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[Page 61]

Life in Podhajce Through
the Mirror of Journalism

Extracts from Hebrew newspapers

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Podhajce, Tishrei 5637 (1878)

Our town is one of the small ones; but not like the small towns of the region that still dwell in darkness and gloom, without a scintilla of the light of wisdom. Rather, it is like its sisters, the large cities who make forward strides at all times in accordance with the spirit of the times, and constantly ascend in sophistication. Similarly, our city also learns to better itself and seek knowledge. Recently, the choice people of our town founded a movement to read periodicals in the holy tongue and vernacular languages of the country. They rented two large rooms in a fine and proper house, where the members gather every day. This place is called “The Gathering Place of Jewish Citizens” (Israelitesh Birgelichers Casino). They established a charter and sent a message to the state representative (Staatshalterei) to approve and confirm it. The place will open to the members on October 1. I wish to express my thanks to the honorable people who made efforts to found this organization. These are: the honorary chairman Reb Shmerel Rosmarin and his vice chair and honorable treasurer Reb Alexander Gelber. The third honorable person is Reb Yehoshua Kahana who was the first to have this idea.

To the dwellers of the small towns in our land, I call out: Look upon the city of Podhajce, look and do like it. For how long will you sit lazily without doing anything? Arise from your foolish slumber! Is not the light of wisdom penetrating to your houses, and are you closing your eyes from seeing the shining light of wisdom? Wake up! Become people who know how to discern between the light of wisdom and the darkness of the fool, and then you will be called a wise and learned nation.

A. David Polisiuk

“Hamagid” year 20, issue 42, 14th Cheshvan 5637.

*

Podhajce, Tammuz 5642

To the editor of Hamagid, Shalom! You have been, for some time already, a seer, whom G-d has put in place to stand on the lookout as a periodical to inform the House of Jacob what is going on with its brethren who are spread and scattered in all corners of the world among various nations. From the time I met you and started to engage you in the Hamagid periodical, from the time you started to publish and edit it even during the days of Rabbi Silberman of blessed memory, your purpose has been solely to unite far off hearts. You have preached to and reached out to the nation that is drawn out and worn, at times to abandon the forlorn path and the not good circle, in which our enemies find in this movement a pretext to accuse of iniquity; at times with words of admonition and sharp words of reproof, to speak and teach them the proper path upon which to walk, to do only good and right, and to find grace in the eyes of the nations amongst which they dwell.

If you see oppression of the poor and miscarriage of justice in the state, you would be the first to take a shofar to your lips, to call people to arms, to collect funds, and to provide them to the mistreated oppressed ones. Even now, you take no rest when you see your brothers in deep trouble and disgrace. You awaken and arouse, you do not favor the great and you do not play favorites with the princes of the people, who turn their eyes to the free lands and find our Jewish brethren there, you admonish them, and your motto is “The Land of Beauty”[1]. You were the first who raised in your periodical the notion of “settlement of the Land of Israel”, and Jerusalem entered into your heart twenty years ago already with your wonderful article “They will be saved with return and calmness” (Hamagid year 6). Your precious articles have always struck roots in the hearts of the readers.

Our brethren in this city as well, we founded a branch of Alliance Israelite Universelle of Vienna with the assistance and efforts of my wife and intelligent friends, Reb Yehuda Leibush Alerhand and his vice Reb Shaul Schorr may they live. This group numbers 4 members from our city and surrounding area. Through the efforts of my aforementioned friends, the local group collected donations of money of the sum of approximately 140 coins to assist the downtrodden of Israel. We sent the collected money to the Alliance Israelite Universelle group in Vienna with the note that it is the will of the chapter that this money be sent to assist only those going to Palestine, and not those going to America. The organization responded to our local chapter with a letter that our desire will be carried out, and the money will only be disbursed those going to The Land of Beauty. Therefore, how wonderful would it be if a branch of the Alliance Israelite Universelle organization would be established in each and every city, and when they send their money to Vienna, they would request that only those who are going to the Land of our Fathers will be assisted and supported through their donations, so that they could purchase fields, plant vineyards and plough its land, so that they will draw and satiate themselves from the splendor of its glory, for there is a blessing there. The honorable organization will fulfill their desire, and then the idea of settlement of the Land of Israel will speedily move from potential to actualization.

