29 November 2006

Preserving Europe's Jewish graves

The London-based Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe is determined to enforce Jewish law - halachah - which requires that the dead not be disturbed.

Local Jewish communities and governments are now turning to the committee to avoid being labeled as violators of Jewish heritage.

The group made its name six years ago in a fight to save a medieval Prague cemetery from the plans of a Czech insurance company which had sought to build its offices on top of the Jewish graves. The two-year battle resulted in the Czech Republic spending $1.2 million for a sarcophagus for the remaining graves and made the site a national monument.

“We get Jews and non-Jews from all over asking what’s the right way to build a fence or protect a grave,” said Rabbi Abraham Ginsberg, the committee’s executive director. “We tell them we are here to offer solutions, not to cause problems.”

The committee was back in Prague this month thanks to the discovery of a 15th-century Jewish cemetery in Pilsen, some 60 miles west of the Czech capital. Construction of a 450-car parking lot is set to begin on the site in the spring.

When a Pilsen researcher told the Czech press he thought a cemetery was located on the site, the Pilsen Jewish community, Sidon, archaeologists and the Israeli-owned construction company consulted the committee.

After a few weeks it was determined that the 50 or so graves in the corner of the site would probably best be protected by building the parking lot on stilts. Preparations for excavation began Monday ...

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