Pittsburgh, Poway, Charlottesville, Jersey City and now Colleysville. The list goes on. It’s no wonder that books with titles like It Could Happen Here, People Love Dead Jews, Jews Don’t Count, and How to Fight Anti-Semitism are selling off the shelves.
Finally, however, Ari Mittleman has brought us some good news. Paths of the Righteous tells the story of eight extraordinary non-Jewish heroes who have gone the extra mile to help the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The problem with the narratives of “the whole world is against the Jews” and “Israel is an island all by itself in the world” is twofold. First, it’s just not true. And second, when we think that way, we run the risk of making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s take the history of the State of Israel as an example. As a child, one receives a certain picture of a story that begins with a Jew named Theodor Herzl, who sees the antisemitic Dreyfus Affair take place and is motivated to take up the case for political Zionism. He arranges a number of Zionist conventions in Europe, which culminate in widespread nationalistic fervor for a return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland in Israel-Palestine.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the migration of Jews from Europe accelerates, and in 1948, the State of Israel is established. No sooner does Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declare the new state than the surrounding Arab nations join together to attack from all sides. Nevertheless, the tenacity of these young heroes – pioneers in a new country, fighting for their very lives, many having emerged from the ashes of Auschwitz – overwhelms the power of the mighty Arab armies. And the State of Israel is born.
While non-Jews and their role in the story are not ignored in this narrative, they are presented nonetheless as bit-part actors, at best, if not as mere extras, tangential to the main scene. As one matures, however, one begins to understand and appreciate that without the assistance of key non-Jews, the return of the Jewish people to their homeland would have remained on the tear-drenched pages of synagogue prayer books around the world.
Some of these key figures include British peer Lord Balfour, who in 1917 announced the intention of the British government to found a country for the Jewish people in the area of Palestine. The list includes American president Harry Truman, whose 1947 UN vote and global advocacy were instrumental in the decision to partition British-mandate Palestine into two countries, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. And the list includes John Nelson Darby, the preacher of dispensational premillennialism, a doctrine that has motivated tens of millions of evangelical Americans to support Israel, spiritually, financially, and most importantly, politically.
Mittleman reminds us that the Jewish people and the State of Israel owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to supportive non-Jews who have, often at great personal expense, taken up the cause of defending and assisting us.
A master storyteller, Mittleman brings to life all the details of eight incredible present-day individuals. Before reading Paths of the Righteous I was familiar with a few of his characters. But the color and depth that Mittleman adds to the picture is outstanding. One can read media reports and see people in a very one-dimensional way. Mittleman converts them from media depictions to real people. Yes, I knew that Joan Ryan stood up to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, and I’d seen YouTube talks by Olga Meshoe Washington (as well as hearing her father live), but after reading Paths of the Righteous I began to understand who they really are and what brought them to their moments of greatness in life.
This is an important book for Jews and non-Jews alike. It reminds Jews that we need to show our gratitude to those who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our people. And it asks non-Jews to step up to the plate of history and become Righteous Gentiles. Of course, these eight stories are little more than a handful of the myriad stories of those righteous gentiles, but Mittleman demonstrates how every bit of support can make a world of difference. I hope that this is the first in a series of such books either by Mittleman or others inspired by his quest.
It is a great pity that good news does not sell as well as bad news. I sincerely hope that people will take the time to learn about the special people presented in Paths of the Righteous. It is high time we heard about books entitled, It Does Happen Here, People Love Live Jews, Jews Count, and How to Support Philo-Semitism. Thank you, Ari Mittleman, for reminding us that Philosemitism is alive and well! ■
Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is an expert on the intersection of American Christianity and the US-Israel relationship. He served as inaugural chairman of the National Holocaust Monument of Canada, and is the author of the popular Transformative Daf book series.
Paths of the Righteous: Stories of Heroism, Humanity and HopeAri MittelmanGefen Publishing House, 2021Paperback $14.99, 144 pages