Ari Mittleman’s path to his book on eight righteous heroes

Ari Mittleman: "I began to feel compelled to write during my last trip here in 2019, after the horrible attack at the Poway synagogue."

 Ari Mittleman. (photo credit: DINA BROOKMYER)
Ari Mittleman.
(photo credit: DINA BROOKMYER)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

Ari Mittleman, an observant American Jew, launched Paths of the Righteous in the US in February: the stories of eight non-Jewish individuals who stuck out their necks for Israel and the Jewish people. Mittleman works as a strategic communications consultant and lives in Pikesville, Maryland, with his wife and daughter.

As a native Pennsylvanian, the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018, in which 11 Jews were murdered “deeply affected” him. But it was only after the attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27, 2019, and the death of his mother, that he felt “the need to find inspiration and hope” amid what he calls the “unprecedented violent antisemitism in America.”

In May, he flew to Israel to discuss it at a Netanya AACI gathering after a one-day trip to Croatia to mark the translation of the book into Croatian, in an event attended by the Israeli ambassador and Croatian officials. The Jerusalem Report interviewed him at the boutique hotel in downtown Jerusalem where he and his family were staying:

What motivated you to write this book?

If you had asked me as a boy growing up in Pennsylvania, I would never had considered being an author as a profession. But what happened in my home state in 2018, the last Shabbos in October, is something I could never have predicted in my worst nightmares. I began to feel compelled to write during my last trip here in 2019, after the horrible attack at the Poway synagogue. The firefighter who I profile in the book, Aston Bright, was speaking in our community. I had zero interest in going to the event, but my wife was very persuasive, and when he started talking, I thought: my gosh, this is an inspiring guy! And one thing led to another. These eight folks I profile were by and large strangers, and I’m just so grateful that they took a chance and opened up to me.

Chabad of Poway (credit: REUTERS/JOHN GASTALDO)Chabad of Poway (credit: REUTERS/JOHN GASTALDO)
Do you have a favorite among the eight?

That’s like asking a teacher who their favorite student is. I think each one of the eight inspired me so much, and thank God it seems like they’re now inspiring other people who read the book. But what happened this past week in Croatia at an event coordinated by the Israel Embassy and Croatian Ministry of Culture honoring Dr. Dragan Primorac and the translation of my book was pretty unique. I’m 39 years old and a father. What Dr. Primorac did at 39 as a young father at the risk of his professional career, as we say in the US, “swimming way outside of his lane,” uncovering his country’s past and sticking his neck out for Israel, resonated a lot for me. But I’m not going to say that he is the best, because I think they are all inspiring, collectively.

Why did you choose non-Jews as your heroes?

I just think it’s very common nowadays for our community to turn inward, but it’s pretty damn dark out there, and we need as many non-Jewish allies with positive, optimistic stories as possible – beacons of light.

Is there some quality that you find common in all eight?

I ask readers to come up with an answer themselves, but I think it’s just innate human decency. It’s purely coincidental that everyone featured is a member of some denomination of Christianity. The Jewish Federation in Arizona flew me and the young South African woman, Olga Meshoe Washington, to Tucson, and we had two incredibly impactful days together. She’s Christian, and supporting Israel is a family affair: her husband and father-in-law are both passionate and vocal about their love of Israel. She has an infectious decency that has inspired on multiple continents, and she is clearly passing it on to her family.

What’s next for you, Ari?

Nothing in life is certain, but I have no intention anytime soon of writing another book! In every launch – and we’re having these wonderful events all over the US and now the world – people say they know someone I should put in my next book. But here’s my point: these eight individuals are all incredible. There may be thousands of others who, like them, are doing the right thing, but unfortunately, there are tens of thousands more who are keeping their heads down and looking the other way during tough times. We have a two-year-old daughter, and my hope is that one day she’ll be inspired by my book and their stories. God willing, when she is old enough to read, the world will be a little less complicated and divided than it is today.  ■