My brother was . . .


Written by Elaine Hoter

Clay Sculpture:Jonathan Bereskin

Illustration and Graphics:Nadia Adina Rose


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ďAnd suddenly on Saturday morning there was a knock on the door.Ē


With those ominous words, readers of My brother was . . . by Elaine Hoter are presented with a little boy playing with his blocks in the foreground of a picture which shows his parents, backs toward the readers, standing frozen with tense arms at their sides, before a closed door painted in black.We sense the parents know what awaits them on the other side of the door . . . and it is the worst news that parents could ever hear.


ďThey told us Gabriel had been murdered in a terrorist attack.Ē


Gabriel was Elaine Hoterís son, and this is a true story.


My brother was . . . is a very different childrenís picture book.Written from the perspective of Avichai Hoter, an exceptionally sensitive kindergartener, and Gabrielís younger brother, it captures, in child-like voice and detail, the effect of losing a beloved sibling. Avichai wants to be called Gabriel and wants to dress up as a terrorist for Purim.He begins to wake up in the middle of the night with questions:Where is his brother?What is he doing?Is he lonely?Does he have any friends?There is comfort in a dream where Gabriel tells Avichai that he canít come home because he is with G-d who needs him.


But the comfort does not bring an end to Avichaiís pain.He squirts water at his friends in school, lets the hamster out of its cage and runs away from school to check to make sure that his mom and dad are okay.We learn from Gafnit Agasi, a clinical psychologist at The Israeli Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma at ďHerzogĒ Hospital in an addendum at the end of the book, that these are ways that children cope with loss, and that coming to terms with losing a loved one is a process that takes many years.


Jonathan Bereskin accompanies the text with clay sculptures that are remarkably life-like.Bold in color, he is able to show different hair textures, boots with laces through grommets, collars with ruffles Ė even a puffed cheek that receives a motherís kiss.At Gabrielís funeral, we see Avichai amidst a sea of adult legs from waists down showing us the funeral from Avichaiís perspective and how both text and sculptures work so well together in this book.There is also a display of Gabrielís own work in clay done when he was 11 years old -- several scenes created to show how the Jews came out of Egypt --saved by the family and brought to Avichaiís kindergarten class just before the Passover holiday.We are told that clay was one of Garbrielís favorite mediums, and we begin to understand the significance of Jonathan Bereskinís work.


We are offered advice on how to use this book with a child and how to prepare a child to read it on his/her own.Read this important, intelligent and unique book as you listen to the accompanying CD which includes ďthe song that stops you from being scaredĒ (a verse from Psalm XXIII), sung by the Hoter family.It will put you in the right mood to help you try to understand what happens to a younger brother when his older brother dies.


This book is probably the first book that deals with bereavement from a childís perspective as well as a Jewish perspective. It is recommended for all educators, rabbis, social workers and counselors dealing with families who have suffered bereavement and for a wider audience, it promotes understanding and empathy for those of us fortunate enough not to have lost a close relative.


The book costs $15 plus $3 for postage and handling and can be purchased by sending an email with your posting address to

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Reviewed by Dr. Sue Livingston

LaGuardia Community College, CUNY

Queens, NY