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Name of Israel’s anti-Hamas operation has biblical meaning
Smoke billows from a spot targeted by the Israeli military inside the Gaza Strip last week.
November 20th, 2012
09:49 AM ET

Name of Israel’s anti-Hamas operation has biblical meaning

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='dangilgoffcnn']

(CNN) – To English speakers, the name of Israel’s anti-Hamas campaign sounds pretty straightforward: “Operation Pillar of Defense.”

But reading the name of the Israeli operation in Hebrew might provoke some head-scratching. In Hebrew, the Israel Defense Forces have branded their recently launched anti-Hamas effort as “Operation Pillar of Cloud.”

An IDF spokesman explained that most Israelis would recognize “Pillar of Cloud” as a biblical reference.

“It’s based on the pillar of cloud that accompanied the the nation of Israel during the Exodus as they left Egypt and traveling toward Israel,” said Eytan Buchman, head of the North American media desk for the IDF.

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“They wanted the protection from the troubles of the desert, from robbers and people that would attack them and from snakes and scorpions.”

Buchman said the anti-Hamas operation’s Hebrew name is meant to send the message that it is a defensive maneuver.

“We are coming up on a decade of rockets being fired indiscriminately at civilians,” Buchman said, referring to Hamas’ actions in southern Israel. The Jewish state’s current military operation, he said, “is a proverbial cloud that is coming to protect you.”

The Bible’s first reference to a cloud pillar comes in Exodus 14, which describes the Israelites’ flight from bondage, culminating in Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.

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“The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them,” reads the passage in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

"It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel,” the passage continues. "And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.”

The idea of the cloud pillar refers to both physical and spiritual protection, according to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads Ohev Sholom, the National Synagogue in Washington.

“The spiritual message here is about praying to God for protection,” said Herzfeld, who heads an Orthodox congregation. “In Exodus, the pillar of cloud is spiritual protection of the Israelis.”

Herzfeld said the biblical reference would be instantly recognizable to the many Israelis who have had Jewish educations.

The phrase also appears in the Bible’s Book of Psalms, in a verse that says God spoke to Hebrew leaders like Moses, Aaron and Samuel “in the pillar of cloud.”

Israel’s choice of Hebrew words has provoked some criticism online.

"By calling this operation 'Pillar of Cloud,' the IDF are, in a sense, calling themselves God,” tweeted @joshua_eaton, whose Twitter bio describes him as a journalist covering religion and politics. “And they act like they believe that, too."

A blogger for the website Gawker, meanwhile, said that calling the Israeli operation a “pillar of cloud” evoked “an all-powerful, vengeful God seeking to demonstrate the primacy of his chosen people, to guide them in their affairs, and to confound their enemies.”

“Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security?” asked the Gawker blogger, John Cook. “Or was it pursuing a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism?”

The IDF’s Buchman said he contacted Cook to challenge his interpretations, saying the Israeli military merely wanted to stress what he called the operation’s defensive nature.

“Inside the Bible,” Buchman said, “the cloud was defined as (following people that were) leaving and running away from a full army that had enslaved it.”

Buchman noted that previous IDF operations have also used biblical references.

In 2002, he said, the IDF used the name “Operation Noah’s Ark” for the seizure of a Palestinian vessel loaded with rockets, missiles and explosives.

And a 2008 IDF operation in Gaza was called “Operation Cast Lead,” which began during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and references a popular Hanukkah song.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Israel • Judaism • Military

soundoff (1,431 Responses)
  1. Akhmed

    For the love of Camels, PLEASE people, look up the history of this conflict! Look up TransJordan and the British Mandate. Educate yourselves, Allah knows your schools won't do it. Palestine is a location, not a people. The Israel/Jordan area is called "Palestine", hence Jews are Palestinians too. The Hamas rebels are Jordan outcasts that Jordan does not want...

