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Quebec’s `language police’ do about-face on Jewish business

MONTREAL, Dec. 18 (JTA) — Quebec’s “language police” have decided not to go to the mat with a Jewish tombstone manufacturer. A day after threatening the company L. Berson & Sons with legal action for breaching the Canadian province’s language laws, the Commission for the Protection of the French Language backed off. The commission had threatened to bring Marvin Berson, the company’s owner, to court if he did not reduce the size of one Hebrew word on an outdoor sign so that it was smaller than the accompanying French text. The letter accused him of contravening Article 58 of Quebec’s French language charter, which states that all commercial signs must be in French. Another language may be used in conjunction with the French — as long as the French lettering is larger. The commission’s rapid about-face came after wide condemnation by Jewish groups, the media and both the French- and English-speaking public. “After examining your file we inform you that we have closed” the case, the commission said in a letter faxed Thursday to Berson. “We ask that you ignore the letter we sent you Dec. 11, 1997,” said the fax, which was written in French. “Excuse us for the disagreements that this letter caused.” Quebec’s French-speaking community has long sought to preserve the province’s French character — a stance that has often put it at odds with other Quebec residents. Two referendums calling for Quebec to secede from Canada were narrowly defeated in recent years. A similar case involving Jewish products occurred last year, when boxes of matzah were removed from store shelves in Montreal prior to Passover because there was no French on the boxes. Dubbed “Matzahgate,” the case was eventually settled by the government and the community, and the matzah was permitted in stores without French labels during certain periods of the year. L. Berson & Sons has been located in downtown Montreal for some 50 years and is the city’s leading manufacturer of Jewish tombstones. Berson was happy with the turnaround. “It’s a load off my mind,” he said in a telephone interview. “I had my day in the sun and it’s time to go on. There are other, more important things in my life to deal with than this.”

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