Tag Archives: #JCRCinIsrael

JCRC to Lead MA Legislators on Study Tour of Israel

(BOSTON) – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston continues its long history of conducting annual study tours of Israel with Massachusetts community leaders through this month’s study tour, which will provide Massachusetts legislators with an in-depth look into the economic, political, and security challenges and successes facing Israeli society.

From December 5-15, Massachusetts legislators will travel throughout Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas, learning from government officials and religious, academic, media, labor, and business leaders.

“This trip will allow Massachusetts leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel's politics and culture, and examine some of the economic ties that bring Israel and Massachusetts together,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC of Greater Boston. “The best way to deepen the MA/Israel connection is through a mutual understanding of our common interests—participants will gain firsthand knowledge about how they can strengthen relationships with their Israeli counterparts."

The Massachusetts labor leaders will:

  • Meet with government officials and other influential leaders from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society, developing city-to-city connections and sharing best practices in addressing current labor issues,
  • Visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and border regions,
  • Discover the growing economic and cultural ties between Israel and Massachusetts,
  • Gain new perspectives on modern day Israel, and
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of the complex political and security challenges facing Israel.

The trip is paid for by a grant from the nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Participants pay a registration fee for the trip from their own funds.

The following are the participants in JCRC’s December 2019 Study Tour of Israel:

Senator William Brownsberger
Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem
Senator Julian Cyr
Senator Adam Hinds
Senator Eric Lesser
Senator Jason Lewis

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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From Israel: Finding Inspiration in Dysfunctional Times.

A short while ago, I arrived at Ben Gurion airport. Together with JCRC’s Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell, we’re starting out on our biannual civic leaders study tour, this time together with members of the Massachusetts Senate.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with an Israeli friend with both British and American citizenship. This person, only half-jokingly, commented that, at the moment, it was hard to tell which of these nations had more dysfunctional politics.

It is, to my mind, a tough question; especially when I focus on the negative aspects currently manifesting in each system. When I was last in Israel – in July – the Israeli people were in the midst of their second national election campaign this year. I never imagined the possibility that during this week’s trip they could embark on their third election cycle in less than a year. Since summer, Britain has blown through its latest Brexit deadline, with national elections pending next week (and a deeply worried Jewish community to wit). And, in the US, well, where shall we start?

But there’s another way of looking at this, which is to see the half-full glass, the moments, people, and institutions that inspire hope.

Observing developments in Israel, of course there’s much to be said about a nation whose prime minister is facing a trial over corruption charges. But there’s also something to be said about a country where the attorney general who brought those charges was himself appointed by that very same prime minister. And, whether one agrees or not with specific policies of the government, it’s notable that the institutions of justice are taking a stand, and how that action – to many of us – compares favorably with the role of our own attorney general in our current political process addressing our own President’s behavior.

And while three national elections within one year appears chaotic, it is also worth noting that a large chunk of Israel’s electorate is “holding the center.” Politicians and parties are, through their “constitutional” process (though Israel doesn’t have an actual constitution) reaching out from center-left to center-right and trying to form a consensus politics about the direction of the state and its character. Does this compare favorably to our own fractured politics in the US where a House divided has become the default, and the idea of common ground or shared understanding seems a distant memory? I think so.

And at a time when Americans, obsessing in our like-minded bubbles on social media, increasingly living and working in red and blue silos, and telling pollsters that the greatest tragedy would be for our children to marry across party lines, I’m inspired by my friends here. Because the divides between Israelis and Palestinians are surely even deeper than much of what divides us as Americans. And yet, as on every trip, we’ll be meeting with folks who are reaching out across these divides to build empathy and compassion. 

Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians are working together on grassroots projects for mutual recognition, dignity, and peace. We, through Boston Partners for Peace, believe in their ability to change the narrative and shape the future. They inspire us and I look forward to reporting on their efforts again after our visits this week.

So, I’m not ready to say which of our countries is most dysfunctional right now, nor do I think this is a particularly useful exercise. But what I can say – without in any way being naïve about the extraordinary challenges that Israelis, Palestinians, and the people of this region face, and the importance of supporting their efforts to resolve these challenges – is that I also think we can learn from and be inspired by what we witness here; people who don’t give up in the face of adversity; people who keep reaching out to each other and remain committed to building a hopeful future; and people who are representing the institutions and systems of a functioning democracy.

