separation of Church and State, and despite a Mormon heading the ticket of a major political party for the first time, religion appears less likely to affect the upcoming presidential election between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. That was the consensus among three veteran political and religious analysts who came together on Yeshiva University’s Beren Campus to discuss the impact of religion on the 2012 presidential race as part of Stern College for Women’s Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program on April 30.

Prof. Bryan Daves, Jeff Greenfield, Anna Greenberg and Dr. Peter Steinfels discuss the impact of religion on the presidential election at the YU Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program.

The event, which took place at the Schottenstein Cultural Center, addressed the role religion has played historically in presidential politics and the way that role has evolved in recent years. The panel included Jeff Greenfield, anchor of PBS’ “Need to Know”; Anna Greenberg, leading pollster and senior vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research; and Dr. Peter Steinfels, co-director of the Center for Religion and Culture at Fordham University and a former religion columnist for The New York Times.

According to the panel, two factors seemed to explain the diminished impact of religion on this election: the struggling economy and the public’s tiring of religion’s role in previous elections. The group also discussed media coverage of religion in politics, with a focus on Romney’s candidacy as the first Mormon to run for president. “Mass media’s coverage of religion is not necessarily to be celebrated,” said Greenfield. “It’s very simplistic. Anyone who has a set of religious beliefs which is not familiar to most Americans is in for a tough time.” However, he felt Romney’s faith would ultimately make little difference to Americans at the voting booths. “The economy so overhangs everything else,” said Greenfield. “People will vote for Romney thinking, ‘He’s going to get the economy going, he knows how to put people to work,’ or Obama thinking, ‘He’s going to protect the middle class from those crazy Republicans.’ ”

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Greenberg agreed that religion would play a diminished role, but warned the audience to look for its influence at the margins. She referenced recent controversy about the Obama administration’s proposal to include birth control coverage in health insurance policies. “In this kind of election, some of these seemingly random issues can play an important part in shifting a small number of people in critical ways,” said Greenberg.

Speakers also noted that the way in which religion affects voter choice has changed.  Today, it is not denomination but rather religiosity that influences how Americans vote. The more religious a voter is the more likely they are to vote Republican, the less religious the more likely to vote democratic. “Religion has always been an important factor in presidential elections,” said Steinfels. “What has changed is that religious practice has become an identifier. Once upon a time, if you were a Catholic, you were more apt to vote Democratic, and it didn’t make a difference if you were a regular church-goer or not… now it does.”

“This year is poised to be a very close election with the electorate sharply divided on their choice for president,” said Professor Bryan Daves, director of the Robbins-Wilf program, a member of the political science department at YU, and the event’s moderator. “In recent elections, matters of faith and social issues have played an important role in determining the outcome. Yeshiva University, with its dual mission of Torah U’madda, is a perfect venue to host a discussion with three prominent experts on religion and politics.”

“The topic was so relevant because many students are voting in their first presidential election and this is no doubt going to be a defining election in American history,” said journalism major and political science minor Yaelle Lasson, a Stern College sophomore. “Hearing from Anna Greenberg, a revered and prominent woman making a difference in the public sphere, was especially meaningful for me. I find her social media research fascinating and hope to implement social media use in advocacy law after college.”

Though panelists shared a sense of surprise that religious issues didn’t seem to be a focus in the 2012 election, they didn’t all feel that was necessarily bad.

“This is a country where not so long ago, religious differences were not just profound but debilitating,” said Greenfield. “They served ill purposes. The fact that the country has opened up virtually any civic job you can think of to the point where they really don’t care what religion you are—I think that’s a healthy thing.”

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Ambassador Yehuda Avner to Speak at May 24 Commencement; Honorees Include Alan Willner, Eleazer Hirmes and Ethel Orlian

Former Israeli diplomat, Ambassador Yehuda Avner, will deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary doctorate at Yeshiva University’s 81st Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, May 24, at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ.

Ambassador Yehuda Avner

Avner, an author of two books, served as speechwriter and secretary to Israeli Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and as an adviser to Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres.

Visit the commencement page for dates, locations, directions and information on ceremonies for all Yeshiva University schools and affiliates.

President Richard M. Joel will also confer an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters upon Dr. Alan Willner and Eleazer Hirmes. Willner, a 1982 graduate of Yeshiva College, is a highly decorated physicist, who has published more than 950 papers on his research in optical technologies. Currently a chaired professor of engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, he holds 24 patents. His research has been supported by institutions such as Cisco, the Department of Defense, Google, Hewlett Packard, Intel, the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency.

