King Solomon wrote: “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn; it shines ever brighter until the day is perfect.”
“The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn; it shines ever brighter until the day is perfect.”King Solomon
Abraham Foxman, former national director of the ADL, writes: “Jewish tradition teaches us that the world exists because of 36 righteous human beings whom we do not necessarily know. Ari Mittleman reveals eight of those non-Jews who are righteous. Read Paths of the Righteous to be inspired.”
This is an understatement. Mittleman’s magnificent “Stories of Heroism, Humanity and Hope,” the author’s subtitle, leave one feeling both inspired and humbled.
Ari Mittleman learned from his late mother that the six most powerful words in the English language are, “Let me tell you a story.’’ He followed her advice well, capturing in compelling stories eight exceptional non-Jewish figures motivated by their love for Israel and the Jewish community: four men and four women, black, white and Latino, from different generations and continents who have traveled their own unique paths. Among them are a volunteer firefighter from Florida who helped put out devastating blazes in Israel sparked by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, a Guatemalan evangelist who with her brother led the campaign to relocate her country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and a black South African who campaigns tirelessly against the BDS movement.
His protagonists never settle for complacency or compromise, expediency or passive indifference, but challenge those around them (and the reader) to be proactive and truly inspirational, serving as lights during times of darkness, and providing a blueprint for what it means to pursue a righteous path.
We often hear the phrase “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh’’ (All Jews are responsible for one another) bandied about in synagogues, schools and even in the political arena. It was a commonly expressed value in Mittleman’s home growing up.
We struggle with our own leaders rising to the occasion, Mittleman writes, with even less focus on those outside the Jewish faith, who have gone above and beyond in a way that uplifts our community and inspires. His goal was to find non-Jewish luminaries who exuded infectious decency (menschlichkeit) and promote goodwill when Jews might have least expected it.
Cognizant that many notable works have explored the maddening question of why people don’t help when they could, Mittleman provides a welcome antidote to the silence. Yes, we sadly still face the cowardly silence of neighbors, co-workers, fellow citizens (and world travelers, my addition) during dark times.
It is all too easy to point to the bad, rather than focus on what is good. One of the lessons my mother taught my brother and me, both as a parent and educator, was to try and catch your child doing something good.
These stories certainly do just that and so much more (hence my personal feelings of humility), and my interest and excitement accumulated with each relevant, profound and varied story, drawing the reader into the world of each personality with just the right amount of informative detail and character portrayal.
A refreshing read
This is a refreshing read, guaranteed to make you feel better about the world. And who doesn’t need just that at a time of unprecedented domestic and global violence, flagrant acts of senseless shootings, terrorism and antisemitism, and a void of heroism in the social and political arena?
One of these shining bright stars is Olga Meshoe Washington, daughter of South Africa’s charismatic Reverend Kenneth Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party. She found her voice and her purpose on August 3, 2014, when she stood in for her father at a peace solidarity rally for Israel. Her training as an attorney hadn’t quite prepared her for the audience of over 12,000 diverse South Africans.
But she rose to the challenge with humor (she started the speech imitating Ellen DeGeneres’s iconic selfies with her audience) and quickly won over the crowd with her passionate and engaging personality as well as her dynamic skills of motivating and enthusing people for real change. Her eloquent advocacy for Israel as the antithesis of apartheid, her explanation of the genesis of real apartheid in South Africa, and her authentic clarity of vision explaining the incomparable stance of Israel is truly heartwarming.
I urge you to watch the awesome YouTube video of her recent address in Geneva, responding to the Pillay Report blaming Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians. Thank you, Ari Mittleman, for introducing me to Olga, and each one of the other heroes whose lives and work I admit I knew little or nothing about.
Thank you also for restoring my faith in humanity and helping to motivate me to catch people doing good in the world. May it motivate others as well. ■
Paths of the Righteous: Stories of Heroism, Humanity and HopeAri MittlemanGefen Publishing House, 2022Paperback $14.99, 144 pages