And maybe, just maybe, instead of judging them too harshly for their very human flaws, we Americans – who live in a glass house of our own – can be a little quieter and do a little more listening as we seek to understand the people who live here. And, hopefully, as I do on every trip here, I can come away a little more inspired, a little more committed to not giving up on the people here, and even learning from what they can teach us about our own dysfunctional politics right now.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Over $8 Million Appropriated from MA State Budget to Support Jewish Social Service Network; Awaits Final Approval from the Governor

(BOSTON) – Earlier today, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted its 2020 budget nearly three weeks into the fiscal year, fueling $5 million of new funds to support programs and priorities of the Jewish social service network, benefiting the entire Commonwealth. The conference committee led by Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz reached agreement Sunday evening lifting the total appropriation for Jewish communal priorities to upwards of $8 million, in response to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)’s efforts on seven key priorities.

“We applaud Senate President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo, Chair Rodrigues, Chair Michlewitz and their colleagues for ensuring robust funding to lift up the Jewish communities’ priorities in this year’s budget,” said Jeremy Burton, JCRC’s Executive Director. “The legislature has demonstrated its commitment to proven programs which help people in the Jewish community and beyond to work, stay in their homes, and feel safe in their communities.  We look forward to building on this success together.”

This year, JCRC led on seven budget priorities, all of which included increases and direct appropriations to the Jewish social service network.

“This is a historic budget for the Jewish community across the Commonwealth,” said Aaron Agulnek, JCRC’s Director of Government Affairs. “The cutting-edge programming, dynamic professionals, and committed lay leadership of Jewish institutions provides the framework necessary to develop meaningful ties with elected officials to better serve the dreams of individuals and families seeking opportunity, dignity, and security.”

The budget included:

$500,000 for the Non-Profit Security Grants, a pilot which provides vital security enhancements to Jewish communal infrastructure at increased risk of threat. Senator Eric Lesser and Representative Ruth Balser, along with Senator Cynthia Creem pushed this vital $350,000 increase in funding.

$1,250,000 for the Employment Service Program for Immigrants and Refugees, which provides English-based job training and placement services for recent immigrants and refugees. This $250,000 increase was led by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Michael Moran.

$500,000 for Bridges to College, which provides college preparatory programming to individuals seeking careers with opportunities for advancement and defined career ladders. The budget also included a $250,000 earmark for Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), supported by Chair Michlewitz, Senator Cindy Friedman, and Senator Joe Boncore, to expand its innovative programming.

$856,000 for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), which is operated by Jewish Family & Children's Service, JFS Metrowest, and Jewish Family Service of Western Mass. NORCs are designed to bring wellness programs and socialization services directly to seniors, allowing them to remain in their homes and communities. This $214,000 increase was led by Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Tommy Vitolo.

$250,000 for Transitions to Work, an innovative job training model for young adults with disabilities, modeled after the JVS/CJP partnership of the same name. This $100,000 increase was led by Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Paul Brodeur.

$2,000,000 for the Secure Jobs Initiative, a silo-busting delivery model conceived by the Fireman Family Foundation, which promotes new partnerships between housing and workforce development agencies, as well as state agencies. There are seven partnerships across the Commonwealth, including JVS and Metro Boston Housing Partnership. This $1,000,000 increase was led by Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Joe Wagner.

Continuity funding for the MA Pathways to Economic Advancement initiative, the nation’s first workforce development Pay for Success program. The model is working; nearly 2,000 participants have enrolled, increasing their job skills and take-home earnings, which is increasing revenue for the Commonwealth. The initial funding period for Pathways is ending and these funds, close to $3 million, will sustain innovation by continuing to support this model while measuring results.

The JCRC urges Governor Baker to sign the budget and support these crucial initiatives.

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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Israel in the Middle

JCRC Study Tour for Labor Leaders with Roots/Shorashim/Judur

This week's message is from Director of Israel Engagement Eli Cohn-Postell.

Last Friday, I watched in admiration as Shaul Judelman and Noor Awad unwrapped a new sign as though it were a birthday present. The sign was for Roots/Shorashim/Judur, the grassroots group of Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank who come together to foster understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among their societies. Shaul and Noor looked like they could have been two kids in a candy store, and the scene was only strange because these two were never supposed to meet in the first place. Both live in the West Bank. Shaul is an American-Israeli living in Tekoa and Noor is a third-generation Palestinian refugee living in nearby Bethlehem.

