Chabad

Original Article Published On The Chabad.org

Professor Stephen Shore has an important place at the tablenot only in the world of autism but at Shabbat and study tables at Chabad Houses around the world.

Shore, who is autistic himself, is clinical assistant professor at Adelphi University’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education and a universally respected authority on the condition. For a number of years, he has been a frequent visitor of Chabad Houses from Texas to Moscow to Shanghai.

“I travel around the world and am usually in at least one country a month to talk about autism,” he tells Chabad.org. I always try to visit the local Chabad wherever I am.”

Shore does not keep his love for Chabad to himself. While in a city for a conference, he has been known to bring fellow conference attendees to Chabad as well. Shelly Christensen, a disabilities inclusion advocate, author of From Longing to Belonging—A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community and a member of the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative (RCII) core team, first met Shore at an Autism Society of America conference and they kept in touch, presenting together at conferences and often sending each other “Shabbat Shalom” text messages.

“When the Autism Society of America conference was in Milwaukee, we were excited to receive an invitation to come to Shabbos dinner from Rabbi and Rebbetzin Shmotkin of Chabad-Lubavitch of Wisconsin,” reports Christensen, who attended with her colleague and friend. “Sitting at their table, warmed by the glowing candles, we each said a blessing, enjoyed a meal that reminded me of my bubby’s Shabbos dinners, and shared our stories and how Judaism inspired our work.”

With his experience on campus as a professor and with Chabad worldwide, Shore was asked four years ago by Rabbi Yankel Lipsker of Chabad at Adelphi, right, to serve as a faculty advisor to Chabad.

Lectures and Presentations Around the World

Shore has taught and given workshops—impromptu and formal—at Chabad Houses around the world. In China, Rabbi Shalom D. Greenberg of the Shanghai Jewish Centers invited Shore to speak about autism. He has delivered more formal presentations on autism at Chabad of West Hempstead, N.Y., and at the Friendship Circle New Jersey in Livingston, N.J.

Closer to home, Shore has delivered Shabbat lectures for Chabad on Campus-Garden City at Adelphi University. With all of his experience both on campus as a professor, and with Chabad worldwide, he was asked four years ago by Rabbi Yankel Lipsker of Chabad at Adelphi to serve as faculty advisor to Chabad. He graciously accepted the offer.

In addition to Shore’s hundreds of conference presentations and articles, he has written three books: Understanding Autism for Dummies (2006), Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum (2004) and Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome (2003).

Shore with a mitzvah-tank outside a Russian center where he was lecturing

Shore, who holds a doctorate in education and a master’s degree in music education, has been known to play “Tumbalalaika” on random pianos he discovers in such public places as international airports. “It is one of the songs my parents played as part of the early intervention period.” Shore lost language skills before the age of 4 before starting to get them back. He was deemed “too sick” for outpatient therapy, and his parents were told to institutionalize him. Shore openly shares his personal story at conferences and at Chabad Houses around the world.

Found Chabad on the High Holidays

Shore was introduced to Chabad “about five or six years ago,” when he was commuting between his home and family in Newton, Mass., and the university. “The High Holidays were coming, and I said, ‘Let me see if I can find a shul,” he reports. Shore was warmly welcomed at Chabad of Mineola by Rabbi Anchelle Perl. “They called me for an aliyah, and I kept going.”

He returned to Chabad for Shabbat dinner. “Rabbi Perl invited me for dinner in his home. It was a pretty cool thing.” Shore learned that there were also services on Saturday morning. He was curious, attended one Shabbat and was delighted. “It was worth it. There was Kiddush after davening.” He playfully notes, “I’ll go anywhere with food.”

Shore says, “I learned that if I stuck around a little longer, there was mincha after lunch. That seemed reasonable.” He has been hooked ever since, regularly attending services at the Chabad both Fridays and Saturdays when he’s on Long Island.

Shore has spent many Shabbats at Chabad in Moscow, where he was given a tour of the 11-story building by Rabbi Yaakov Klein, executive director of the International Jewish Community of Moscow.

