Swimming With The Gefilte Fish

Here In Israel Pesach must start much later than in New Jersey. Our local NJ Shop-Rite seems to start displaying the Pesach goods a little before Chanukah. And of course there’s always a full array of matzah around Rosh Hashanah.

But, here in the holiest land, Pesach goods are just starting to show up. And the stores are already starting to be unbearably crowded.

We’ve got some of our supplies already but today’s search was for gefilte fish. In our family gefilte fish at the seder is as ubiquitous as the Haggadah.

So, the choices for fulfilling the fish mitzvah present themselves.

In the days of our grandmothers the options were pretty obvious. Buy live fish, usually pike and whitefish, and make temporary pets out of them as they swim in the bathtub.  Then the cute little things are subjected to a fatal blow, cleaned, cooked and served with carrots and horseradish.  Sounds a lot simpler than it was, especially for the poor fish.

My mother’s generation would go to the nearest fish monger and he would grind the appropriate fish for her.  She would then mix in the eggs and matzah meal and flavorings of her choice, and boil them with carrots and onions.   Not too onerous but always rather pricey.

My generation, and probably yours, had different options.  You could buy the fish in jars.  But why would you?  Simply awful!  I don’t imagine your seder is enhanced by jarred gefilte fish.

You could do what my mother did.  But still somewhat labor intensive when combined with the myriad other chores of making a seder…….and still very pricey.

Or, you could make the loaves.  The loaves are tasty, not super expensive and very easy.  A pot of boiling water, some spices, carrots and onion, and you’re on your way.

We decided on the loaves, as usual, and were in pursuit of just that this morning.  Most of the supermarkets in the Sharon don’t seem to offer this product.  That’s unusual because Israel is usually ahead of America when it comes to easy to prepare kosher provisions.  Think prepared dough, borekas, many many salads like chumus (with a ch not an h!) and anything else to make a meal super fast and convenient and tasty.

But gefilte fish just doesn’t seem to cut the mustard.  The supermarkets have only the jarred stuff.  Until, luckily, we found a huge market in Petach Tikvah where the loaves nestled peacefully in the freezer section, awaiting my pot of boiling water.

Leaving nothing to chance I bought one loaf as a sample.  Well, it was delicious and I thought we were home as free as Hebrews fleeing Pharoah.

Not so fast.

My husband asked if I had checked the label to make sure these were kasher l Pesach.  So we went back this morning, confident that we would find the necessary hechsher and walk out with the 7 loaves we needed.

Problems!  The market was insane.  I can’t think of anything comparable but we felt lucky to escape the parking lot intact, and never got into the store..

Undeterred we returned this afternoon.  We’d outfox the fox.  I sat in the illegally parked car outside the market’s lot.  He went in to check out the fish and report back.  Not exactly Joshua’s spies but you get the picture!

Not so lucky after all.  The few remaining loaves were NOT kosher for Pesach.

Frustrated we returned home, fishless in Herzliya.  Then we brainstormed, and here I leave you, and our seder guests and myself, in suspense.  Perhaps, Israeli style, the kosher l Pesach fish haven’t yet been displayed.  Maybe in a few days, certainly before the seder, they’ll swim up to the port.

We shall return. Otherwise, our bathtub awaits!

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.