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Czech Statue Becomes New Symbol

March 9, 2000

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) _ A statue of Christ with a Hebrew inscription that Jews consider a centuries-old humiliation was turned into a symbol of reconciliation Wednesday when Czech and Jewish officials unveiled some changes.

The 17th-century Calvary statue on the capital’s Charles Bridge has a gilded inscription paid for from a fine imposed on a Prague Jew who allegedly mocked the cross.

In a ceremony Wednesday, Prague Mayor Jan Kasl unveiled three new bronze plaques in Czech, English and Hebrew explaining the inscription’s origin and acknowledging that it was intended to insult Jews.

``This symbol has long been one of pain to the Jewish community,″ Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis, said during the ceremony. ``Now this statue stands not for conflict, but for harmony and respect.″ Members of the Czech Jewish community, the U.S. ambassador and representatives of the Czech Roman Catholic Church also attended the ceremony.

Over the past few years, Jewish tourists have complained about the Hebrew inscription, reads, ``Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of the Multitude″ _ attributing divinity to Christ, something Judaism does not recognize. It was put on the statue in 1696, about 40 years after the statue was put on the bridge.

While some insisted on the removal of the inscription, municipal authorities and Jewish officials here and abroad agreed that a note explaining its origins should be sufficient. ``By keeping the statue intact, it is transformed into a symbol of reconciliation,″ Schneier said.

``The plaque, and the fact that you have gathered together on this historic bridge, symbolize the growing bonds between the Jewish and Christian communities in Prague and throughout the Czech Republic and beyond,″ said a message from U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, read by Ambassador John Shattuck.

The plaques unveiled Wednesday explain that the Hebrew inscription was the ``result of improper court proceedings against Elias Backhoffen,″ who had been accused of mocking the cross, and was meant ``to humiliate the Jewish community.″

Touching on another sensitive issue, Schneier told a reporter later he was confident that a solution could be found in the case of a Jewish cemetery unexpectedly unearthed in downtown Prague two years ago.

The 13th-century Jewish cemetery, which was unused after 1478, was unearthed during construction of a parking garage under the building of Ceska Pojistovna, the country’s biggest insurance company.

The Jewish community demanded that the government declare the site a national heritage and that the construction stop.

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