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Klezmatics do Woody?

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Janice in NJ 21 Dec 03 - 08:41 PM
Joe Offer 21 Dec 03 - 09:28 PM
PoppaGator 22 Dec 03 - 05:31 PM
GUEST,Phil. 23 Dec 03 - 03:13 PM
mack/misophist 23 Dec 03 - 03:56 PM
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open mike 28 Dec 03 - 02:02 PM
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Merina 14 Aug 04 - 06:17 AM
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Alonzo M. Zilch (inactive) 14 Aug 04 - 10:26 AM
GUEST,dankahn 21 Sep 04 - 03:42 AM
Joe Offer 09 Aug 06 - 07:53 PM
C. Ham 09 Aug 06 - 09:12 PM
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Subject: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Janice in NJ
Date: 21 Dec 03 - 08:41 PM

Was anyone at the concert this past Saturday night when the Klezmatics performed previously unreleased songs of Woody Guthrie? It was at some Jewish center in New York City, and I hear they were going to have Arlo Guthrie and Susan McKeown with them, and that many of the songs (most? all?) had Jewish themes or references. Or am I just imagining this?

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 21 Dec 03 - 09:28 PM

I've gome across things that indicate there might be a Woody/Jewish connection. Thanks for putting things together, Janice. This Google Search (click) will bring up a lot of information.
I came across this fascinating article in Newsday:

Guthrie's Jewish Music, From Archives to Stage

By Steve Dollar
    December 14, 2003


When Nora Guthrie remembers her maternal grandmother, she evokes a touch of Old World charm abiding near the boardwalks of Coney Island. There, Guthrie was raised by her celebrated folksinging father, Woody, and her mother, Marjorie Mazia, who was a dancer with Martha Graham.

Aliza Greenblatt, the woman she called Bubby, lived across the street.

"She was the only one that fed us!" Guthrie says, laughing at the memory of the blintzes and latkes she and her siblings ate. "My mother didn't cook. My father would take us to Nathan's. That was his idea of breakfast, lunch and dinner."

What Guthrie didn't realize until much later was that her family's artistic legacy also included her grandmother. It was at a 1995 concert at Tanglewood by the New York-based band The Klezmatics - who archive, update and reinvent the traditional "Yiddish soul music" called klezmer - where recognition dawned. "I kept thinking, 'My grandmother would love this. It reminds me of songs she sang to us," Guthrie says.

Then, she met violinist Itzhak Perlman, who also was featured at the concert and was pleased to meet the granddaughter of "the great Yiddish poetess Aliza Greenblatt." This was news to Nora Guthrie, who had never known of her grandmother's life as an artist.

It turns out, Perlman had performed two of Greenblatt's songs that evening. Guthrie would also discover, as she investigated the mountain of lyrics she oversees at the Woody Guthrie Archives in midtown Manhattan, that her father and Greenblatt enjoyed a creative relationship.

"They traded notes," she says. "My grandmother was a great influence on him." During the 1940s, Woody Guthrie easily likened the plight of the Okies, whose cause he championed, with the plight of the Jews, persecuted by some of the very forces the singer and astoundingly prolific songwriter was sworn to battle. (His guitar famously bore the motto: "This machine kills fascists.") Gradually, Nora Guthrie uncovered more and more of her father's songs with Jewish themes. There were so many, touching on everything from Hanukkah and lighthearted odes to bagels and lox to sweeping historical ballads and explicit depictions of concentration camp atrocities.

Next Saturday, these songs will be performed by The Klezmatics at the 92nd Street Y. The concert - "Holy Ground: The Jewish Music of Woody Guthrie" - will also feature Nora's folksinging brother, Arlo, and guest vocalists Susan McKeown and Mark Eitzel, as well as a few surprises.

"It's really amazing to be collaborating with him [Woody] in this way," says Frank London, who plays trumpet for The Klezmatics. The musicians are still busy creating arrangements for the lyrics, which for the most part have been saved without their melodies because Woody hadn't performed or recorded them. As with such posthumous Guthrie projects as the "Mermaid Avenue" albums, which featured Wilco and Billy Bragg breathing life into unrecorded Guthrie songs, The Klezmatics have a free hand to interpret the songwriter's words. And this will be a rare occasion when the band will not sing primarily in Yiddish. "He was not someone trying to sound like an Eastern European Jew," London says of Guthrie. "So we're mediating between the klezmer and Yiddish tradition and Woody's words. We feel a lot of humility. We've been given a gift."

