Review: Beneath the Stars

Beneath the Stars

by Rivkah Yudasin, illustrated by Jacky Yarhi

Hachai Publishing, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Jeff Gottesfeld

Buy at Hachai

In February and March of 2003, I was in the city of Tver and the village of Vishniy Volochek, Russia, to adopt my son. I lived with a Jewish family there for a month,. I am connected to some of those folks to this day. To a person, they talked of Russian Jewish history and the dark days of official oppression. This wonderful book, ostensibly an easy-reader aimed at Orthodox Jewish kids, makes those little-known-days-to-kids-today immediate for every reader. It deserves serious Sydney Taylor Award consideration. I mean, really serious consideration.

Author Rivkah Yudasin, backed by the realistic and compelling art of Jacky Yarhi, tell a story from the youth of revered rabbi Yitchak Zilber. The reader feels the threat of Stalinist denunciation as teen Zilber joins a furtive 6:00 a.m. minyan, and leins from the Torah for the first time since his bar mitzvah. We’re aghast that there was such pressure and inducement for neighbors to denounce neighbors, that barely a Jew would dare build a sukkah (certainly not Zilber’s father, whom the government knew was a rabbi) , and the determination of father and son to sit in one on the first evening of the holiday. Our hearts – and kids’ hearts, once we give them a little context – will pound in suspense as the devout pair go from Jewish home to Jewish home with utmost caution, looking for a sukkah in which to sit. When they succeed, and Zilber recalls that the traditional spiritual sukkah guests of Abraham, Isaac, and right through David, it is our success. In every instance, Yarhi’s art is precise. The look that Zilber’s mother offers to father and son as they are about to depart on their quest mixes both pride and fear, for example. It’s wonderful.

Jewish content? The whole book is Jewish content. There’s a glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish terms that are woven seamlessly into the text. If a Jewish kid knows nothing about how the Russian Communists coupled with just ordinary antisemites, wanted to squeeze the life out of our people and faith, this book is a must. If they do know, this book is still a must. 

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Reviewer Jeff Gottesfeld writes for page, stage, and screen. His other picture books are The Tree in the Courtyard (Knopf, 2016), illustrated by Peter McCarty, No Steps Behind (Creston, 2020), illustrated by Shiella Witanto, Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Candlewick Press, 2021), illustrated by Matt Tavares, The Christmas Mitzvah (Creston, 2021), illustrated by Michelle Agatha, and Food for Hope (Creston, 2023, illustrated by Michelle Agatha. Upcoming is We All Serve for Candlewick (2026, illustrated by TeMika Grooms), about the special lives and challenges of military kids. Born in Manhattan and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey, he currently lives in Los Angeles. Visit him at