An International Travel Companion

“When I realized that Chabad was international and is a big network, I thought, ‘Maybe I can go wherever I am,’ ” exclaims Shore, who began seeking out Chabad Houses and rabbis whenever he was in town for a conference over Shabbat. “I have probably been to more Chabads than anyone I know.”

“It is fascinating to see the variations and similarities,” the professor continues, noting that “wherever Chabad is, when you step over the threshold, you may as well be in Brooklyn.” Shore notes that some services are longer, some are shorter; there is more singing in some places and less singing in others; there are different melodies sung during the services, and the physical setup varies widely. “It can be really small, with services in the rabbi’s house, or it can seat hundreds,” yet there is something that makes them all seem as one, observes Shore.

When Shore is at a Chabad center, he is happy to give back. Once the local Chabad rabbi learns of the professor’s impressive credentials, he is often invited to give a short talk on the spot or a longer one the next day. “I tend to connect my Chabad talk to my life as an autistic person, so I focus on that, and throw in things I will be presenting at the upcoming conference.”

In his discussion, Shore often shares a moving story and video of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—speaking on two occasions with the parents of an autistic boy who lived in an institution in England. “I like to talk about these two short video clips of the Rebbe. He seems to intuitively know and use a strength-based approach. He tells the father that the son should have a pushke [charity box] in his room and remind all visitors to put money in the pushke for tzedakah.”

Shore with Igor Shpitsberg, Director of Our Sunny World, a rehabilitation center in Moscow for children with autistic spectrum disorders.

Shore will sometimes go to great lengths to get to a Chabad House. “I was speaking at a conference and hunted down a Chabad House a few miles away,” reports Shore, who chanced upon Rabbi Yitzchok Schmukler and Chabad of the Bay Area in League City, Texas. “I had such a good time that when I was back in Texas and was 90 miles away, I rented a car so I could drive over!”

In Vancouver, Canada, Shore was pleased to find the Chabad-Lubavitch Okanagan in Kelowna, British Columbia, was within walking distance of his hotel. “I called up and came for Shabbat dinner. I got there and found the smallest Chabad I had ever seen. It was just the rabbi—Rabbi Shmuly Hecht, his family and one guest. Despite the small crowd, Shore observes, “I never saw more enthusiastic singing and dancing!” The rabbi intended to walk Shore halfway to his hotel. Before they knew it, they were at the hotel, where Shore reports there was “more dancing.”

The next day, Shore learned that the rabbi had a profound Jewish experience on his way home. Rabbi Hecht spotted a group of college students, potentially drunk, and he was a bit fearful. One person asked him, “Hey, are you Jewish?” The rabbi replied tentatively, “Yes, I am.” A Polish youth from the group explained that he, too, was Jewish, and was having a hard time fitting in. The rabbi, in his traditional Shabbat attire, replied, “Well, do you think I fit in?!” The two connected. The rabbi called Shore to tell him, “Hashem had a reason for me to walk you all the way to the hotel.”

Shore with Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia

Shore has spent many Shabbats at the Chabad in Moscow, where he was given a tour of the impressive 11-story Chabad building by Rabbi Yaakov Klein, executive director of the International Jewish Community of Moscow. “It is the biggest Chabad I have ever seen,” reports Shore, noting their two restaurants, gyms and study halls. “It is like Chabad meets JCC!” When Klein learned of Shore’s work, he felt Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar should meet him. Shore was delighted, affirming that “they do a mean Shabbos. The dinner was amazing, and I got to do a good tefillin wrap while in Moscow.”

While his travels have slowed down due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, he is eager to get back on the road to share his experience with and knowledge of autism with the world—and, he says, to “nourish his neshamah [soul] with Chabad in places near and far.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

The Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen presents 400 years of Jewish life in Denmark.

This High Holy Days period – when most synagogues around the world have made the difficult decision to tell members not to come for in-person services – I am transported back to a special Yom Kippur four years ago at Copenhagen’s Great Synagogue.