Nora Guthrie has been keen on sharing the wealth of lyrics collected at the archives, which she directs. An eclectic array of artists, from German neo-cabaret singers to American Indian punk-rock bands, have been permitted, and usually encouraged, to use Woody Guthrie's words. His daughter, who beams energetically from under her curly gray hair, says she is happiest when she hears a song that sounds most like it came from the person singing it - not immediately like a Woody Guthrie song. "My father was a songwriter," she says. "I think he would have appreciated that."

"Holy Ground: The Jewish Music of Woody Guthrie," 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Ave., Manhattan; 8 p.m. next Saturday; $25-$65; 212-415-5500, or visit


    Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

And then there's this in the New York Times on Dec 18, 2003:

Woody Guthrie's 'This Menorah Is Your Menorah'

This Land Is Your Land," of course. "Hard Travelin'," certainly. But "Honeyky Hanukkah"? "Hanukkah Tree"?

There seems to be no end to the surprises dug up by Woody Guthrie's daughter and tireless archivist, Nora Guthrie. Five years ago she gathered rock stars to write music for some of Guthrie's thousands of unpublished lyrics, touching on decidedly non-Dust Bowl topics like U.F.O.'s, Joe DiMaggio and Ingrid Bergman.

Now Ms. Guthrie has hit another jackpot. After further searches in the Woody Guthrie Archives on West 57th Street in Manhattan, where she is the executive director, Ms. Guthrie has found a series of songs on Jewish themes written in the 1940's and 50's, when her father lived in Coney Island with his second wife, Marjorie Mazia, and her Jewish family. There the Oklahoma troubadour ate blintzes, lighted the menorah and called his son Arlo "dibuck," for dybbuk.

The music will be heard on Saturday at the 92nd Street Y in a concert, "Holy Ground: The Jewish Songs of Woody Guthrie," with music by the Klezmatics, Arlo Guthrie and the Celtic folk singer Susan McKeown.

"I am still like the kid that's rummaging through her parents' drawers when they're not home," Ms. Guthrie said, sitting in her office, where nearly everything, from the photographs on the walls to the books on the shelves and the papers tacked on the wall, has to do with her father. "Every time I go in there I find something I had no clue about."

The songs include several about Hanukkah as well as some about Jewish history, World War II and the Holocaust. Frank London, the trumpeter of the Klezmatics, said he was given eight Hanukkah songs, but Ms. Guthrie said "those are the ones that he has," and, leafing through a pile of papers, said that she had many more. Guthrie wrote in bursts of creativity, sometimes writing several songs in a day, and most of his Hanukkah songs seem to have been written in a few days in late November 1949. (He recorded the exact date and place of composition on each of his neatly typed manuscripts, which are full of idiosyncratic spellings.)

The songs are unmistakably Guthrie's, written in the plainspoken but evocative idiom he perfected in his Depression-era ballads like "Pretty Boy Floyd" and "Tom Joad." In "Hanukkah's Flame," he wrote:

Hanukkah candlelight, see my flame

Shining on my window's pane;

Come flicker 'cross my glassy glass

And light each lonesome to pass.

Guthrie met Mazia, a dancer with Martha Graham's company, at a dance performance at a Manhattan studio in the early 1940's, and married her in 1945.

In Coney Island they lived across the street from Mazia's mother, Aliza Greenblatt, a Yiddish poet and lyricist who may have been Guthrie's Jewish muse. Nora Guthrie said that her father used to pepper her grandmother with questions about Jewish history and customs, and what he learned then appeared in his songs often just days later.

"My father as a songwriter is a regurgitator," Ms. Guthrie said. "That's what he does. He hears a story, he regurgitates it in poetry."

Of the 20 or more songs that will be played, Guthrie recorded only a few; the rest required new music, and for those Ms. Guthrie gave Mr. London and the Klezmatics free rein.

"We got this stack of stuff," Mr. London said in a telephone interview. "And we asked, `Do we have to write American folk songs? Do we have to write klezmer songs?' And we sort of decided, let's not discuss this and come up with a party line. Let's each take this home and see what happens."

Some songs got klezmer tunes, Mr. London said, and some were written in a style closer to Guthrie's. But the Klezmatics musicians — five of the six are composers — also found a serendipitous middle ground:

"Certain Jewish music in Poland and Galicia that is in a major key," Mr. London said, "to the American ear, when you hear it with three-part harmony, it sounds like gospel."

