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The thirty-six Righteous of our time, on the eve of 6 March

by Gabriele Nissim

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

We can offer many different interpretations of the idea of the Kabala of the 36 hidden Righteous who appear in every generation and hold the world's fate in their hands. According to this tradition, no one knows where they are and they themselves would be almost unaware of their role. At any rate, once they have performed their deeds, they would go back to their anonymity. God would rely on them to avert the end of the humanity.

Jorge Luis Borges invites us to discover, in a wonderful poem of 1981, those people who, in their ordinary daily life, behave in a decent way in their lives. So he tells us about the man who is happy to cultivate his garden with the spirit of Voltaire, or enjoys the presence of music on earth, caresses a sleeping animal, prefers that others are right, or even comes to justify a wrong that others have done to him. Thus, Borges gets us to understand that the world is kept running not only by the deeds of Saints and heroes but by the daily work of ordinary people.

Moshe Bejski, the great personality behind the Garden of the Righteous of Jerusalem, used to tell me instead that he was really disappointed when the people rescued from the Holocaust kept the value of their rescuers' deeds hidden, and he used to reproach them when they failed to express overt thankfulness to them.
To him, it was inconceivable that society did not recognize those who had stood out for acts of bravery in the gloomy times of the humanity.
He had sensed a contradiction in the presumption that the Righteous should go unseen – as Marc Aurel in his Memories and Saint Matthews in the Gospels suggest – as if they were unaware of the good they had done, or because the good accomplished should be self-standing and bring happiness to any human being.
It was even a guilt if a Righteous man sought some recognition.
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven ”, Matthew warns us.

Moshe Bejski had a different opinion. Unless you value a Righteous' deeds properly, you leave him alone in his fragility. It is our thankfulness that gives him strength and helps him behave in a certain way. So, when you recognize him in openly and you recount his tale, a mechanism of collective emulation is set on. There is nothing worse than loneliness for a man of goodwill. Our ingratitude breaks the taste of doing good in him.
This is our responsibility.

But how to interpret the idea of the Kabala in today's word, on the eve of the first Day of the Righteous of the Humanity, voted by the Italian Parliament in December, that adopted the recurrence of 6 March already established in 2012 by the European Parliament? Usually, it is thought that the Righteous make themselves known in the direst straights when evil has already been carried out by dictatorships and totalitarianism and unjust laws supported by a broad consensus lead to the persecution of human beings. In such cases as during the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide, rescuers have kept lit the flicker of human dignity within their span of control, without though changing the course of the events.

We must instead reflect on the Righteous people who are able to avert Evil when it is about surfacing when history could head for a wrong direction, but there are still all the necessary conditions to prevent a catastrophe. Let's think for example of the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, who by inciting conciliation averted a fratricide war after the end of the apartheid in South Africa; Stanislav Petrov in the Soviet Union, who averted a nuclear war with the United States following a false alarm after the launch of an American missile; Vaclav Havel, who managed the peaceful separation of Czechs and Slovaks after 1989.

Fortunately, today in Europe and Italy, after World War Two and the fall of the Berlin Wall, we keep on living, albeit among thousands of contradictions, in time of peace under democratic institutions.
There are though too many warning signs of a possible degeneration in public discourse, people's behaviour, the growth of nationalism, and expressions of hatred.
It is maybe the first time, in which we seem suddenly on a brink. People feel the fear of an uncertain future, while the culture of the enemy presents itself in political dialectics and with regard to minorities. The very idea of dialogue and sharing seems in danger.

A great tv series, Babylon Berlin, broadcast by the German television, shows us like the degeneration of the Weimar Republic led to the rise of Nazism in 1933. Corruption, hate, mass fanaticism, provided the ground for Hitler's rise.
Nothing is repeated the same way, but we are witnessing to all possible signs of a questioning of the founding values of democracy and the very European community. This is why today the behaviour of every single citizen in the face of all expressions of intolerance matters so much.
All best people can, without any particular acts of heroism, as Borges teaches, get us onto the train (I think of the movie Sliding doors by Peter Howitt) leading us to the right direction.

Those who reply politely when hate rises on Facebook; those who do not accept that their neighbour speaks racist words against migrants, presenting them as subhumans or enemies; those who do not accept that people shout anti-Jewish slogans in pro Palestine rallies; those who condemn the people who invoke the Foibe killings and political revenge in antifascist demostrations; those who do not accept heavy disputes in politics and instead look for understanding and dialogue; those who do not let themselves carried away by the enticement of nationalism and look forward to a common Europe, they all can give a great contribution.

Being Righteous and wise people today is far easier than acting under emergency situations when fanaticism twists all cards and paves the way for political violence. Maybe this is the most likely interpretation of the 36 Righteous of the Kabala.
They are all those who prevent evil, when still on time, and normally do it in their daily lives.

Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

16 February 2018

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