I spent the holiday in the synagogue where the current rabbi, Jair Melchior’s great-grandfather, Chief Rabbi Marcus Melchior, also told the congregation on Rosh Hashanah Eve 1943 (September 29) not to come for Rosh Hashanah services. His congregants were not facing a pandemic; rather the Jews of Denmark were facing a roundup and likely extermination by the Nazis.

The miraculous outcome for nearly all of the Jews of Denmark offers inspiration and hope to all of us living through difficult times.

A compassionate German diplomat tipped off Rabbi Melchior, who stood at the bimah and urged the Jews to hide or flee, and to share the urgent message with their friends and family members. Non-Jews in Denmark mobilized and hid Jews in homes, churches, convents, schools and hospitals.

Nearly 7,200 Jews and 680 of their non-Jewish family members were helped to safety by Danish fishermen who shuttled the Jews by fishing boats across the water separating Denmark from Sweden. Nearly 500 Danish Jews who did not make it out in the fall of 1943 were eventually deported to the Czech town of Terezin, or Theresienstadt in German. Yad Vashem planted a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations in honor of the Danish underground and its rescue of the Jews.

I think of this incredible story every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I had the wonderful opportunity to pray with the Jewish community of Copenhagen for slihot (penitential poems and prayers) and Shacharit (morning services) during the week leading up to Yom Kippur, and for all Yom Kippur services. My wife and several other observant Jews were in Copenhagen for a conference and knew it would be impossible to return home to America or Israel in time for the start of the holiday. Some left the conference early; a handful were lucky enough to experience Yom Kippur in Copenhagen.

On my early morning walks through the dark streets of Copenhagen to the synagogue built in 1833, on Krystalgade 12, and during my long daily walks through the beautiful city, I learned that there are many reminders of the Holocaust, both obvious and subtle. A fellow worshiper, a 6th-generation Dane who informed me of the sizable Danish-Jewish community in Ra’anana I never knew about, pointed out a nondescript law office building that once served as Nazi headquarters and was rebuilt after a bombing by the Allies.

When I first arrived in Denmark, I set out for the Chabad House to introduce myself to Rabbi Yitzi and Rochel Loewenthal, the Chabad shluchim (emissaries), to arrange Shabbat and holiday meals. The Chabad House, located at 10 Ole Suhrs Gade, is on a street with old-world charm, between the Botanical Gardens and Sortedams Lake. A careful observer may spot a green door with a mezuzah – and a gold sign overhead that reads: Chabad Huset, or Chabad House. The building was once used as Nazi headquarters.

IT IS now the Chabad House and the home of the Loewenthals, who arrived in Copenhagen in 1996 to serve the Danish-Jewish community. This community traces its history in Denmark back to the 1600s. In the early 1600s, King Christian IV founded the town of Glückstadt and allowed Albert Dionis, a Jewish merchant, to settle in the city. He later extended this right to a few other Jews in 1628. Jews were offered protection, and the right to hold private religious services and maintain their own cemetery, which they founded in 1693. Since 1900, another Jewish cemetery has been used as the burial ground in Copenhagen for more than 6,000 Jewish people.

By 1780, approximately 1,600 Jews lived in Denmark. At this time, the king instituted a number of reforms that helped Jews integrate more fully into Danish society; they were permitted to attend university, join guilds, build schools and own real estate. In 1814, Danish Jews were granted civic equality; they received full citizenship rights in 1849 – one of the first countries in Europe to do so. Nearly 3,000 Jews came to Denmark in the early 1900s to escape such events in Russia as the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

The Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, presents 400 years of Jewish life in Denmark. The design of the museum offers another reminder of the Holocaust experience in Denmark. The word “mitzvah” constitutes the emblem and concept of the museum, and the museum was reportedly designed around the courage demonstrated by the Danes.

The Chabad House itself contains some important pieces of Danish Jewish history. The England-born rabbi and his American wife, who have learned Danish and continue to speak to their children in English, Yiddish and Hebrew, proudly display two pieces of local history on the wall of the main room of the Chabad House: a 400-year-old coin from King Christian the Fourth, bearing the tetragrammaton in Hebrew; and a yellow Jewish star from the Holocaust.