A. David Polisiuk

Hamagid, year 26, issue 28, 10 Av 5642, page 237.

*

Podhajce, 3 Adar, 5647

To the author of Hamagid, Shalom and blessings!

In Hamagid issue 7, in “News in Israel”, you brought down an announcement from the Drohowicer Zeitung that the Jewish community in the city of Brzostok gave their thanks to Mr. Izidor Rosmarin, the postmaster of Brzostok, who informed the regional minister (Bezirkshauftman) and also the postal administration in Lvov about the “circular” from Basle, Switzerland, to place seals on copies of the books of the Code of Jewish Law, and to precede this announcement with the header 'Chasid Oha”e'[2]. The community of readers will consider

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Mr. Rosmarin to be a Christian because of this. Therefore, I see it as my personal duty to proclaim in Hamagid that Mr. Rosmarin is a Jew, the son of one of the honorable people of our town Mr. Shmerl Rosmarin may he live, who was given a golden souvenir with the crown of the state as a prize. Even though he is a Jew, he is still worthy of being praised and thanked for his action to ensure that many Jews in our land are appointed as postmasters. In our city as well, there is a Jewish expeditor employed at the post office, and numerous others were inspired to do as he did. Mr. Rosmarin is not embarrassed to be known as a Jew, and his face does not blush in the midst of the community of Christians when he states that he loves his people!

Mr. Izidor Rosmarin has come a few days ago to visit his parents' home, and when I visited in his parents home, he informed me that the group in Basle Switzerland has sent its notice to the post offices promising to give the sum of 10 marks for the effort of the post office of placing the seal into the books of the Code of Jewish Law that are copied through that organization. Mr. Rosmarin showed me the letters of thanks that were sent to him. He also said that letters of thanks were also sent to the postmaster from Shipner.

A. David Polisiuk

Hamagid year 31, issue 10, 13 Adar 5647, page 74.

*

The Murder of a Jewish Family Near Podhajce

A.

In the nearby village of Ribnik the innkeeper took ill a few weeks ago, and traveled to the city of Podhajce to consult with doctors. His wife, who remained alone at home, asked her brother-in-law, her sister's husband and another family member, as well as her 17 year old younger sister, to stay with her until her husband would return from the city in good health. On the night of the 14th of June, thieves broke into the house, murdered the wife of the innkeeper, her sister, her brother-in-law, and cut off their heads with an axe, leaving behind a young child knowing that he would not have the power to avenge them. In the morning, people came to the house and found the housewife and her sister lying dead in their bed, with bloodstains on the walls. The two men were found in the field outside the house, and they were not able to determine how they got there whether they were dragged outside by the murderers after they got there, or whether they fled outside out of fear of the murderers. The murderers were not found.

The blood of the innocent cries out from the earth “a stone from the wall calls out and a beam from the wood answers”. It was a horrific site to see the elderly father rending his garments, clapping his hands on his thighs, and tearing the hair from his scalp over the murder of his two daughters and son-in-law. The shrieks of the bereaved mother ascended to the heavens over the slaughter of an entire family as pure burnt offerings: “the fruit of my womb, would it be that I died instead of you. I will go down to my daughters and son-in-law in mourning to my grave.” Who did not weep when he saw the young child bereft of his mother. His father is lying on the sick bed, and his illness is worsening. His mother has been murdered. Where will he go now? Woe to the eyes that see thus.

The victims were brought to the city in coffins. The doctors performed an autopsy and found a fetus in the woman, for she was pregnant. This soul is also considered among the victims. It can justly be said that “they were four who were five”.

The murderers saw no reward for their crime. They spilled innocent blood and did not take any money, for in their haste to perpetrate the murder they tired of searching for the hiding place of money and they fled. They only found the accounting ledgers, in which the debts owed by the farmers to the innkeeper were recorded, which they tore to pieces.

Hamevaser, Hebrew weekly, Lvov, June 16, 1865, issue 23.

B.