    November 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      Some of the people who are still having a hard time accepting Israel refer to the whole area as "Palestine." Because yes. Palestine IS a location. But to say that it is not also a people shows the latent bigotry of one who wants to sever people from their own history in order to justify their occupation and killing. Congratulations. You people are so easy to spot.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Jacob

      Nice try. Although the Palestinians deserve a home, Israel belongs to the Jews long before Palestine was falsely created by the Roman Empire. Do your research a little further.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Pepou27

      What is true is that Jews and Arabs are both semites.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • WisdomVS

      I did, thank you for the historical insight. I am curious, is it possible that Allah and Jehovah are one and the same.... the creator of all. The beginnings of the Quran and the Bible are quite similar. I think many have died due to ignorance and intolerance. I believe we should all coexist, no matter what name we give our God. There are over 133,000 religions around the world... they can't all be right, yet each thinks that they are. It is wise to consider that all religions are wrong, because mankind has tampered with them and altered them according to their own greedy purposes.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Pepou27

      Although Jews who first settled in Palestine in 1948 used to say that it was a "land without people for a people without a land" the fact of the matter is Palestinians were living there for centuries. They farmed and took care of the land.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      The christian word of truth being the gospels of which are now many to be had can no more be held up in agonies righteousness sakes. To the christians; "The troubles with unfaithful trinitarians, those who belly-up to one god times three is, they read but only into it and get very little out of what they make 'go-spel-lingly' in amplifications of unblessed pleasings by the manly sons of God. Their rudimentary and timid preaching in devilish tongues beatifies only the dumb-hearted relics, the aged heartburns of their christiandumbness's idiosyncratic marmoset-like redundancies. Their godly embittered moralisms are but self-centered and selfishly censored upon redundant principles that are remorsefully archaic in round-about cultured replicants behooving those old fuddy duddies who fumble ever for their next glass worth of wine! Drunk and in temperamental stupors are the emotionally fallen within christiandumbs folds becoming sciatic pragmatisms unworthy of even one toasting for, but rather against!"

      In retrospect, Godless bemoans and bewails the ungodly. For these are the choices from which commonwealth atheists do make felt upon their retrospective and habitual senses denying the goodly upon ever moving towards the ways of godly intent. Many young-bucks of godlessness and the ungodliness sensually tenders to avail themselves with the nailed doldrums' sciatica.They do abound with much societal unpleasantries toward the abaters of commonly wanton deniabilities against them. Ungodly and godless beings of smirked violaters of randomized intention-abilities are meant only as austerities of servile subversions. Their subversive deniabilities are not without compromising or so they do entail and also do weave upon the where-with-all of seasoned papacies irreversibly mandated.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
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      November 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
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    November 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  3. lol

    Religion in a nutshell

    "My imaginary father figure has a bigger penis than yours, NYAAAAH."

    November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Matt

      You aren't mature enough to post on these boards.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  4. hsiaobai

    Moe: what do you call daily rocket attacks ? What would you call it if it was your kid who had to go to school in a bomb shelter? Would you fight back eventually or would you be scaered of offending the people attacking you? What do you call a society where children's TV shows talka bout how great it is to blow yourself up and that kids play "dress-up" with mock suicide vests? Nobody is stopping muslims from practicing their faith - as they stop others from doing around the world. How are Christians in Egypt or Iraq doing these days? How many Chinese need to die in Indonesia every time their economy goes south? How many Jews or Christians were allowed to worship at their holy sites when they were controlled by Muslims (answer - zero). Better the people in Gaza should focus on creating a sound society based on hard work, education and building instead of based on destruction and corruption.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  5. Realityblowz

    Yeah. After they killed off the guy that had the drug recipe for the Eygyptians to test to see if they were pharoh material, and the Eygyptians got cheesed off and chased the well armed Israelis out of town, after the Israelis sacked another town while they left. Then spent 40 years in the desert building an army, just to return and take the life of every person, child and baby in their quest to conquor. Sure...God escorted them on their blood thirst.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  6. Badly-Bent

    Is Egyptian willing to sacrifice their air force?

