Arts and Culture | Post-Its

Ari Mittleman, Recent Speaker at Tucson Event, Publishes “Path of the Righteous…”: A Review

Stepping back to 9:00 AM Saturday, October 27th, 2018, Ari Mittleman and countless American Jews deemed the United States of America as perhaps the greatest country for modern Jewry outside the State of Israel. This stood in contrast to the antisemitism that plagued Jewish history. Indeed, the United States embodied the credo of our founders, E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. From the earliest days of the country, Jews had unparalleled opportunity and safety.

However, 54 minutes later, on that awful morning, all American Jews were struck and affected by the antisemitic hate that took the lives of 11 congregants of the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. Reminiscent of deadly antisemitic attacks abroad, the massacre at Tree of Life shook me as a high school student to my core.

As a native Pennsylvanian professionally and personally familiar with the Pittsburgh Jewish community, Mittleman was compelled to author his first book. Looking for inspiration in the dark weeks and months after the shooting, “Paths of the Righteous” began.

Through fast paced short stories, he chronicles the unique ways that eight diverse non-Jews have gone above and beyond for the Jewish community. They are not household names, but they certainly should be. Through vivid storytelling, Mittleman provides the reader a unique perspective on what it means to follow a righteous path during these uncertain times. In the process, he provides often overlooked facts even the most well-traveled pro-Israel reader might have never contemplated.

Mittleman opens his book with the story of a Plantation, Florida firefighter – Aston Bright. Born to immigrant parents from Jamaica, Aston developed a fascination with foreign affairs and world history. By happenstance, he joins a Florida presentation from the non-profit Emergency Volunteers Project (EVP), and he immediately is intrigued by their effort to amplify Israeli firefighting capabilities. This prompted Bright to participate in a training session at Fort Lauderdale airport.

With 48 hours’ notice, Aston finds himself in the August heat of Israel just hundreds of feet away from Gaza. Mittleman brings the readers into the experience touching on Aston’s nerves, the nuanced differences between how Americans and Israelis fight fires, the realities of contending with wildfires set by Hamas terrorists and how language barriers can be overcome. This first riveting chapter ends with Aston making clear that Israelis and the American Jewish community are not just new friends, but his mishpacha (family).

With equally gripping tales, Mittleman ends his book with Roman Catholic priest, Father Patrick Desbois. Born ten years after World War II in Bordeaux, France, Father Patrick would regularly hear stories about the battles in and occupation of France. With his increasing interest in WWII, the teenage Desbois questions his grandfather, Claudis, about his experiences in a prisoner of war camp in Ukraine. As Claudis described his experiences, he relayed to his grandson his suffering but explained, “it was much worse for the people on the outside”. This ominous and thought-provoking statement sparked Desbois’ interest and prompted him to research more about WWII.

Serving under three prominent Cardinals, Desbois also took on a leadership role with the French Conference of Bishops for Relations with the Jewish Community. Throughout, he could not forget what his grandfather shared. Traveling to that small Ukrainian village where the POW camp was, Father Patrick realized that beyond the camp fence, a massacre of upward of 18,000 Jews had occurred. More so, he learned that in town after town on the eastern front, there was a “Holocaust by bullets” with over 1,000,000 total victims.

Ari Mittleman’s late mother once told him that the six most powerful words in the English language are “let me tell you a story”. Channeling this, his eight stories of unheralded non-Jews – as diverse as a firefighter and a priest – are exactly what the Jewish community needs after yet another violent antisemitic attack this time in Texas. Mittleman offers his readers eight standalone inspiring stories that showcase the abundance of light despite the seemingly enveloping darkness. Ultimately Mittleman concludes his book with an explanation of the title which comes from Proverbs. “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn; it shines ever brighter until the day is perfect”.

Author Ari Mittleman visited Tucson as a guest of the JFSA alongside Olga Meshoe Washington, a South African pro-Israel activist featured in his new book. 

“Paths of the Righteous Stories of Heroism, Humanity, and Hope” by Ari Mittleman. Jerusalem, Israel: Gefen Publishing House Ltd, 2021. 135 pages. $14.99