Dr. Alan Willner

Hirmes’ family relationship with Yeshiva University dates back to the early years of the 20th century, when his father, Rabbi Abraham P. Hirmes, left the Slobatka Yeshiva in Lithuania to pursue his rabbinical ordination at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Eleazer attended YU High School and graduated from Yeshiva College in 1944. He received an MBA from New York University and spent 60 years practicing as a CPA, becoming a noted philanthropist in the Five Towns of New York. Hirmes and his wife Greta have set up a scholarship fund in honor of his parents.

Eleazer Hirmes

Eleazer Hirmes

Ethel Orlian, the associate dean of Stern College for Women, will be awarded the Presidential Medallion. Orlian has spent more than 50 years as a student, teacher and administrator at Yeshiva University. A graduate of YU High School and Stern College, she began her YU career as a researcher, but left to live in Israel before returning to Stern in 1979 as the assistant to Karen Bacon, dean of Stern College for Women. Known to generations of Stern College women, she has remained at the college since—serving as assistant dean and academic counselor and teaching chemistry prior to her appointment as associate dean.

Ethel Orlian

“Each of our honorees embodies a different piece of the principles of Yeshiva University, their commitment to the Jewish people, the State of Israel, their hometowns and to the University itself,” said President Joel. “We hope they inspire our graduates to leave our school for success now, but know they always have a home at YU.”

In all, more than 1,400 undergraduate students from Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women and Syms School of Business, as well as graduate students in the fields of law, medicine, social work, education, Jewish studies and psychology, will be awarded degrees from YU during its commencement season.

Learn more about the honorees here.

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Nationally Syndicated Talk Show Host Michael Medved Discusses the Race for the White House

As the 2012 presidential race kicks into high gear, nationally-acclaimed conservative talk show host, film critic and political commentator Michael Medved shared his insights and predictions about election outcomes with Yeshiva University students on April 18.

Michael Medved speaks to YU students at a Republican Club event on April 18.

Medved, a Sabbath-observant host of the nationally syndicated The Michael Medved Show, speculated about Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy and a potentially unprecedented outcome of the election. Medved also discussed factors he felt affected the Jewish vote and reflected on his first experiences in politics, as a student working for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign during his junior year at Yale University.

“Every election, without exception, we’re told this is the most important and critical election of your lifetime,” said Medved. “They say that to get you to vote. But this election truly is exciting and unpredictable.”

According to Medved, Romney could potentially win the Electoral College, but there is a chance for a crushing win of the popular vote by incumbent President Barack Obama—a situation Medved said had not arisen in American politics since the 1876 presidential race between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes. He outlined as well the strategy he felt could regain the White House for Republicans: conservative substance, moderate tone.

“Most people, when they vote, don’t vote for someone who inspires them, but against something they fear,” Medved said. “The Republicans need Romney to inspire and incite conservatives without scaring away moderates and people in the middle.”

The talk was hosted by the YU Republican Club and also featured a question-and-answer session, during which students and members of the public sought Medved’s take on everything from Romney’s best pick as running mate (“Senator Rob Portman is likely, but dull and safe. I like New Mexico Governor Suzanne Martinez for the job.”) to the possibility of a third party splitting the vote.

“Because Mr. Medved is both an observant Jew with a personal connection to the YU community and an influential political commentator, we felt he has an interesting perspective on the upcoming presidential election,” said Eitan Polster ’13YC, vice president of YU Republican Club. “His incredible success on the radio makes him a highly sought-after speaker and we were honored to host him to speak to us.  We felt that his ability to relate to millions of listeners on a daily basis gives him the unique ability to engage and captivate a diverse YU audience from all sections of the political spectrum.”

That was certainly true for Holly Hampton, a junior majoring in history at Stern College for Women, who described herself as a longtime Medved listener who first heard him on The Dennis Prager Show. “I really learned a lot about the upcoming election and it was interesting to hear his view of the Republican candidate and party,” she said.

For Medved, whose daughter Sarah is a graduate of Stern College and YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, the opportunity to speak at YU also offered a chance to connect with students who were passionate about and invested in their future as American citizens and Orthodox Jews. “I’ve always been impressed by the bright and refined young people I’ve met here,” said Medved. “YU is a resource of talent within the Jewish community.”

Learn more about the 2012 presidential election from leading political experts at the Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence program on April 30.