    November 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
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    November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Be honest

      ..and a special on catholic jesus blood and jesus flesh for the cannibals. Don't worry, as part of the catholic mass, they transform the host and wine to flesh and blood.. If you like your server, you can kiss the dead bones of their favorite saint, as they do. make sure you leave a tip for one of their profit centers. A vatican jewels are expensive, feed hungry kids later.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  8. Stu

    It was a mistake to create the nation of Israel after WW2. What the world and Israel did to the Palestinians was shameful. But there is no going back to what was before. Both sides now need to cooperate and Hamas needs to stop with the rocket attacks.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Akhmed

      omg, please learn history! The Jews were given "Palestine" in the early 1900's, not after WWII. And a two state solution was created Israel and Trans-Jordan. Of course the Muslims were given 75% of the area... No matter how much land Israel gives the Islamic Terrorists, Israel will not have peace.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • wallyj

      You obviously do not know or believe the Holy Bible and what it states about the God of Israel. Everything that is happening now is a fulfillment of the scriptures. The true and living God brought them back to the land He promised them in 1948 was a fulfillment of prophecy in the Book of Isaiah chapter 66. In the last battle of Armegadon God Himself will defend Israel from the armies of the world that will fight against Israel. I pray America is not one of those armies.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Stu

      The State of Israel wasn't created May 14, 1948?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Stu

      F the bible. Yet another continuing example that Hitch was right.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  9. RichardSRussell

    Has any nation in all of history overtly said "Yeah, we're the aggressors, and we're invading just because we want your land"? Nope, not a one. Every one of them, including the worst depredations of Attilla, Genghis Khan, Hitler, and Mao, were done for purely benevolent "protective" reasons. Or, like the genocides of Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors, to bring enlightened Christianity to the pagan masses.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Evil is Evil

      HAHAHAHA. YES. ALL OF THEM WERE TRYING TO EXPAND THEIR EMPIRES. JEEZ. Take a high school history course. Is this Baghdad Bob?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'Has any nation in all of history overtly said "Yeah, we're the aggressors, and we're invading just because we want your land"? Nope, not a one. Every one of them, including the worst depredations of Attilla, Genghis Khan, Hitler, and Mao, were done for purely benevolent "protective" reasons.'

      Actually a great many have used invading to expand the empire, and claimed it as such. Genghis Khan made invading other lands one of his chief arguments to help unite the mongol tribes. Attilla was flat out invasion and raiding, no attempt made there to hide motive. The Romans practically made conquest a must do in order to advance politically. Its only in relatively modern times that claims of beneficial invasion have become common place.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  10. Akhmed

    I just hope with this new Cease Fire that Israel doesn't give in more to Islamic Terrorist demands. Palestine is not a people, but a location. It is the Jewish-Trans-Jordan area. When Jordan was created 75% of the land that was set apart for Jews was given to create a two-state solution – Jordan and Israel. But that was not enough, Muslims demanded more land and Israel gave 25% more of the land they were given to placate Muslims. Now Muslims want ALL of the land and like facing the Nazis of WWII, Israel is in a fight for it's life!

    November 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Damian

      You're a full blown MORON aren't you?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • brian

      Try revisiting your history lessons. The land of trans-jordan was to be broken in to two countries, Jordan and Palestine and given over to self governance by the people inhabiting the lands in exchange for their support and assistance during ww2. It was never intended to be a homeland for the Jews. After WW2, Jewish terrorist groups like the Stern Gang relentlessly attacked both British and Arab people and properties Only after the formation of the UN and under pressure from the Jewish communities in Western Europe and the US, did the western powers back out of their agreement and push for the formation of Israel.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Aj

      Arabs are always fighting tribalistic wars to settle Imagined scores. Philistines never settled anywhere they were sheep herders and now as Palestinians they are unwelcome into other Arab lands. This is to keep fighting Israel so that there will never be a Jewish state. With all the land mass, natural resources and wealth of the Arab people, Israel would be gone by now as Jews aren't looking to wipe out the Arab states and as the Jewish people put their attention to the arts, humanities, and sciences as their minds are their wealth BUT Arabs are too busy fighting each other, pretenting they want peace and settling scores when they are not just oppressing woman.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  11. Evil is Evil

    I look at it this way, which scenario is better: What if tomorrow you woke up and every Jew was gone. Every Jewish teacher, doctor, scientist, lawyer, neighbor, Israel, etc., were gone. Would the world be a better place? Would you feel safer? Now what if every radical Muslim was gone tomorrow? Not many doctors and scientists here...but what if they were all gone? Would the world be safer? That's a question I think that really needs to be considered.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Genocide is a question that really needs to be seriously considered?