These are the results of the investigation by the judges of our city. In that village, a certain Christian served as the forest ranger, who was known as a troublemaker and a lover of strife. He was with the farmers of the village when they came to conduct an investigation in the hotel in the evening of the day in which the murder was perpetrated. When the judges revealed that he too was in the house in which the murder was perpetrated that night, they began to suspect that his hands spilled the blood. They issued a command to conduct a search in his house. During the search, the found a Jewish skullcap, a bloodstained sickle, and a cloak that had been washed in several places. The judges determined from these items that the forest ranger shed the blood of the innocents. The guards shackled his hands and feet, and sent him to jail. When the court case took place, he denied that he participated in the murder. However, the judges brought his daughter, a young girl to court, and asked her, “Was your father in his home that night?” She answered, “when my father returned home and entered his room, he took off his coat and put on a new coat. He then washed the coat that he took off”. When the owner of the hotel returned home, he identified the skullcap as his own. Then the murderer confessed the act of murder that he perpetrated.

From the Hamevaser weekly, Lvov, August 4, 1895.

*

Life of the Jews of Podhajce in the weekly Hamitzpeh

A.

From the Progression of the Communities

Instead of the column “From the Mud of the Communities” that frightens the heart of every faithful Jew, I will try to make a good beginning to the new chapter “From the Progression of the Communities”. Let this path be a sign to all cities of our land, to compete with us, to add to it more and more, to cause joy to all who love our nation.

At a time when all of the rabbis of our land are slumbering, and along with them, the communal leaders are sleeping a slumber of laziness, and in the midst of this, the best of the powers of our nation are going to ruin, and our children are growing up without Torah or worldly ways, or are becoming assimilated with the gentiles with their energies being spread to a different nation our rabbi, the head of the rabbinical court Rabbi Shalom Lilienfeld may he live long arose in our city, the Gaon of our people, glorious in Torah and wisdom, and founded the General Talmud Torah in a pleasant manner that is equitable to every person. Hassidim, average people and enlightened people are all happy

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with our rabbi, the Gaon may he live long, who always knows to walk with his wisdom in the spirit of all householders. He has displayed his wisdom to us this time as well, by forging a compromise and doing the will of each and every person. To the Hassidim he gave their Hassidism and to the enlightened people he gave their enlightenment. The teachers will not be lacking in livelihood even one iota. The program is simple in its arrangement. The teachers that were up to this point each the masters of their own affairs have now gathered together under one banner, the “banner of Torah and Awe of Heaven”, under the supervision of a supervisor and chief teacher, an expert, who is in awe of the word of G-d. Until now, the students of one teacher were from several classes, but now each class is under one teacher, and the teachers are divided between different classes. The youngest children are together, and study under the natural “Hebrew in Hebrew” system; those who study Chumash, Rashi and Bible are together, and those who study Talmud and Halachic decisions are together. To those who are most pious and desire only the old educational stile, “Cholem alef is oy”[3], a few teachers remain outside the general organizational structure. The teachers are given an appropriate salary, each in accordance with his work and needs of livelihood, but by no means less that what he was earning until this time. In this manner, everyone comes to his place in peace, and with the help of G-d, a knowledgeable generation will be educated in the spirit of Torah, ways of the world, and fear of Heaven.

B.

The Students Taking their Exam in the Beis Midrash

Our rabbi and Gaon, accompanied by the elite of our city and its wise people, dedicated the days of Chol Hamoed to examine the teachers and students in the Beis Midrash, in order to ascertain the order of grades and classes. When I saw the spectacular site, when all of the lads gathered to the place of the examination, I said in my heart: perhaps now the time has come for the fulfillment of the words of the Gaon Rabbi Sheptl the son of the Shela in his book “Vavei Amudim” and these are his words, “By the life of my head, my innards are cut in my memory as I recall how when I visited the holy community of Amsterdam, I saw the children learning Torah from Bereshit until Leenei Kol Yisrael[4], then all of the 24 books of the Bible, and following that, all of Mishna. When they got older, they began to study Gemara, commentators and Halachic decisions. I wept about this. Why is this not done in our land? Would it be that this custom would spread throughout the entire Jewish Diaspora. What harm would come if a child would fill himself up with Scripture and Mishna until his is 13 years old, for he would reach his objective within one year, which does not happen in our learning style. By the life of my head, if the chief Gaonin of the land would band together, establish an order, and set up a style of study in this manner, there is no doubt that it would be the will of G-d that this endeavor should succeed.” See the source for his full statement on this matter.