We get to see friendships like Noor and Shaul’s develop because we visit with them consistently on our JCRC Study Tours. During this week’s Study Tour to Israel for Labor leaders, we got an up-close look at some of the changes taking place in Israel. I heard many times this week that Israel is experiencing a transition moment, and this week we met speakers who shared their perspectives on the current trends shaping Israeli society and its future. As with any country, Israel is too complex and multi-faceted to know exactly in what direction the country is headed. Nonetheless, I was encouraged this week by the example set by Shaul, Noor, and others, which make me believe that some things are changing for the better.

In many ways, Israel is at a crossroads. Most obviously, Israel is in the middle of its second election campaign this year, which no one expected. This raises the obvious question of who Israelis will choose to lead them, with potential implications for the religious status quo, the Israel-Diaspora relationship, and many other issues.

Israel’s Labor movement is also in a transition moment. As in many places around the world, union membership dropped significantly in Israel beginning in the 1980s. However, Israel has seen that number rebound slightly in recent years, and many of the people we spoke with expressed guarded optimism about the future of Labor in Israel.

On a sadder note, many people feel that they are in a quiet moment in between wars. We visited Rambam hospital in Haifa, where we toured an underground parking lot that can be turned into a functioning, bomb-proof hospital in 72 hours. Over and over, the nurse who led our tour told us how the underground hospital would be used when, not if, the next war came. We heard similar language in the south near the Gaza Strip, where people talked about preparing for the next, seemingly inevitable round of violence back and forth between Israel and Hamas.

Finally, Israeli and Palestinians speakers told us about the generational shift that their societies are undergoing. Many speakers referenced the iconic image of Bill Clinton looking on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House Lawn in 1993. The number of people who do not remember that moment is growing, they are reaching adulthood, and their entire attitude toward peacebuilding and the “other” is different from previous generations. We do not know exactly how this new attitude will crystalize, but we should be hopeful about the rise of a generation that can re-imagine the possibilities of peace and human-to-human connection.

I was encouraged that so many of our speakers were working to make sure that this moment of transition is being leveraged to create positive change for Israelis and Palestinians. For example, many people are working to improve the conditions of the Labor force in Israel. This includes growing unions and a rejuvenated Histadrut (Israeli Labor federation). We learned about governmental programs and NGOs providing services and protections for all of Israel’s workers, including non-Israeli citizens.

We met with Hamutal Gouri, who is working to close the opportunity and pay gaps between men and women in Israel, and to advance the role of women in peacemaking. Hamutal is one of the founders of Women Wage Peace, a remarkable successful social movement that has grown to over 40,000 members in a few short years.

And, of course, we spent time with Noor and Shaul at Roots. I have met with activists at Roots many times now, and you can see how the trust and friendship between the participants has grown over time. This is enabling others in their communities to get involved, and to share in the belief that developing relationships with each other will create a better experience for everyone.

On these trips, we hear from people all over the political and ideological spectrum. I assure you that not everything in Israel is rosy. But this week, the message we heard with the most clarity was this one: there is hope to be found in the voices and experiences of those seeking justice and a better future for Israel and Palestinians. I am optimistic.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli

JCRC Leads MA Labor Leaders on Study Tour of Israel

(BOSTON) – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston continues its long history of conducting annual study tours of Israel with Massachusetts community leaders through this month’s study tour, which will provide Massachusetts labor leaders with an in-depth look into the economic, political, and security challenges and successes facing Israeli society.

From July 7-16, Massachusetts labor leaders will travel throughout Israel, learning from government officials and religious, academic, media, labor, and business leaders. They will be joined by leaders from the Jewish Labor Committee, a JCRC member organization.

“This trip will allow Massachusetts leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel's politics and culture, and examine some of the economic ties that bring Israel and Massachusetts together,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC of Greater Boston. “The best way to deepen the MA/Israel connection is through a mutual understanding of our common interests—participants will gain firsthand knowledge about how they can strengthen relationships with their Israeli counterparts."

The Massachusetts labor leaders will:

  • Meet with government officials, labor leaders, and other influential leaders from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society, developing city-to-city connections and sharing best practices in addressing current labor issues,
  • Visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and border regions,
  • Discover the growing economic and cultural ties between Israel and Massachusetts,
  • Gain new perspectives on modern day Israel, and
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of the complex political and security challenges facing Israel.

The trip is paid for by a grant from the nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Participants pay a registration fee for the trip from their own funds.

