Gefilte Fish

September 25, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, September 25, 2015.

Gefilte Fish

Gefilte Fish is a standard, if not archetypical Shabbat food. In fact, even though chicken seems to be the standard food for Shabbat, fish was the standard food for the last couple of centuries in Europe! “Gefilte” means filled, or stuffed: originally Gefilte Fish was made by taking the meat out of the fish skin, grinding it up with other ingredients, then stuffing it back in the skin and poaching it. That’s not how we make it any more, however. For probably the last 80 or 90 years, gefilte fish has taken the form of poached fish balls – not unlike the French “quenelles” made from fish. For many of us, gefilte fish bring back all the nostalgia of family Sabbaths and holidays, during which they were almost obligatory, along with brisket and roast chicken.

A few weeks ago in my column, I reprinted an article by the late Oliver Sacks about the meaning of the Sabbath to him now that he was reaching the end of his life. (See the August 21 Shabbat Shalom column.) Recently, The New Yorker published an article which Sacks wrote just before his death, and it was published posthumously. This too is an intensely nostalgic view of his Jewish upbringing. It is about gefilte fish, of all things.

“Gefilte fish is not an everyday dish; it is to be eaten mainly on the Jewish Sabbath in Orthodox households, when cooking is not allowed. When I was growing up, my mother would take off from her surgical duties early on Friday afternoon and devote her time, before the coming of Shabbat, to preparing gefilte fish and other Sabbath dishes.”

It’s almost an elegy to gefilte fish, which seemingly doesn’t have the popularity it once had. Try serving it at your next Shabbat dinner.

To read the entire Oliver Sacks article, click here.

Shabbat Shalom.