Here's one more, in The Jerusalem Report:

Arts: This Lamp Is My Lamp
Ed Silverman

About 10 years ago, Nora Guthrie was rummaging through boxes and filing cabinets filled with family papers that had sat undisturbed for years in her mother’s Manhattan office, when she came across a veritable treasure trove: no fewer than 3,000 unfinished songs by her father, Woody Guthrie, the folk singer and cultural icon probably best known for writing "This Land Is Your Land," a decades-old anthem that has inspired generations of idealistic Americans. There was another surprise. Many of the lyrics dealt with Hanukkah, the Holocaust and other Jewish themes.

The unlikely find revealed an unknown side to the Dust Bowl balladeer, who was born to a Protestant family in Oklahoma in 1912 and developed a storied persona as an itinerant musician. For years, Guthrie, who died in 1967, has been widely revered by folklorists for his approach to songwriting, which helped spur the folk boom that greatly influenced Bob Dylan and countless others. And his outspoken commitment to social justice laid the groundwork for the protest music that formed the soundtrack to America’s social unrest in the 1960s.

Yet until Nora Guthrie’s discovery, no one had realized that Guthrie also maintained a fruitful collaboration of sorts with his mother-in-law -- Nora’s beloved grandmother -- Aliza Greenblatt, an accomplished Yiddish poet and songwriter, and an early member of the Zionist Organization of America.

Their relationship was forged after Guthrie, who had been living in New York since 1940, married Greenblatt’s daughter Marjorie Mazia (in the second of his three marriages), a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and moved with her to Coney Island, Brooklyn. They lived in a row house on Mermaid Avenue, just across the street from Greenblatt, who introduced Guthrie to Jewish culture.

"I’d never seen 80 percent of the material before -- it included not only many of his songs, but drawings and letters. They were planning to work together. For instance, he was also going to illustrate some of her work," says Nora Guthrie, 53, an ebullient, free-spirited woman, who has since created the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives, which she runs out of a midtown Manhattan office that is decorated with vintage photos and rare concert posters.

"I had always known that my grandmother was an influence on him. We always had Friday night dinner at Bubbe’s house. They used to critique each other’s work. And they shared an interest in the progressive labor movement and both hated fascists. So that’s the kind of Jewishness he was exposed to."

On December 20, Guthrie fans, and music lovers in general, will get a chance to hear for themselves how Woody incorporated and reflected that Jewishness. The Klezmatics, the avant-garde klezmer group, will appear at New York’s 92nd St. Y, and perform 15 songs they’ve composed to accompany Guthrie’s rediscovered lyrics, which until today have lacked melodies. The concert is being billed as "Holy Ground: The Jewish Songs of Woody Guthrie." The styles the band has employed in setting the words to music range from a hasidic nigun, which is a wordless tune often used in prayer, to more conventional, American-style folk melodies.

The event is an outgrowth of Nora Guthrie’s effort to preserve her father’s legacy, and widen its reach. And she seems well-suited to the task. Like her mother, she was a dancer, and though her résumé may appear rather straightforward -- she lives in the New York suburb of Westchester and raised two children -- her flowing, curly, gray locks, blue-jeaned attire and laid-back demeanor give the impression that she inherited her father’s iconoclastic outlook. For instance, she appreciates that her father listed religion as "all or none" on his children’s birth certificates.

To promote his name and work, she has

several times been in touch with musicians who, in some way, share his contrarian spirit, encouraging them to complete his songs as if they were collaborating in the here and now. This approach has worked well before -- over the past five years, for instance, the British troubadour Billy Bragg and the alternative rock band Wilco combined to record two critically acclaimed albums using newly found lyrics she supplied them.

"We have an anarchist tradition in our band, so we deliberately didn’t come up with a unified approach to treating the lyrics," says Frank London, trumpeter and co-founder of the Klezmatics, which attempted something similar a few years ago by collaborating with Israeli singer Chava Alberstein on an album of songs she had written to accompany lyrics based on works by contemporary Yiddish poets. "I didn’t know, and most people didn’t know, the depth of the connection between Woody Guthrie and Yiddishkeit. I don’t picture him in Brooklyn. I picture him out West somewhere. And it’s not like he ever tried to sound Jewish, either. So we have a whole musical spectrum. We call it Country & Eastern."

Nora Guthrie tapped the band after seeing a concert they played five years ago with violinist Itzhak Perlman. Coincidentally, they performed some of her grandmother’s Yiddish songs during that show.