The following are the participants in JCRC’s 2019 Labor Study Tour of Israel:

Ellen Smith, Regional Director, Mass Nurses Association Hugh Cameron, Secretary-Treasurer, International Union of Police Associations AFL-CIO
Grady Eason, Business Representative/Organizer, New England Regional Council of Carpenters Karen Courtney, Executive Director, Foundation for Fair Contracting of Massachusetts
FayeRuth Fisher, Political Director, Massachusetts, 1199SEIU Massachusetts  Martin Sanchez, Business Representative/Organizer, New England Regional Council of Carpenters
Wayne Murphy, Director of Government Affairs, IUPAT District Council 35 Thomas Flynn, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, New England Regional Council of Carpenters
Kenell Broomstein, Business Agent, IBEW Local 103
Lay Leaders:
Ari Fertig, Executive Director, New England Jewish Labor Committee
 
David Borrus, Business Manager, New England Regional Council of Carpenters Barbara Penzner, Rabbi, Temple Hillel B’nai Torah



About the Jewish Community Relations Council

JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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Complexity and Connection

The impact of our Israel trips is not easily observed or measured. Sometimes trees fall in the woods, with no one around to hear them. If one of our study tour alumni tells a story to a congregant or a constituent about something they experienced in Israel, we may never hear about it. That is why we were so heartened to read the news out of Springfield earlier this week.

Justin Hurst, the Springfield City Council’s new President, traveled with JCRC to Israel in December as part of our Municipal Leaders Study Tour. The speech he delivered at his swearing-in ceremony was largely inspired by his Israel trip, his appreciation of the complexity he encountered, and its connection to his work in Massachusetts.

 

(L-R) Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, Springfield City Council President Justin Hurst, and JCRC Board Member Fredie Kay at the swearing-in ceremony.

One of our study tour visits is particularly relevant here. Toward the end of our trip, we met with Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, co-director of the Abraham Initiatives (featured as part of our Boston Partners for Peace program). Thabet spoke to us about many of Abraham Initiatives’ programs, including their safe communities and equitable policing initiative. The Abraham Initiatives are working from two directions—with the Israeli police and security services and with Arab communities in Israel—to develop better relationships and safer communities. This includes increasing the representation of Israel’s Arab citizens in the police force, various high-level training programs, and other trust-building initiatives.

I wonder whether Justin had that conversation with Thabet in mind when he raised this particular issue during his swearing-in speech. In both Israel and Massachusetts, we witness the often fraught relationship between minority communities and the police. This is a common theme that stretches from Massachusetts to Israel and around the world. In Israel, Justin heard about cutting edge efforts, that are succeeding in ensuring greater representation of minorities on local police forces, and building stronger relationships between law enforcement and the community. Finding common cause with their counterparts in Israel experiences, sharing the challenges they face as municipal leaders, and being inspired by each other’s creative solutions; these are the very sparks we hope to ignite during the study tour experience.

But the new relationships and connections don’t end there. Justin was not the only study tour participant present at his swearing-in. Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, and JCRC board member Fredie Kay were all there to support him. Not only did Justin make an individual connection between his role in Springfield and his Israel trip, he made connections with the rest of the group that will lay the ground work for new collaborations in the years to come.

This brief vignette captures everything we hope to achieve on our study tours: complexity and connection. We introduce people to the complexities in Israel—some of which are unique to Israel, while others resonate deeply with participants’ own experiences back home. This creates the opportunity for deep and meaningful connection; we can learn lessons from the Israeli experience that help inform our lives in Massachusetts and can share our own insights with our friends there. I was thrilled to see both complexity and connection at play in Springfield this week.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli

Holding complexity in a 280-characters-or-less world

As JCRC’s latest civic leaders study tour arrives in Israel today, this one led by Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell, I am both proud and envious to not be joining them.

I’m proud because this is the first time in seven years that I’m not traveling with JCRC’s winter study tour and my absence is a reflection of our success in implementing our strategic vision. We’ve developed a cadre of professionals – led by our Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell – that allows us to reach more civic leaders and connect them with Israel. The fact that this work is no longer dependent on the presence of the executive director is an indication of our enhanced capacity to deliver these vital programs.

And I’m envious, because this past week, I’ve been reminded of how enriching I find these trips, with their ongoing discussion of complex and complicated issues: conversations which are all too absent from our daily political discourse.

Two events in particular have drawn my attention. The first is the controversy over Airbnb’s decision to delist properties in Jewish communities in the West Bank beyond the 1948 armistice line between Israel and Jordan – aka the “Green Line,” though not in East Jerusalem. The second involves aspects of the commemoration of the life of President George H.W. Bush.