The old city of Podhajce, the place where the Gaon the author of the Masaat Binaymin lived and now reposes in honor, as well as other greats of Torah (see what the Gaon the son of the Shach wrote in his introduction to the book Nekudat Hakesef, as follows: My chief place of residence used to be the holy community of Podhajce, a city which has everything, the Torah of G-d in its midst, a praiseworthy and faithful city, from which came forth people of wisdom and understanding, etc.), this city will be the first to return Torah to its rightful place, and our rabbi and Gaon will be the one who begins this. He preaches properly and fulfils properly, for he took upon himself to teach an in-depth class a few hours each day in the general Talmud Torah. The wealthy people of our town are duty-bound to support this great endeavor, so that it should not falter. Those who toil in this should not stumble from the obstacles in their path, and shall not suffer setbacks, for the institution is worthy of toil, and overcoming all obstacles. If those that make the effort succeed in this, they will serve as examples for other cities to strengthen Torah. They should only be strong and vigorous.

Afikoman[5]

Hamitzpeh Krakow, issue 43, 28th Tishrei 5666 (October 17, 1905).

C.

The Fight of the Rabbi of the City Against Anti-Semitism

Many newspapers, including American ones, have reported on the grave danger that was hovering over the heads of thousands of Jewish residents of Podhajce and region at the time that the Ruthenians were gathering, and their salvation through the efforts of our rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Shalom Lilienfeld the Kohen, the head of the rabbinical court of our city. Each newspaper reported in its own style. It is also my fault, for I did not inform Hamitzpeh at the appropriate time, due to a reason that was beyond my control. Now, dear editor, in order to do your will, I wish to ascribe truth to its proper place, and describe the matter as it was, so that our brethren should know that Israel is not bereft of people who are able to protect their nation and honor, even in this orphaned generation.

Several days before the Ruthenians gathered in our city, the life of our brethren here was hanging on the line. A death pall, in the full sense of the term, hung over us, for inciters made the rounds from town to town and from city to city in order to incite the wild masses to perpetrate pogroms against the Jews, as did their brothers in Russia, for the whip was let loose by the government. Fear grew day by day, for the masses were convinced and ready to believe everything. It seemed as if it were true that the blood of the Jews was permissible to them, and they would not be afraid to publicly threaten the Jews, saying: you only have so and so number of days left to live. Despite the fact that our rabbi and head of the rabbinical court, whose honor was great in the eyes of the minister of the region, went to the minister together with our honorary communal leader Mr. Rotenberg to ask him to protect us, and he promised to protect us well, this was not sufficient to assuage the fear of in the hearts of the Jews, for who did not know that 20 or 30 gendarmes are as naught when faced with thousands of ruffians coming with the power of permission. Many of our brethren were prepared to leave the city, with all of their property and wealth. Our rabbi made no small effort, in his sermon on the Sabbath prior to the gathering, to calm the masses of our brethren who were prepared and armed for the day of the battle, for the residents of our city knew that our rabbi is trusted in the eyes of the state, as in the gates of Torah and science, and they believe every utterance that emanates from his mouth as the words of a luminary. However, what man is able to cut the heart of this fellow, to tell him

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not to fear at the time when a sharpened sword is placed upon his neck? And furthermore, what is the situation if that man is part of that fear. However, our rabbi is a man of success with no equal. He is assisted from Heaven, and G-d grants success to everything that he does. The day of the Ruthenian gathering was set for Thursday.

Throughout the days of the week, those who intended to gather came to find their place, but could not do so, because the Poles who were their mortal enemies did not grant them place to gather. This increased the confusion tenfold. However our rabbi knew how to take advantage of the situation. He saw what was happening and seized the opportunity. Despite the attitude of the Poles who always have ambitions against his honor, he made a dangerous step of self-sacrifice, and turned the parlor of his large fortress-like home over to them[6]. On Thursday morning, when ten thousand Ruthenian men and woman began to gather, and the rabbi's parlor was too small to hold all of those assembled, our rabbi permitted the chief spokesman Dr. Bochinski to ascend through the large parlor to the balcony, and to speak from there for a few hours.