The Loewenthals have the important responsibility of helping to look after the Danish-Jewish community, which now numbers about 7,000 people. There are few kosher shops or restaurants in Copenhagen, few kosher-certified products in local grocery stores and kosher meat is hard to find and expensive, mainly because of Denmark’s laws prohibiting shechita (kosher ritual slaughter). Thus, all kosher meat must be imported. Rabbi Loewenthal regularly visits companies where he oversees kosher supervision, teaches local Danish school students about Judaism and teaches at the Jewish day school.

Rabbi Loewenthal prays each morning, either next door to the Chabad House at Machsike Hadas (if there is a minyan) or at the Great Synagogue, a 15-minute walk from his home, through the Botanical Gardens or up Gothersgade Street, or even past Rosenborg Castle, the National Gallery of Denmark or Copenhagen University. I met the rabbi at services each pre-Yom Kippur morning. Security was tight, even on a weekday morning, partly as a result of the February 2015 shooting death of Jewish security guard Dan Uzan, 38, by Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, during a bat mitzvah celebration outside the Great Synagogue.

SECURITY WAS especially tight on Yom Kippur evening, when the entire community assembled for Kol Nidre. A Danish police officer, after questioning those seeking to enter, used a special key to open the shul gate. Flowers outside the synagogue served as a reminder of the killing a year and a half earlier.

I was struck by the range of people – and by their outfits. Some wore fancy dresses, jewels and furs; others wore shorts and Guns & Roses T-shirts. Some stayed for the entire service – led by a cantor and an all-male choir. Some stayed only for the brief Kol Nidre part; yet others left after the very moving reading of “the names” in Danish. The rabbi movingly read the names of the members of the community killed by the Nazis.

Community members were welcoming, though most were not well-versed in the High Holy Day liturgy. The voices of the Israeli cantor and choir were heard while those of congregants were barely audible.

The current chief cantor, Edan Tamler, is a very hip 20-something, American-born Israeli who made aliyah in 2012 and lives in the mixed religious/secular yishuv of Esh’har in the Lower Galilee. Tamler was a contestant on The X Factor Israel TV show in its first season, reaching the finals as part of a boy band named Fusion that the judges built around him. He was subsequently signed by Israeli pop star Ivri Lider, X-Factor judge and mentor to Tamler.

Tamler has been in Denmark for several weeks this August, serving as full-time cantor and teaching music at the Jewish school. “It’s been great to be back in Denmark and getting to pray with a congregation once again,” reports Tamler. “It hasn’t really been possible in Israel since the novel coronavirus started. I’m so excited to be reunited with the community and looking forward to leading the Yamim Noraim (Ten Days of Repentance) services that are less than a month away! It’s a true honor to be able to lead prayers in such a magnificent synagogue and beautiful community with so much history.” The Loewenthals, who provided tasty pre- and post-Yom Kippur sustenance when I was there for the holiday, continue to care for the needs of the community – even during these unusual times. “Obviously COVID-19 has had an effect. Denmark closed down very early, but started reopening in April with the shuls – big and small – opening since Shavuot. We have reopened the shuls – big and small–  albeit with precautions and a limited capacity.

“The same is true of the Chabad House, where we have classes, though most are also online, and for meals we have families sitting together with space between the family groups. We have seen that some people are concerned and stay home, and I suspect that will last for a while. Most families with children are more or less back to normal business. For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are taking precautions and will probably put a tent outside to help accommodate more people in the correct fashion,” says Rochel Loewenthal.

The Lowenthals are busy preparing for the High Holy Days. Yet, she has time to say kind words about the talented young cantor in town. “Edan is a great guy. A wonderful hazan and he brings a youthful perspective and fresh tunes to the shul.”

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in Denmark promise to be meaningful – even during these unusual COVID-19 times.

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Original Article on The Jerusalem Post

The happy boys danced, sang, cheered for their teachers and even jumped on tables when the head of school called their classroom by name. While the enthusiastic pupils have been learning together daily for three months, they were only seeing their teachers and fellow students in person for the first time – the boys, ages six to 14, spend up to six and a half hours a day together, where they participate in Chabad Shluchim (emissaries) Online School.