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Political Experts to Discuss the Role of Religion and its Impact on the Upcoming Presidential Election at April 30 Robbins-Wilf Program

With the presidential election campaign in full swing, Yeshiva University will host a discussion on “Religion and the 2012 Election” featuring PBS political analyst Jeff Greenfield, pollster Anna Greenberg and university professor and religion columnist Peter Steinfels. The lecture, part of the Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence program at YU’s Stern College for Women, will be held on Monday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Cultural Center, 239 East 34th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

Jeff Greenfield

“Religion has played a prominent role in the 2012 Republican primaries so far and looks poised to do so for the general election,” said Bryan Daves, clinical assistant professor of political science at Yeshiva University and moderator of the event. “In what many observers expect to be a very close race, issues related to religion could tip the balance. We are fortunate to have three of the keenest observers of American elections and the role of religion and public life to give us insights into how, why, and to what extent, religion will have an impact on how Americans will vote this year.”

One of America’s most respected political analysts, Jeff Greenfield has spent more than 30 years on network television and currently serves as an anchor on PBS’ Need to Know. A four-time Emmy Award-winner and columnist for Yahoo! News, he is known for his quick wit and savvy insight into politics, history, the media and current events. Greenfield has served as anchor booth analyst or floor reporter for every national political convention since 1988 and reported on virtually every important domestic political story in recent decades. Greenfield has authored or co-authored 12 books, including national bestselling novels Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics—JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan, The People’s Choice, The Real Campaign and Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow!, an insider account of the contested 2000 presidential election.

Anna Greenberg

Anna Greenberg is a leading pollster and an expert in survey research methodology with nearly 15 years of experience. Since joining Greenberg Quinlan Rosner in 2001, Greenberg has worked with many elected officials and a wide range of NGOs and advocacy groups. Her areas of expertise include women and politics, LGBT rights, religion and politics, healthcare policy and drug policy reform. Greenberg is an active participant in the advanced analytics community; she leads the company’s advances in micro-targeting and understanding the impact of social media on public opinion.

Peter Steinfels

Peter Steinfels is a professor and co-director at the Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture, former religion columnist for The New York Times, and a former editor of Commonweal, an independent biweekly journal of political, religious and literary opinion. A two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, he created and penned his biweekly column “Beliefs,” dealing with religion and ethics from 1990 to 2010. He is also the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America, The Neoconservatives, and co-edited Death Inside Out with Robert M.Veatch. Steinfels has contributed chapters to 17 other books and written articles and reviews for The New Republic, Esquire, Harper’s, Dissent, Le Nouvel Observateur, The Nation, Partisan Review and many other distinguished journals.

Dr. Robbins-Wilf, a founding member of the Stern College Board of Directors, established and funds the Scholar-in-Residence program, which brings top scholars, authors, artists and opinion makers to Stern College—offering students unique perspectives on the world. Admission is free and open to the public with valid photo ID and ticket, which can be reserved at http://religionandelection2012.eventbrite.com/.

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From “Jews and American National Holidays” to the “History of Jews in New York,” Stern College Presents Exciting New Lecture Series

Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women will host a series of cutting-edge lectures in Jewish studies on the Beren Campus, delivered by leading academics.

Dr. Beth Wenger, professor of history and director of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, will deliver the inaugural lecture on May 1 at 7 p.m. in Room 1015, 245 Lexington Ave, New York City. Titled “Civics Lessons: Jews and the American Holidays,” the talk will highlight the opportunities celebrations such as Thanksgiving and Independence Day afforded early American Jews to declare their allegiance to the United States and write themselves into the narratives of American history, thereby making themselves and their culture pivotal actors in the creation of the nation.

Wenger is the author of History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage (Princeton University Press, 2010), The Jewish Americans: Three Centuries of Jewish Voices in America (Doubleday, 2007) and New York Jews and the Great Depression: Uncertain Promise, (Yale University Press, 1996), among others.

The series is sponsored by a generous grant from the Robert and Susan Weiss Family Foundation. In Fall 2012, Dr. Sid Z. Leiman, professor of Jewish history and literature at Brooklyn College, will teach a course on 18th-century Jewish European intellectual history at Stern College.

Stern College will also host an evening symposium on the history of the Jews in New York City during the 19th and 20th centuries, led by a group of distinguished scholars who are completing a three-volume work on the subject, as part of the series.

More lectures, symposia and course offerings for coming semesters are in the works, according to Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel, chair of Stern’s Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies and E. Billi Ivry Chair and Professor of Jewish History.

“Professor Wenger and Professor Leiman are distinguished and outstanding scholars in their fields and are both well-known for their stimulating and challenging lectures and analyses,” said Kanarfogel. “We are deeply grateful to the Weiss Family Foundation for funding and supporting these exciting initiatives which will undoubtedly contribute a great deal to the intellectual richness throughout the field of Jewish Studies that our students can experience on campus.”

To learn more, email Estee Brick estee.brick@yu.edu.

