Speech by Elizabeth McAllister

25th Anniversary of the Vigil
June 3, 2006

According to Jewish tradition, the Lamed Vav Zaddikim, or "The Just Ones," are 36 righteous people present in each generation who save the world from infinite sorrow, and inevitable destruction.

When I think of this presence at Peace Park - 25 years, day and night, in every season - I think of the Lamed Vav Zaddikim. We are told that the Lamed Vav do not realize that they are of this select group. For each of them, the spectacle of the world is an unspeakable hell because the Lamed Vav collectively carry the burdens of this world as you have done over all these days and nights and months and years. We are told that "... if just one of them was lacking, the sufferings of humankind would poison even the souls of the newborn, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry. For the Lamed Vav are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs."

I believe that these 36 really exist and I believe that perhaps you are among them. I think the Lamed Vav who don't know that they are "chosen ones" are the blessed ones. Imagine not only feeling the whole weight of the world on your shoulders, (and you've borne it all these years), but knowing that if you fail, the world fails? There are many who would crack under the pressure, either refusing to take the burden or becoming abusive or selfish with the knowledge of their power.

The amazing simplicity - yet depth - of your witness opens hearts and draws all who meet you into a world that defies intellect. Yours is a witness that sparks understanding with a mysterious, miraculous, perhaps even zany wisdom. It is a witness that is a gift to the universe. If you believe, you're a fool. If you don't believe, you're wicked. You have stretched between these extremes of innocence and evil, welcoming and encompassing all listeners, whether or not they believe.

Your witness has been a healing even weaving together wisdom and action, the finite and infinite, the world of beyond and worlds in between. It is a vessel that transmits the story of the world. The prerequisite for the story is that it be lived - and live it you have. It goes on; it has its own momentum.

The knowledge revealed in your witness is the deepest and the most obvious. What we learn from you, what we try to learn with you, is that we may try many things in life but the hardest thing of all is to be human - in a world where it is considered criminal to be human.

Thank you.

Liz McAllister

Jonah House
Catholic Workers