Afterwards, she was introduced to Perlman as Greenblatt’s granddaughter, which was a surprise. Usually, she says, she’s described as the daughter of Woody Guthrie or the sister of Arlo (of "Alice’s Restaurant" fame). And when Perlman asked how she liked the way they had handled her grandmother’s material, Guthrie was dumbstruck. She had not known that her grandmother wrote any songs. The moment was something of an epiphany. And so she felt compelled to find a way to bring to light the Jewish-themed lyrics of her father that she’d come across.

The Klezmatics readily agreed to the idea, but it wasn’t until this past summer that they were all in a position to turn full attention to the project. Given the lengthy delay and the fact that several sets of lyrics were about Hanukkah, they created a tight deadline by scheduling the one-off concert to coincide with the holiday.

The decision is in keeping with material Woody Guthrie left behind. Knowing Hanukkah’s joyful nature, he wrote mostly upbeat stanzas that resemble the playfulness of the many children’s songs he recorded. For instance, one is called "Hanukkah Tree," about the little green tree the Guthrie family would display each year at Hanukkah and, Nora says, use as an all-purpose, ecumenical holiday symbol. Others include "Hanukkah Gelt" and "Hanukkah Flame."

Then there’s "Hanukkah Time," which Guthrie penned in November 1949 and which sounds like it could be the theme song for a Maccabee hoedown. Using his familiar wordplay, Guthrie was clearly in a celebratory mood when he wrote:

"It’s honeyka Hanuka -- hold me tight.

It’s Hanuka day and Hanuka night.

If you’ve got no money, that’s allright.

It’s happy-go Hanuka time!"

There was also a sober side to his Jewish lyrics. In one chilling set, he tackles the Holocaust. Typed in 1948, it is titled "Ilsa Koch" -- the name of the sadistic wife of a Buchenwald concentration camp commandant, who was reviled for her bestial cruelty to inmates, cruelty that included medical experiments. As cheery and fun-filled as some of his Hanukkah lyrics could be, the words to this ode are particularly gruesome. Guthrie writes from the vantage point of an inmate who cannot believe the horrors he encounters. It’s a text that combines his connection to Jewishness with his well-known anti-fascist views:

"I see the chimney smoke,

I see their ashes hauled.

I see their bones in piles,

Lamp shades made from skins.

I’m choking on the smoke."

"My father was a huge anti-fascist," says Nora Guthrie. "Racism really made him mad. And this was also written at the time of the blacklisting in this country. In fact, he was blacklisted. To him, McCarthyism seemed like fascism." One can only imagine, then, Woody’s reaction had he lived to learn what became of the rabbi from the local synagogue who Nora’s mother brought into the home to teach the children Hebrew. "After about six months," Nora told The Report, "the rabbi went to my mother and told her we were not serious enough in our studies and he quit."

Many years later, Nora Guthrie learned that the same rabbi had moved to Israel and become the leader of a political movement dedicated to expelling the country's Arabs. And when Meir Kahane was murdered in 1990, the amazement that this was the man who had sat with the Guthrie children at their dining room table only grew.

Nora points out that, although her father had a temper, he also had a tenderness that, perhaps, was only evident previously in his children’s recordings. So she says her job is to ensure that the public sees Woody Guthrie as something more than a folkie, even if some of his most famous songs have woven themselves into the fabric of American culture. She admits to being uncertain how this latest project will be received, but insists that the effort is necessary, because otherwise her father will remain a stereotyped character.

"Look, I’m not the expert. I’m just his kid," says Nora. "But I think this changes perceptions. Woody’s become a cultural icon that outshadows him as a songwriter. But he wasn’t one-dimensional. Out of nearly 3,500 songs he wrote, only 350 or so were ever recorded. He was more than folk songs or children’s songs. And there was more to him than singing about hating fascists. He also wrote love songs, which no one knew about. And he wrote songs that celebrated things like Hanukkah.

"Where is this heading? How does all of this fit into Judaism or Jewishness? I don’t know. But that’s why I’m doing this stuff. I want people to know who Woody was. I just try to be an innocent conduit."

December 29, 2003

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 22 Dec 03 - 05:31 PM

Klezmer music, in its improvisatory spirit and especially in its standard intrumentation, bears a fairly close relationship to the earliest forms of jazz music. Some historians posit a direct link between Klezmer and Creole musicians in late 19th century New Orleans as part of the dynamic that led to the creation of a new art form.

