On the idea of the Righteous
The Righteous are among us. Empathic, they reach out to others, especially to those who need help. In the face of wars, crimes or terror, they defend human dignity and rights. They push the limits by creating a community based on values. They have always done so, and they keep doing it today.
Each of us can be a Righteous.
The notion of a ‘Righteous’ refers to the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations.’ Since 1963, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem has been presenting the title to those who had rescued Jews from certain death during the Holocaust. The term ‘Righteous’ has acquired a broader, universal dimension which goes beyond a specific time. It encompasses the Righteous Among the Nations as well as other people who, in different countries and at various times in most recent history, risked their lives or freedom to defend human rights and dignity.
In Jewish tradition, to which the notion of a ‘righteous’ refers, the existence of the world depends on the Righteous. Tzadik yesod olam – a righteous is the foundation of the world. There are at least thirty-six of them in each generation. This might be an ordinary man, whose righteousness transpires in everyday life, but it can also manifest itself in an extreme situation. The man is not aware that he is one of the thirty-six. That is why one should live as if one were the Righteous: perhaps it is our attitude that the world’s existence depends on.
The modern idea of naming and honouring people who actively fight for human rights and dignity was popularized by a grass root movement – the ‘Gariwo’ Foundation from Milan, Italy. Owing to its activity, the European Parliament passed a decree declaring 6th of March as the European Day of Remembrance for the Righteous. Inspired by the Garden of the Righteous in Jerusalem created to honour those who had helped Jews during the Holocaust, the ‘Gariwo’ Foundation is a prime mover behind building Gardens of the Righteous in Europe. Trees and memorial stones are placed there to commemorate the honoured individuals.