Ari Mittleman remembers the last Saturday of October 2018 as a punch to the gut.
The Pennsylvania native, who worked for eight years as part of Sen. Bob Casey’s senior staff, was deeply affected by news of the shooting at the Tree of Life building.
“Walking to synagogue with my father, going to a Jewish day school in Allentown, in my worst nightmares, I could have never imagined this would happen,” Mittleman said.
Six months to the day after the massacre at Tree of Life, another terrorist attacked a synagogue in Poway, California. Mittleman remembers that period as a dark time filled with sleepless nights and a search for clarity.
Inspiration came a few weeks later when a Black firefighter visited Mittleman’s community in Maryland to discuss his time as a volunteer putting out wildfires in Israel during his vacation.
That’s when Mittleman realized “there are good, inspiring meaningful actions that are happening by non-Jews that are not household names who are doing it just because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Mittleman, who said he never dreamed of being a writer when he was a child, decided to profile eight individuals who have gone above and beyond for the Jewish people. Their stories are featured in his book, “Paths of the Righteous: Stories of Heroism, Humanity and Hope.”
The four men and four women Mittleman profiles include Black, white and Latino people from Africa, Europe and North America, and include a writer, physician, politician and priest, among others.
The book’s premise, Mittleman explained, is that “it’s pretty damn dark out there. FBI and hate crime statistics back that up. So, who are the non-Jewish lights helping out the community?”
Each essay, he said, is a 4,000-to-5,000-word profile of both the people and their work.
The subjects, Mittleman said, were all people he had heard speak in person or on podcasts or with whom he attended conferences — all of diverse backgrounds.
“There are a lot of great allies of the Jewish community that are deeply spiritual,” he said.
Most of the subjects profiled were everyday people who could have found more lucrative things to do with their careers, Mittleman said. In some cases, they were ostracized for their actions but acted anyway simply because it was the right thing to do.
The author is excited about some of the opportunities the book has provided. He said he will visit the European Parliament to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27 and will bring some of those he profiled along with him.
“It’s going to be pretty wild — a Black firefighter from Broward County, South Florida, a Croatian medical doctor and a German attorney. That’s a bad joke,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to be interesting seeing these folks who have never met one another but have the same kind of innate values and a certain compass on stage together.”
The book’s lessons, Mittleman said, may sound cliché, but they are true — people have to remain positive, despite the rise in antisemitism.
“Too often, past is prologue, but as we head into the new year, we have to remain positive in these uncertain times,” he said.
Mittleman will discuss “Paths of the Righteous” on Monday, Jan. 23 at the City of Asylum on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
Kelsey Ford, City of Asylum’s director of programs, said the organization brought Mittleman to Pittsburgh to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day because the book’s message of building community and supporting one another fit with its mission.
The event will be moderated by Mittleman’s friend Dan Gilman, chief of staff and senior adviser to Duquesne University President Ken Gromley. Before his time at Duquesne, Gilman was former Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto’s chief of staff.
“We’re really excited to bring all different folks together and to hear Ari and Dan speak about Ari’s book and folks outside the Jewish community stepping up to lend a hand and build cross-culture communities,” Ford said.
The program is free, in person and livestreamed. Tickets are available at cityofasylum.org/program/paths-of-the-righteous. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.