For a contemporary embodiment of this relationship, take whatever opportunity you can to give a listen to the New Orleanbs Klezmer All Stars.

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: GUEST,Phil.
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 03:13 PM

there's a review of the concert in today's NY Times arts section
the concert was recorded; there are plans for a CD and DVD or video

there's also a good article in last week's "Jewish News", but you've read much of the same info in the articles pasted in to this thread already

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: mack/misophist
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 03:56 PM

I thank you all for this. It's being inflicted on all my folkie and Jewish friends.

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Angus McSweeney
Date: 27 Dec 03 - 07:02 PM

Right now, on Minnesota Public Radio (and others) they are playing on a live performance of Prairie Home Companion from Town Hall in New York!

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: open mike
Date: 28 Dec 03 - 02:02 PM

yes heard the 8 days of hanukah on prairie home companion--happy happy song!

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Fortunato
Date: 28 Dec 03 - 06:00 PM

I caught the Klezmatics on Prarie Home Companion. They had brought along a bluegrass banjo player. The tune was said to be a Woody Guthrie tune. It wasn't one I'd ever heard, or at least recognized. It was not a good performance. I don't know what they're capable of, but the band was hopelessly out of time. The Banjo player and drummer were way behind the beat, in different spots of course.   Hard to bear.

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 13 Aug 04 - 07:39 PM

Any word on a CD of these Woody Guthrie Jewish songs?
Amazon has no recent Klezmatics CD's listed. didn't help, either.
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: WFDU - Ron Olesko
Date: 13 Aug 04 - 07:44 PM

I know one of the Klezmatics, our sons are in the same class. They have been touring and the CD is an upcoming project.

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Merina
Date: 14 Aug 04 - 06:17 AM

There was a feature about the Klezmatics' Woody project and forthcoming CD in fRoots recently. Look in the feature index on their web site

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Alonzo M. Zilch (inactive)
Date: 14 Aug 04 - 10:13 AM

Lorin Sklamberg of the Klezmatics told me they were hoping to have the CD out sometime before Hannukah.

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Alonzo M. Zilch (inactive)
Date: 14 Aug 04 - 10:26 AM

Here is information from the Woody Guthrie Archives and
foundation site.

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: GUEST,dankahn
Date: 21 Sep 04 - 03:42 AM

I just hung out with Frank London, the Klezmatics' trumpeter in Quebec. He gave a lecture about the project and said that the Hanukkah record will be out around the holidays. He also said that there were a few cds worth of material that they had recorded or were still working on, so there could be as many as two more records to come. The few tracks he played for us sounded great.

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 09 Aug 06 - 07:53 PM

So, is there a Klezmatics Woody CD yet?

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: C. Ham
Date: 09 Aug 06 - 09:12 PM

There are now two CDs of The Klezmatics singing their settings of Woody Guthrie lyrics.

"Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanuka" came out in 2004

"Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie" came out just a few weeks ago.

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 13 Oct 06 - 06:29 PM

I've been waiting for these recordings for years, and then I missed the message from C. Ham. Two Woody/Klezmatics came out this year, following the pattern set by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Woody wrote the lyrics, and the Klezmatics wrote the tunes. Here are the track listings:

Wonder Wheel

  1. Come When I Call You
  2. Mermaid's Avenue
  3. Headdy Down
  4. Gonna Get Through This World
  5. Pass Away
  6. Holy Ground
  7. Goin' Away To Sea
  8. From Here On In
  9. Wheel Of Life
  10. Condorbird
  11. Orange Blossom Ring
  12. Heaven

Happy Joyous Hanukkah
  1. Song Title
  2. Honeyky Hanuka
  3. Happy Joyous Hanuka
  4. Gil And Ziv's Sirba
  5. Hanuka Bell
  6. (Do The) Latke Flip-Flip
  7. Hanuka Tree
  8. Many And The Few, The
  9. Groovy's Freylekhs
  10. Hanuka Gelt
  11. Spin Dreydl Spin
  12. Hanuka's Flame
  13. Hanuka Dance

The Woody Guthrie Website has some great information on these recordings.
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Klezmatics do Woody?
From: Bill Hahn//\\
Date: 13 Oct 06 - 06:33 PM

On my SUnday Simcha program I have gotten many requests for the Wonder Wheel CD. It really as a great piece of work. As for me--- I particularly like " Mermaid's Avenue".

Bill Hahn
Sunday Simcha/ Traditions

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