The masses, laden with their bags and sacks to be able to collect the booty, were not able to wait. They waited to hear from the speaker, “strike and pillage the Jews”. However, with the assistance of the Rock and Redeemer of Israel, to our joy, they heard otherwise. Bochinski, who had for the moment turned into a friend of ours, spent half his wrath pouring fire and brimstone onto the Poles who are attempting to destroy the Ruthenians (according to their words). He then suddenly turned to the Jews to say: do not think my brothers, that only us Ruthenians are oppressed and downtrodden by the hand of the Poles. Our Jewish brethren are with us in this tribulation. They are also crushed under the burden of this nation. They are tormented and downtrodden by these high people, etc. etc., and we must love them with brotherly love, walk with them arm in arm, fight for their rights as for our rights, etc. The speaker continued go and see, of all the houses and meeting places of Polish Podhajce, we were not given a place to gather. Even the regional office (Rada Powiatowa) that exists only because of our money is closed before us. Only the rabbi, the rabbi of the Jews who is good and does good, turned his house over to us in mercy and justice. It is a shame on the Poles. Give honor to the Jews. Give honor to the Podhajce rabbi. All of those gathered shouted out loudly: Honor to the rabbi. Honor to the Jews. Shame on the Poles. The speaker told them: repeat! They repeated. A third time! They repeated a third time and countless more times. His concluding words were: return to your tents in peace, with proper decorum. Do not cause trouble along the way. Love the Jews. Always seek their peace and good. The masses listened to him and conducted only a small demonstration in the streets of the city, singing national songs. At every stop they called out and repeated: Shame on the Poles! Honor to the Podhajce rabbi! Honor to the Jews! At the end, the entire gathering stood in front of the regional office and shouted out loudly: Shame on the marszalek! Honor to the rabbi. Then they returned to their homes in peace. The Jews had joy, gladness and honor[7].

It is appropriate this day to inscribe this in the annals of Jewish history, and about our exalted rabbi, whose name is “Shalom”[8], and who should stand for blessing and praise for generations upon generations.

pod064.jpg
The new courthouse

A similar event to this took place to us now with respect to the new school, the “General Talmud Torah”, that was founded by our rabbi this year, and through which our city gains splendor and serves as an example to all of the cities of our land, as is already known to the readers of Hamitzpeh. Other cities such as Seret, Bolszowce, Zablotow, and others, are already jealous of us and wish to follow suit. In recent days, the elderly Gaon of our generation, the Light of the Exile, from whose water “of knowledge of Torah” we drink, our rabbi Shalom Mordechai HaKohen the head of the rabbinical court of

[Page 65]

Berezany, sent special messengers to our rabbi and Gaon in order to study the organization of the institution so that a similar general Talmud Torah can be founded in his community.

The slander of the Biks and their organ “Slowo Polskie” upon us and our Torah had no small amount of influence upon the officials of our town. One day, all of the Talmud Torahs were closed by the regional minister without given any positive or negative reason. At that time, the Admor and Tzadik of Kopyczynce may he live long lived honorably in our city. This Tzadik mourned over the closing of the school as he would over the destruction of the House of G-d, for he loved Torah greatly, and he had great satisfaction after he examined the students of each grade, and found that even the students of grades 5, 6 and 7 knew their lessons in Mishna and Talmud by heart. As a token of thanks and satisfaction, he granted proper support to the Talmud Torah fund. Our rabbi went to the regional minister accompanied by the head of the community. It was for naught. The regional minister was ill in his home, and in the interim, the cheders were closed and the youths were going around idle. We almost gave up. However, our rabbi thought otherwise. He girded his loins, and went to see the regional minister in his sickroom. Our rabbi talked harshly to him and asked him for the reason why the school was closed. The regional minister answered him lovingly and positively, and told him that he was very distressed since he never heard anything bad about this school, but it would be a form of rebellion against the Poles and the government, etc. However, our rabbi from whose lips grace flowed knew what to answer him. He convinced him that this would only be religious progressiveness, without any political taint. On the contrary, on the contrary, etc. The minister believed all his words, and issued an order that very day from his bed to open all the cheders.