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YU Panel Explores Solutions to Modern-Day Agunah Crisis

Members of the Yeshiva University community flooded Weissberg Commons to hear a multifaceted discussion of the plight of the modern-day agunah, a woman whose husband cannot or refuses to give her a get [writ of Jewish divorce], on March 29.

Agunah Panelists

"Fighting the Agunah Crisis" Panelists: Dr. David Pelcovitz, Rabbi Jeremy Stern, Tamar Epstein and Rabbi Hershel Schachter.

Titled “Fighting the Agunah Crisis,” the panel offered rabbinic, psychological and devastating personal insight into the complicated status of an agunah and the challenges she faces. That included testimony from Tamar Epstein ’04S, a nurse-practitioner and current agunah whose case has received a great deal of media attention due to the coordinated efforts of committed friends and the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA).

Before a crowd that overflowed into the hall, Epstein detailed her struggle to extract a get from her ex-husband and described the situation’s impact on her life, as well as her young daughter. “Divorce is always painful but the healing process can’t begin until the two parties have completely disentangled themselves from each other and can begin to move on with their lives, and that’s exactly what the agunah can’t do,” she said.

“That someone in our community is twisting halakha [Jewish law], not only selfishly, but also maliciously, must be intolerable to us,” said Ahuva Yagod, a sophomore at Stern College for Women and president of the Agunah Advocacy Club, one of the night’s sponsors. “We must be aware when someone is manipulating the divorce proceedings and we must stand united to eradicate this problem.”

The panel was co-sponsored by Stern’s Torah Activities Council as the final event in a week of programming for Domestic Violence and Abuse Awareness Week. In addition to Epstein, it featured Rabbi Hershel Schachter, rosh reshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud; Dr. David Pelcovitz, Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology and Jewish Education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration; and Rabbi Jeremy Stern ’07YC, ’09A, ’10R, executive director of ORA.

While touching on aspects of Epstein’s individual case, each of the panelists emphasized that the issue of agunah was communal and underlined the need to support agunot by upholding a zero-tolerance policy for get refusal.

“When ORA takes on a case, we always try to solve it amicably at first, looking deep into its facts and following the paper trail, making sure we’re hearing as many perspectives as possible,” said Stern. “But once a marriage is deemed irreconcilable, an unconditional get must be furnished in a timely fashion. Withholding a get is not a means of negotiation—negotiations can’t be conducted when someone is holding a gun to your head or a get over it. ”

Epstein agreed. “My ex-husband did not become a get refuser overnight,” she said. “I believe a get refuser is formed in large part by messages conveyed to him, both implicitly and explicitly, by his community.” She added: “The agunah is amongst the most vulnerable people in our community. We, as a community, have a responsibility to protect her and ensure her release and we can achieve that goal if we ourselves, our institutions and our leadership accept a zero-tolerance policy on get refusal.”

Panelists also noted the importance of making the halachik prenuptial agreement a standard component of the marriage process for all Orthodox couples. This is the goal of an ORA initiative titled, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Get Married Without A Prenup.” Copies of the agreement, which contains a monetary incentive to give a get and preselects a beit din [Jewish court] to hear any divorce proceedings, were distributed at the event and slid under dorm room doors across both campuses.

YU alumni, Stern and Epstein, are raising awareness of the plight of agunot.

“If every YU student signed a prenup, we could eradicate this problem from our community,” said Stern. “Don’t sign it for yourselves. Sign it for someone who might not be here tonight and might not otherwise hear this message and might need to.”

Ilana Gadish, ’11S a current student enrolled in Stern’s Graduate Program for Talmudic Studies, actually signed the same copy of the agreement that was slipped under her dorm room door last year before her recent marriage. “The issue of agunot is one of the most important in the modern Orthodox community,” she said.

Gadish felt the night’s panel helped her understand the necessity of uncomfortable tactics, such as rallying and signing petitions, to pressure husbands into granting a get. “I used to be more hesitant about attending rallies, but after hearing Tamar speak in person, I would definitely go.”

Another young couple filled out the prenup on the spot.

“We were planning to do this before, but they had notaries here, so we thought, ‘Why not?’ ” said Sarah Marvin, a junior at Stern College majoring in English literature. “After seeing all the publicity about agunot, I’m just making sure it doesn’t happen to me.”

“I have fond memories of my years at Stern and a great appreciation for the education I’ve received here, but over the past years I’ve developed a deeper sense of pride in my status as a YU alumna,” said Epstein. “I’ve witnessed and personally benefited from the courage, innovation and sensitivity of the roshei yeshiva and administrative leadership of this institution in tackling the problem of the modern day agunah.”

To learn more about the campaign for Epstein’s get, visit www.freetamar.org. Information about ORA can be found at www.getORA.org.

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