      Get help.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • pame

      They don't have any good soccer players , so let them go .Nobody cares , we need more Messis's not scientists inventing nuclear bombs.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Evil is Evil

      Genocide? Man, you are dense. I will write a little slower so you can follow along. When trying to figure out which side is a bigger threat, consider what each side lends to society. To do that, imagine what the world would be like without Jews. Then imagine what the world would be like without radical Muslims. Which scenario is better for humanity?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      now if only the only people being killed were radical muslims then you might have an argument.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • pame

      Let's say Einstein was put to sleep before he came up with the nuclear energy idea , the world would be much safer and better now. Plus count how many civilians would have been spared in Hiroshima . We can't travel at the speed of light anyway , so we don't need him.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • brian

      You're comparing all Jews to a subset of Muslims. how about if we woke up tomorrow and every radical Jewish terrorist along with every radical Christian terrorist and radical Muslim terrorist were gone. Then the world would definitely be a safer place. The problem isn't the Jews or the Muslims or the Christians. It is the Radicals who's belief in their own version of God is so weak that it is threatened by their neighbor believing a different version.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • JJC

      Your comparison is not sound. You compare ALL jews against just the radical muslims. What if you reversed that and said what would be better, losing all of the radical jews or every single muslim? You obviuosly have an opinion that you cannot see past. Personally, I think hamas is more in the wrong here, but both sides contribute and are entrenched in keeping the fight going.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • hsiaobai

      Without getting into genocidal discussions, I would say that anyone who has a problem with Jews and Israel should be cut-off for 3 generations from any medical, technological, artisitc and, even militaristic innovation developed, financed or promoted by Jews. I'm sick of being attacked by a religious - yes religious - mindest that has contributed ZERO to the betterment of mankind since it came into being. At least Arab muslims can point towards their pre-muslim days in the library of Alexandria and the early contributions to math. But in the past 1,300 years? Nada from the middle east, pakistan, indonesia, malaysia, afghanistan, etc. And it is only Western and Indian know-how and sweat that allows them to get oil from the ground and to build their shiny cities in the Gulf.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  12. moe

    The Palestinians are defending their lands. Israel is land grabbing and expanding its settlements.
    This is not a war between Israel and Hamas. This is another ethnic cleansing taking place in Gaza.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • helpful hint

      The Palestinians are outcasts and unwanted peoples from nearby Arab nations. They have no claim to land in Israel in the first place.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Akhmed

      Jews are technically Palestinians too. The Romans named the Israel/Jordan area "Palestine" about 1700 years ago. Please read a history book instead of just the Qur'an....

      November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • hsiaobai

      Israel GAVE Gaza back and they then elected people sworn to Israel's destuction after an internal civil war in which evil and destruction defeated higher aspirations. And you see that as land Grabbing? Freakin' sheep. They followed their "brothers" to attack Israel on the day BOTH nations were created - and lost (booo hooo hooo), They followed cynical "brothers' who kept them in chains and camps and now they follow spineless leaders - because it takes real guts to make peace. Terror is the easy solution.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  13. ff

    I'm neither Jew nor muslim, but you're full of it moe

    November 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  14. Be honest

    christian/muslim, all the same. Wish they would evolve. Whether it's the christian nazi or muslim terrorist, just idiots. That's what religion does to people. make them falsely think they are special or something.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Joe

      Now if only the atheists would evolve, we could be rid of the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • JJC

      Sorry Joe, Hitler wasn't an atheist. And non of them killed people for the non-belief in a god. There will always be evil people, but it takes religion (or any other unshakable belief) to make good people do evil things.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • brian

      Here is one of many quotes concerning atheism and Christianity by Hitler. "We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out." -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on 24 Oct. 1933

      Under Stalin, the Russian Orthodox Church was revived, Russian Theological Schools were reopened and thousands of churches were reopened. not exactly the work of an atheist.

