With the recent attacks on American Jewry in Colleyville, Poway and Pittsburgh, as well as antisemitism happening around the globe, it seems like hate towards the Jewish community is only increasing. Even though Jews may feel alienated right now, author Ari Mittleman wants to remind them: They are, in fact, not alone.
In his new book “Paths of the Righteous: Stories of Heroism, Humanity and Hope,” Mittleman highlights eight non-Jewish individuals who have gone above and beyond for Israel as well as the Jewish people. Included in the book are Olga Meshoe Washington, a South African Zionist, Holocaust restitution lawyer Markus H. Stötzel, Aston Bright, a firefighter with the Israeli Emergency Volunteers Project and Chloé Valdary, founder of Theory of Enchantment and a Zionist activist.
“My focus in the book is to point toward diverse, unheralded non-Jews who exude infectious decency and, in the process, not only help our community, but educate their peers,” said Mittleman, who lives with his wife and daughter in Pikesville, Maryland. “I hope to share these stories, as they inspired me during a difficult time as an American Jew.”
“My focus in the book is to point toward diverse, unheralded non-Jews who exude infectious decency and, in the process, not only help our community, but educate their peers.” – Ari Mittleman
The book’s opening story is about Bright, who helped the local fire department in Sderot, Israel fight fires near Gaza in 2018. When he got the call from the Emergency Volunteers Project that they needed him, he flew from his home in Plantation, Florida to Israel to assist with the efforts. While there, he learned how Hamas were starting the fires with kites and balloons. He also took in the culture, discovering how much he loved shakshuka and how dedicated Jews were to keeping Shabbat. When a synagogue caught on fire, the firefighters didn’t hear about it for 20 minutes because nobody wanted to pick up a phone and call for help.
“He might not have understood, but he admired the level of devotion,” Mittleman writes.
In the months after his trip to Sderot, Bright talked in front of audiences in Maryland, New York, Georgia and Florida, discussing how on the last day he was in Israel, there were 26 fires. The previous year in Plantation, there were only 36 total fires.
“Aston always had a soft spot for Israel and considered the nation and its citizens friends,” writes Mittleman. “But through two life-changing deployments in Israel and talking to diverse Jewish American audiences, he realized that he was wrong. They weren’t just his friends. Israel and the Jewish people were family.”
Mittleman, who is a political consultant and strategist in his day job, did not set out to write a book. But after his mother died and the attacks in Pittsburgh happened, he didn’t want to become pessimistic.
“We have a home gym and at first, this was my outlet,” he said.
After the mourning period, when there were more attacks in Monsey, Jersey City and Brooklyn, Mittleman felt he needed yet another outlet. He started searching for positive stories that weren’t in the depressing headlines.
“There are probably thousands of stories out there like the eight I profile,” he said. “We need to look for the positive in these uncertain times. I think that is the antidote for what we have seen as a Jewish community in recent years. The process of writing this book has taught me to focus on optimism, and that is what I hope to teach our daughter.”
Mittleman connected to some of the individuals through his wife and her colleagues at AIPAC, and others he knew already or found online.
“The individuals profiled in the book were and are a source of inspiration,” he said. “I will forever be grateful that they lent me their most valuable resource – their time.”
With “Paths of the Righteous,” Mittleman hopes his book will be a beacon of light in a dark time.
“The truth is, we’re not alone during these tough times,” he said. “[Mishlei 4:18 says] ‘The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn; it shines ever brighter until the day is perfect.’ I am not sure what perfect means for our Jewish community and I know we are going to hit more speed bumps and twists and turns along this path, but I know that these eight incredible men and women demonstrate the truest meaning of this verse.”