The young yeshiva students who came to Brooklyn on November 23 – Thanksgiving Day in America – to participate in a “Day of Celebration” were from Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, England, Sweden, Norway, and places in the United States such as Tennessee, Rhode Island, Iowa and Alaska. The boys were accompanying their fathers attending the 5,000-person International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries.

Their parents direct Chabad Houses around the world, and agree that the Online School, pioneered by Chabad, has helped make it possible to live and serve in communities without any Jewish day school. The Online School has made it possible for their children to receive a “proper Chabad education” without being home-schooled. The spreading of Jewish knowledge and observance were important core principles of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh leader in the Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic dynasty and one of the most important Jewish leaders of the 20th century.

The fathers and sons were visibly excited as they entered the nicely decorated ballroom at Congregation B’nai Jacob in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “I just saw my kid meet his classmates for the first time in his life – this is a very beautiful moment,” observes Rabbi Benny Hershkovich of Los Cabos, Mexico, here with his eightyear- old son Kovi, a third grader.

Rabbi Yossi Laufer of Warwick, Rhode Island, is pleased with both the learning and the camaraderie his 12-year-old son, Dov Beir – running around with his friends and teachers and enjoying the food and drinks – receives in the program.

Observing the room full of boys bantering and running, Hershkovich says: “I guess they are not really trained in the classroom to be quiet!” Malkie Gurkow, one of the program’s principals, a parent, and one of the few women on hand, notes, “You can feel the excitement. It is palpable. I have two boys in the school – they wait for this event all year!” According to Devora Leah Notik, associate director of the Nigri International Shluchim Online School, “a small group of parents approached the Shluchim Office about 10 years ago and said, ‘We don’t have the infrastructure where we live. And we want our kids to learn with others who understand the challenges of living far off, on shlihut.”

The Shluchim Office – the central addresses for anything an emissary might need – responded to the request which began as a telephone conference call before moving to Skype. “Then it grew and grew and grew…” reports Notik.

The Nigri International Shluchim Online School currently operates as four separate divisions, serving four geographic areas across the world: Western America, Eastern America, Euro/Asia (English Division) and Western Europe/Asia (Hebrew Division). Even though it’s online, the pupils are separated by gender. The academic year generally runs from early September through the end of June.

THE 380 pupils in the American division are supervised by two principals, Malkie Gurkow of Massachusetts and Rabbi Yaakov Ringo of Montreal. The program’s central offices are located in Brooklyn, which serves as the regional hub for the American divisions (359 children from 186 families), as well as for the English- speaking Euro/Asia division (37 children from 32 families).

An office in Israel provides administration, support and a teaching center for pupils attending the Hebrew division (279 children from 113 families), which caters to families currently living in Europe, Asia, Israel, Russia and Ukraine, where the children’s primary language is Hebrew.

The curriculum, teaching methods and special school-wide programming are unique to online learning.

The regularly updated curriculum needs to be formatted for posting in both Power Point and slideshow mediums. Pupils wear uniforms (a vest with the Chabad Online School logo), have webcams and microphones, raise their hands to participate, and take online quizzes and tests. They view their teachers and fellow pupils on half of the screen, and view white boards and slides on the other half. Teachers sometimes utilize breakout rooms where children learn and work in pairs or larger group, and teachers freely move between rooms.

Chabad families often have numerous children learning at the same time.

“In some families, the children are all lined up at a table in one room,” notes Notik. “In other families, they are spread out all over the house. It is fun to see.”

Four-year-olds sing, and learn about the weekly Torah portion and mitzvot for 60 to 90 minutes, while eighth-grade boys in the transition to yeshiva program learn for six and a half hours a day. Most of the boys will begin boarding at yeshivot in Israel or America at age 14. Teachers across the different age groups work to synchronize breaks – every 45 minutes – and lunchtimes to make it easier for families.

At the Chabad House in Copenhagen, two of the Lowenstein girls spend a lot of time at computers in different rooms of their fifth-floor apartment. “It functions as any ordinary school, only online,” observes Rochel Lowenthal, mother of nine. “Classes, extracurricular, school projects, color war, monthly themes, contests, production, PTA, etc. We have kids in the European division and two in the American division – which means we are on from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.”