      Mao was a devoted Buddhist and never rejected or suppressed either Buddhism or Taoism in China or in Tibet (which was a feudal society run by the Tibetan Monks). In many of his writings he addressed his concerns to the lack of piety towards Buddhism that his father displayed. Again, not exactly the words of an atheist.

      Of course then people will turn and say but Mao, Hitler and Stalin killed millions of people. Generous estimates attribute 20 million deaths to Stalin during his various purges. Another 20 million to Mao during his purges and approximately 35 million war time deaths to Hitler (including combat and holocaust). for a grand total of 75 million. Now, if you add up the various religious war death tolls over the centuries, you come up with a conservative 800 million deaths in the name of religion. this isn't including the various inquisitions in Spain, France and much of Western Europe. More people by far have been killed in the name of religion than by your so called Atheists.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • CamoJock

      If there is no god then there is no evil. Survival of the fittest?

      November 20, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
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    November 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Be honest

      and a special on catholic jesus blood and jesus flesh for the cannibals. Don't worry, as part of the catholic mass, they transform the host and wine to flesh and blood.. If you like your server, you can kiss the dead bones of their favorite saint, as they do.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
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      November 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Be honest

      mine or his?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
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  16. moe

    uninformed? how? 113 Palestinians dead vs. 3 dead Israelis.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • YourAnIdiotMo

      Over 10 years of rockets. But, because your a moron. You refuse to acknowledge that. How many died in those 10 years.
      I hope your blood flows next.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Really?

      The difference in death toll is a testament to how superior the Israeli defense system is to the Palestinian's ragtag rocket brigade. Believe me, if your state was being rocketed for a decade, you'd have already pushed the NUKE button.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  17. Freedom Fascist

    haha...killing in the name of God? Wait, according to every "anti-terrorist" idiot in the Whitehouse that's defined as "terrorism". lol, what a joke Amerika. Supporting Israel's killing of innocents while condemning everyone else is a joke. Why don't we just let the Russian wipe Israel's sorry Jewish @$$ off the map and save ourselves a lot of lives, money and headaches. There is no other moral sense of justice than wishing Mr. Hitler had been allowed to destroy the Jews, would've saved the Palestinians a lot of unwarranted atrocity. For shame Israel – you're time will come!

    November 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Free Pizza

      Just wait till Hamas reach you and do something horrible on you and that's the time you will understand what Hamas mean.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Shift supervisor

      Nice rant. Now get back to work, the burgers are burning and need flipped.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  18. Mike Landars

    When one side has high tech weapons, jets, helicopters, missle defense systems, it can be expected for the press to side with the underdog. The key telling point if this is biased coverage is to look at the casualities over the past 15 years or so and you'll see almost 10x more Palistianes die (both adults and kids under 18) than on the Israli side. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli%E2%80%93Palestinian_conflict

    November 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Free Pizza

      Are you really informed? Israel has been tolerating the missiles coming to Israel and this time they said "Enough of this!" So they (Hamas) provoked trouble and the Palestinians have chosen Hamas to take care of their future. Now you see the future, don't you?

      November 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  19. Karen

    STOP THE VIOLENCE going both ways. STOP.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  20. hsiaobai

    Imagine this. What if the people of Gaza woke up one morning and thier leaders said they were going to dedicate 100% of their time and effort to creating jobs, educating kids in math, science and the arts - not on how to wear a suicude belt, and that there was an entire world out there ready to trade and uplift them. - Happened in Singapore, Taiwan and other places. Imagine if they woke up and were told they were NOT vicitms and to stop crying and take control of what they can – -especially since they proceeded to wreck a perfectly buit-up infrastucture as soon as they took it over.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Mike Landars

      Gaza is a war zone, survival is the only opportunity available, not opening a McDonalds.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • don

      Well said.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • lolignorance2012

      Such a stupid comment... Clearly 12-16 years old or just plain bored trolling from starbucks

      November 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • jorge washinsen

      Maybe their leaders are too sorry to work.Probably been in the hood spying.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.