In the reaction to Airbnb’s decision, there has been a fair amount of hyperbole for partisan purposes: Anti-Israel activists have wrongly claimed that a boycott narrowly targeting homes in “settlements” is a victory for their movement, equating this with boycotts of Israel “proper.” In fact, many people, including us at JCRC, differentiate between these actions. We oppose boycotts of Israel, and, while we don’t support boycotts of West Bank products, we do not believe that they inherently constitute a form of anti-Semitism.

This level of hyperbole indicates a lack of complexity: Supporters of Israel were right to be angry that Airbnb adopted, for now, a policy about one conflict zone that they chose not to adopt equally for all conflict zones. At the same time, it’s important to note that in effect, Airbnb merely made the same differentiation that Israel’s own government makes; distinguishing in practice between Israel “proper” (i.e. areas under Israeli sovereignty since 1948 and those areas in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that have been formally annexed by Israel and live under Israeli civil authority) and Jewish communities in Area C of the Oslo Accords that have a temporary status until a final peace agreement is reached.

And then, regarding our public mourning for President Bush, I experienced several moments when people expressed flattering thoughts about Bush and his legacy – “decent,” “dignified,” “a statesman,” – and were then hammered for these expressions. Once again, there was a failure to acknowledge complexity, or to hold multiple and potentially competing truths at once. President Bush was both an ally and sometimes an opponent of various Jewish concerns, a transformational advocate for the disabled and yet also seemingly indifferent to the impact of the AIDS epidemic, a decent man whose campaign in 1988 was one of the nastiest in memory (at least at that time).

Complexity and nuance. Too often lost in our hurried and overblown rhetoric, our outrage-of-the-day, our tribalist “with me or against me” politics in a 280-characters-or-less world. Lost is the nuance and complexity, like the kind we offer on our study tours when we slow down and spend time over the course of a week hearing multiple and conflicting narratives from as many corners of Israeli, and Palestinian, society as we can expose ourselves to. We seldom make the space for the kind of interesting discourse that happens when we actually sit with someone and get to see them as a person with a life and experiences different from our own.

It’s in that space that generative ideas can emerge and real learning can take place, all of which I am envious to miss this week.

Or, as Frank Bruni rightly observed while reflecting on the discourse about Bush (I encourage you to read his whole piece):

“We do seem to be getting worse at complexity. At nuance. At allowing for the degree to which virtue and vice commingle in most people, including our leaders, and at understanding that it’s not a sign of softness to summon some respect for someone with a contrary viewpoint and a history of mistakes. It’s a sign of maturity. And it just might be a path back to a better place.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC to Lead MA Municipal Leaders on Study Tour of Israel

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2018
Contact: Shira Burns

(617) 457-8673

JCRC to Lead MA Municipal Leaders on Study Tour of Israel
Massachusetts Community Leaders to Explore Economic Ties to Region

(BOSTON) – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston continues its long history of leading Massachusetts community leaders on a study tour of Israel, this month providing MA municipal leaders with an in-depth look into the economic, political, and security challenges and successes facing Israeli society.

From December 7-15, Massachusetts municipal leaders will travel throughout Israel, learning from government officials and religious, academic, media, and business leaders.

“This trip will allow Massachusetts leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel's politics and culture, and examine some of the economic ties that bring Israel and Massachusetts together,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC of Greater Boston. “The best way to deepen the MA/Israel connection is through a mutual understanding of our common interests—participants will gain firsthand knowledge about how they can strengthen relationships with their Israeli counterparts."

The Massachusetts municipal leaders will:

  • Meet with government officials, municipal leaders, and other influential leaders from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society, developing city to city connections and sharing best practices in addressing current municipal issues
  • Visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, border regions, and the Palestinian Areas.
    Discover the growing economic and cultural ties between Israel and Massachusetts
  • Gain new perspectives on modern day Israel
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of the complex political and security challenges facing Israel
  • Encounter Israel’s innovative economy, including its booming research, development, and tech sector.

The trip is being paid with a grant from the nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Participants pay a registration fee for the trip from their own funds.

Following are the participants in the 2018 Municipal Study Tour of Israel:

Councilor Andrea Campbell (Trip Chair), Boston Councilor Kim Janey, Boston
Councilor Mark Ciommo, Boston Fredie Kay, JCRC Board Member
Marjorie Ross Decter – JCRC Board Member Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, Easthampton
Councilor Edward Flynn, Boston Councilor Nina Liang, Quincy
Select Board Member Heather Hamilton, Brookline Chief of Staff Elizabeth Pimentel, Office of Andrea Campbell
Councilor Katrina Huff-Larmond, Randolph Alderman Mike Zwirko, Melrose
Councilor Justin Hurst, Springfield

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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