Lowenthal, who was not in Brooklyn at the Thanksgiving conference, is pleased and relieved with all the Online School offers.

“We were, thank God, able to keep our older kids home till high school thanks to SOS [Shluchim Online School]. Four of our kids have graduated” – the graduation ceremony is online – “and have, thank God, fit right into high school.”

Her other children in school – 12-year-old Chana in seventh grade, nine-year-old Devorah Leah in fifth grade, and seven-year-old Sheina in second grade – got to finally see their fellow pupils face to face at the conference.

“There is always an SOS day of celebration, where the kids meet their classmates and teachers. It’s very special.”

Parents have a mostly typical school experience.

They attend online parent conferences, pay tuition (scholarships are available), and purchase uniforms and books, though children in faraway places sometimes receive materials in PDF format to cut down on wait time for shipping. The curriculum focuses on religious subjects of all kinds: prayer, Hassidic philosophy, Torah and Talmud, and others.

Children living in so many geographical regions do pose logistical issues.

“Australia and China are challenging – there is a 13- hour time difference!” says Notik, who hopes to one day open an Asia division. “In addition, we have to deal with changing clocks at various times in different places, we have to provide extra time to translate for non-native English speakers, and we don’t give homework during Hanukka since it is a busy time at Chabad Houses.”

However, not everything is rosy: Rabbi Zalman Lewis of Brighton, England, notes some additional challenges of online learning. “My wife never breathes!” he says. “With a normal school, kids leave in the morning, come home at a normal time, and there is time to clean the house. Here, the kids are always home.”

The computer itself can be a source of distraction.

Lewis points out the need to constantly monitor the children. “We parents play a huge role here – one son is a tech geek, so we face his computer to the door and monitor him on the computer.”

“We need to engage the students continuously,” adds Rabbi Shmuel Jacobson of Crown Heights, New York. “We have to be more entertaining than the computer.”

The program offers 24-hour tech support and constant attention to online security – with separate teams based in the US and Israel.

Pupils with diverse learning needs are also able to participate. “That was the rebbe’s mission – to provide a superior, well-rounded Jewish education for every child and to answer the needs of every child,” says Notik. “We are able to include students by offering shadows, homework helpers, tutoring services, paras and IEPs (individualized education plans). We cater to multiple learning styles and have lots of visuals.”

WHILE MANY ultra-Orthodox groups have historically held negative views regarding the use of Internet and technology, Chabad has a long history of embracing that technology. “The rebbe spoke about this early on – radio, TV, all of God’s creations are tools and the medium to spread good and knowledge,” Notik explains. “The rebbe appeared on the radio, and the farbrengens [hassidic gatherings] were on TV. And Hanukka parades and rallies were broadcast by satellite – people felt such Jewish pride. Even if they weren’t in the actual place, it was accessible. Now, we have the Internet, which has unlimited reach. This is an incomparable tool…”

Simon Jacobson, author, publisher of the Algemeiner Journal (a New York-based newspaper covering Jewish and Israel news) and a Lubavitcher hassid, adds, “The current technological revolution is in fact the hand of God at work – it is meant to help us make God a reality in our lives.”

As the Jewish educational world continues to seek ways to meaningfully incorporate computer technology and online learning into Jewish educational programs, Esther Feldman, director of Information Technology and Financial Services at the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education at Bar-Ilan University, offers a keen observation and take-home message from the Chabad Online School. “It is the experience of learning that counts. Good online learning has to be about the experience – not just about the content.”

It is unlikely that any online learning program can match the experience and enthusiasm of the Shluchim Online School. The Day of Celebration ended with the International Roll Call. As director, Rabbi Yaakov Ringo called the name of each class, B2 through B7, and the boys erupted in cheers, shook glow sticks, and danced around the room.

In case you’re wondering where all the girls are, they are at home running the Chabad House while the dads are here running around with the boys, as boys and girls study separately. But in just a few months they will switch roles during the women’s conference.

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