A volunteer firefighter from Plantation, Fla., and son of Jamaican immigrants who helped put out devastating blazes in Israel sparked by Hamas terrorists from Gaza. A Guatemalan evangelist who, along with her brother, led the campaign to relocate her country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A black South African anti-apartheid activist who campaigns tirelessly against the Palestinian-led BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.
Aston Bright, Gloria Garcés and Olga Meshoe Washington come from different corners of the globe, but all are motivated by their love for Israel. They’re among eight individuals portrayed in Ari Mittleman’s new book, “Paths of the Righteous: Stories of Heroism, Humanity and Hope.”
On March 30, the Croatian Embassy in Washington formally honored Mittleman, his publisher and one of the heroes of his book, Croatian forensic scientist Dragan Primorac, with a reception that attracted about 75 people.
“For me, this is a particularly emotional moment,” Pjer Šimunović, Croatia’s envoy to the United States, said in his welcome address. “Before coming here, I was ambassador to Israel, so I can fully sympathize and feel in my heart the importance of that bond which exists between the Jewish people and our nation, and which is tragically connected with suffering. We, the Croats, are particularly proud that Ari in his book features one prominent personality who has been following that path of the righteous: our dear friend Dragan Primorac.”
Šimunović praised Primorac, Croatia’s former minister of science, education and sports, for his work leading a team of forensic experts that used sophisticated DNA technology to identify the remains of both Serbs and Croats found in mass graves following the wars that ravaged ex-Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
Primorac was also influential in convincing the Israeli government to open an embassy in Zagreb, the capital of a nation that during World War II was ruled by a fascist military regime whose brutality against its Jewish minority paralleled—and sometimes even exceeded—that of the Nazis themselves. The concentration camp at Jasenovac was one of the most notorious in Europe, and Primorac made it his mission to forge strong ties with Israel and get Croatians to “take ownership of what had happened on their soil,” as Mittleman put it.
“Dragan’s connection with the Israeli medical establishment and with Israel itself is deep and strong. That’s why he deserves his place in the book,” said Šimunović, who’s represented Croatia in Washington since September 2017. “His list of achievements is long, but what most succinctly summarizes the basic truths of Dragan’s career is also of enduring value for us all: humanity. It’s all about the human touch, and about values.”
Steve Rukavina, president of the National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation, lavished praise on Mittleman, whom he met 15 years ago during an event at the Croatian Embassy in Washington.“We’re here tonight to celebrate Ari’s work as an author,” he said. “His book is about eight non-Jewish luminaries who all found ways to be an extraordinary friend to Israel and the Jewish people.”
Yet Mittleman, a bipartisan political consultant and unabashed Zionist, has never really considered himself an author.
“Growing up in Pennsylvania, if I had a list of 10 things I wanted to become, I don’t think ‘author’ would be even 25th on that list,” said Mittleman, explaining that he was moved to write the 130-page book following a string of murderous attacks against American Jews.
“I could never have imagined what happened in Pittsburgh in 2018, when 11 innocent Pennsylvanians were killed doing something a lot of us do—go to their house of worship. Then, on the last day of Passover in April 2019, at a synagogue outside of San Diego, there was another violent antisemitic attack, and later, two more violent attacks on Jews in New York and New Jersey,” he said. “It’s pretty damn dark out there for the Jewish-American community. It was this darkness that prompted me to put pen to paper. I was looking for inspiration and hope.”
In his speech, Mittleman quoted the prophet Isaiah, who nearly 3,000 years ago instructed the Jews to be a “light unto the nations.”
“That’s something I try to live by,” said Mittleman, who lives in the Baltimore suburb of Pikesville with his wife and daughter. “The premise of this book has turned that upside down. Through fast-paced short stories, each of them about 4,000 words, that’s what I’ve attempted to do: recognize the good. It certainly was not the easiest path they could have taken, but they did it—often at great personal expense—because it was the right thing to do.”
Ilan Greenfield, owner of Jerusalem-based Gefen Publishing, said the book is deeply personal for him.
“Often, we only talk about the bad things that happen in the world, and then comes this young guy from Washington and writes only positive things,” said Gefen, the son of Holocaust survivors. “You learn that the world is very small when you do the right things, because the same people keep doing the same good things all the time.”