A Fishy Passover Tolerance Lesson

As a child I could get a little rambunctious at the grocery store.  I clearly remember that when my brother and I got exceptionally crazy mom would threaten us.  She’d point to jars filled with gelatinous covered white orbs and say, “If you guys don’t cut it out I will buy this and make you eat it.”  We’d squeal and make faces and wonder what poor kids had to eat those creepy floating things.  Into adulthood I’d walk through the Ethnic Food aisle and shudder a bit on my way to the pasta and salsa looking into those clear jars.  Still I wondered who ate that stuff.

My senior year of college it happened. I met a boy, and one day he took me home to celebrate Passover with his family.  The Seder began and we ate parsley dipped in salt water, raw horseradish root in an apple dish called haroset.  All ceremonial foods, all different, but all edible.  I enjoyed the readings and the novelty of the celebration and learning about a new culture.

Feeling moderately comfortable at the table the first course of the actual meal was served: gefilte fish.  Someone set in front of me an albino patty with gelatinous quivering globules glistening on its surface cradled on a bed of lettuce.  All around me strangers I wanted to impress covered their helpings with fluorescent pink horseradish and dug in with apparent glee. Here in front of me was the nightmare of my childhood and I had two choices: be “that disrespectful new girl” and shun this foreign food or face my fear and try a bite.  There was not an option to run screaming from the room.  This was before the days of smartphones so I couldn’t snap a picture and send it to my mom with an eww, like I did for this blog post.  I had to put on my big girl shoes and face my fears if I wanted to be respectful.  I don’t think I made it through half of the fish and I know I drank an entire tumbler of water but I ate enough to not make a scene.  The rest of the meal followed without incident.

Twenty two Passovers now, give or take.  I’ve watched guests come and go and seen the judgement passed down upon those who do not try.  I’ve learned that no one thinks it wrong that I enjoy my fish with a piece of Matzo, which at least hides the horrible texture with a bit of a crunch.  I bought the New York Times Passover Cookbook and with fear read the gefilte fish recipes only to learn that it really isn’t that scary.  Just whitefish cooked in broth until the broth congeals.  I could make it myself, but I don’t.  I don’t buy it either.  Instead I make the haroset, hard boil the eggs, make the dessert and bring the wine.  I feel at home with the ceremony.

I also learned that my husband will always eat the second half of my patty.  I push it onto his plate and yum yum he finishes it off and asks for another.  No judgement, we are so cute sharing food.  I always help clear away the fish plates and bring out the matzo ball soup, which I love.  Before I sit down I refill the water glasses.  It still takes me an entire glass of water to finish off my fish half.

This life we live, it’s filled with scary slimy fish isn’t it?  Things we reject without a thought or a consideration for being different and gross, and really they might be different and gross to us even once fully understood and experienced.  Things we threaten our children with because you’ve got to make them behave in the supermarket somehow.  Every year at Passover I think my lesson is one of overcoming the fear of the unknown, different, and strange and while not embracing it – and certainly not enjoying it – at least learning to tolerate.  For my husband’s Jewish family and their ancestors more tolerance would have changed history.  And really, isn’t that an acceptable lesson?  Maybe we can’t embrace each other and all join hands in unity, but a little tolerance – even if it requires a big glass of water – goes a long way in this world.

Happy Passover, happy Easter and happy spring to you readers.  May you find tolerance for yourself, your beliefs, others, and other’s beliefs in your own little corner of the world.

20 thoughts on “A Fishy Passover Tolerance Lesson

  1. How eloquent! I have yet to try gefilte fish, but did have a few Jewish roommates in college who answered all of my stupid, indelicate questions and brought me to celebratory meals (but not Passover). Looking back, I’ve become progressively more tolerant and even curious about other culture’s foods, religions, cultures, etc. I want life to be an adventure and that requires a certain level of both tolerance & curiosity. Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes yes! I had a Muslim friend when I first graduated from college. He and I shared an office and I’m sure he got sick of all my questions about his faith and his traditions. Also, his birthday was 12/24 which doubly fascinated me. Growing up his friends and family were all the same faith as him, so his birthday wasn’t a big deal, but the older he got the wider his sphere became and his birthday became more difficult to celebrate.

      I credit my mom with my fascination with other faiths. She did these scholarly deep dives into faith as I was growing up. We never went to any services or anything, but suddenly the library books were all about Mormonism, Judaism, or Buddhism. She’d tell us what she learned, and it was all fascinating. Well, except the slimy fish. They are NOT fascinating.

      Thanks for reading and the awesome comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was so fun to read! I can just see the look when they put down that plate at your first Passover ❤ Here's to learning each other's traditions, celebrations, history, and heritage! Christians have fruit cake at Christmas time, Jewish folk have the funny white gelatinous fish, we each have our traditions that are sacred within our circle and unusual outside.
    Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Happy Spring Equinox! Happy Life ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man. I hate fruitcake too. What is up with holiday food that has a horrible consistency? Those slimy “fruits” are just…eww. Glad you liked the post. I hope that my husband’s family was distracted by their super yummy fish to notice my face when the first plate was presented to me. I am sure it was not a poker face. Happy Life to you too!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay, I gotta know. Is homemade gefilte fish worth it? The jarred stuff is just so…ick, but that’s all I’ve ever had.

      Super impressed with your Hebrew! Hope you also had a lovely holiday too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will let you know the first time I cook it! It’s been a long time since I’ve had the home cooked stuff but it was…edible! 🙂
        I never actually had my Bat Mitzvah…raised by two fairly non-religious types. I want my boys to know their heritage, though, so to Sunday school we are going! (And studying for a b’nai mitzvah I will do!)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Okay, confession, I actually love fruitcake. Done right there is no slime to it. But I respect that others don’t care for it.

    The hubs’ family honors the Swedish tradition of lutefisk. It’s not entirely dissimilar. Basically, it’s like fish and gelatin had a one-night stand and produced the red-headed stepchild of food. Tastewise, the flavor isn’t BAD…but the texture is somewhat off-putting. (This from someone who eats tofu, oysters, and sushi ravenously.)

    Liked by 1 person

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