After all of these events, I cannot conceal the truth that our honorable communal leaders were assisted greatly by him in every good and positive endeavor, and they were indeed supporters of Torah. This was also a benefit and a good omen regarding him, as a man whose words were listened to, knowing that he had the fear of Heaven. Apparently, there are other urgent matters in our city that require rectification, and I hereby request in the names of those who seek the peace and welfare of the city that they assist our exalted rabbi and Gaon, may he live long, in paying attention to these matters with the help of the honorable communal leaders.

Afikoman

Hamitzpeh, Krakow, Adar 19 5666 (1906), issue 11, third year.

D.

The Death of Rabbi Shalom HaKohen Lilienfeld of holy blessed memory

The festival of Sukkot, our time of rejoicing turned from a festival to a day of mourning and weeping for the Jews of Podhajce. On the first day of the festival of Sukkot at 8:00 a.m. our rabbi the exalted Gaon Rabbi Meshulam Lilienfeld HaKohen the head of the rabbinical court of Podhajce passed away in the 53rd year of his life. He was buried that day with great honor near the grave of the Gaon the author of the Masaat Binyamin. It was not only our own city that has become orphaned from this mighty Gaon, but also the entire House of Israel, for in this orphaned generation we do not have many rabbis who possess the great talents that he did. His Torah and wisdom gave him renown among the greats. Many communities wished to offer him the rabbinical seat. However, his prolonged illness thwarted the development of this pleasant rose, and somewhat darkened the sun that was able to shine from one end of the world to the other.

The writer of these lines, who already wrote many letters to Hamitzpeh abut the greatness of the late Gaon of holy blessed memory, is forced this time in great sorrow to suffice himself with these brief words. The Comforter of Zion will comfort the entire house of Israel with imminent redemption and with good and faithful shepherds.

Pesach Brandsdorfer

Hamitzpeh, Krakow, issue 42, 30 Tishrei 5670, (October 15, 1909)


E.

The Choosing of a New Head of the Rabbinical Court in Podhajce

Our bereaved community has arisen from its mourning when its Parnassim, the president Mr. Rotenberg and his vice Mr. Kinter, Mr. Gutman and Rabbi Mendel Grynberg returned from Stanislawow with the news that the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Yonah Meller agreed to accept the rabbinical post in our city after having left it 22 years ago and living honorably in Stanislawow, with Torah and divine service. At first the Gaon refused to return to his source, having merited two benefits in Stanislawow. However, he was not able to withstand the urging of our communal notables. He had mercy upon the orphaned community and agreed to be the head of the rabbinical court. The city of Podhajce rejoiced and was glad. The eyes of all members of community, almost without exception, turned toward this honorable rabbi, in whom resides both Torah and wisdom, and see him as a salvation and comfort for our ancient community. Here, we impatiently await his arrival this coming Chanukah. The entire community expresses its gratitude to our Parnassim who immediately felt the absence of a rabbi, and hastened to appoint him, to return Torah to its proper place. For the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Y. Meller is a native of our town. He was educated in it, and originally occupied its rabbinical seat. He was known by everyone as the “Rabbi from Podhajce” during all the years that he lived in Stanislawow. I hereby wish the people of our community and the rabbi Mazel Tov.

Pesach Brandsdorfer

Hamitzpeh, Krakow, issue 49, 20 Kislev 5670 (December 3, 1909)

pod066a.jpg
“The Wide Street” opposite the courthouse building

 

pod066b.jpg
A first aid course in 1941. Dr. Kornowicz is in the center

 

pod066c.jpg
Members of the Kibbutz Podhajce


Translator's Footnotes

  1. “Eretz Tzvi” is a poetic term for the Land of Israel. Return

  2. The meaning of this sentence is not entirely clear. It seems like that he informed the post offices that a certain seal must be placed in the copies of the Code of Jewish Law that pass through the post. Return

  3. A reference to the rote teaching of the Hebrew letters and their sounds. Return

  4. The first and last words of the Pentateuch. Return

  5. Obviously a pseudonym. Return

  6. 'Them' here refers to the Ruthenians. Return

  7. An almost verbatim rendition of Esther 7:16. Return

  8. Shalom in Hebrew means 'peace', and by stating his name in quotes here, there is a double entendre. Return

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