Fish Stories

Posted on October 19th, 2012 by

A blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink.

With GefilteFest  a mere 36 hours away, the JMM is swimming with activity. Ilene and Rachel are busy working on fish crafts, Rachel and Sue are discussing which fish comprise gefilte fish, Mark is installing a new fish in the Chosen Food kitchen, and I’m sharing Fish Stories with anyone who will listen.

Cinnamon, Old Bay & parsley fish swim above a sea bottom made of salt and black peppercorn. Come to the JMM on Sunday 10-5 and make your own.

Fish’s Bar Mitzvah, 1997

It’s Labor Day Monday, 1997. My father is on the phone telling me, “I am very disappointed in you. Do you know what today is?”  I search my brain. Grandma’s birthday was last month. Her anniversary is in 2 weeks. It’s the first week of school, so I haven’t missed an exam. “No, I have no idea.”

“It is Labor Day. It is Fish’s Bar Mitzvah. And where are you? Where is a card for Fish?”

And so I had forgotten all about my pet goldfish’s 13th birthday. Fish, who started out as one of those tiny goldfish that my sister and I had won at the annual Labor Day Fair in 1984, had officially become an adult. Fish was now over 8” long, with a beautiful flowing tail. Friends would look at Fish, the only resident in a 25 gallon fish tank (that’s another story), and recall when we had two smaller fish and marvel at his longevity. My father would proudly tell them that he single handedly kept that fish alive with the cheapest fish food out there.

Marvin laughed at this story, and told me that I lacked imagination in names…

Rusty and Stylish, 1984

Who says “Stylish” isn’t a good name for a fish? A mock up for a tie design featuring a tuna by Resisto Ties.

Fish wasn’t the original name my sister and I had chosen for our pet.  I named my fish Rusty and my sister chose Stylish for her fish, because he had lots of small black spots. The two fish lived happily in a 5-gallon fish bowl on the pot-belly stove in the living room for 2 years. Until one day, the fish lost their coloring and got white spots, the tell-tale sign of Ich, a fish disease.  rhttp:/// Sadly, one of the fish died.  But my sister stayed up all night talking to the remaining fish, asking it not to die. Remarkably, in the morning, the fish was better! The white spots were gone, and so were any of the black markings. (Yeah, looking back on this now, it seems as if my parents went out to the pet store and got a replacement fish, but they assured us that this was not the case!) My mom didn’t want either one of us to be upset that our personal pet died, so she diplomatically started calling him Fish. Had we known he was going to live another 14 years, we probably would’ve chosen something more creative like Thirsty, Chester, Gouda, or Henry V.

Fish Attempts Suicide, 1989

My mother was clearly in a panic when my father and I entered the house. I would say this was odd, since it was my father who just had the harrowing experience of teaching me to drive on twisting country roads, but my mother does tend to panic, so it was perfectly normal.

“Where is Fish?” my mother asked.

“In his bowl,” was my father’s calm answer.

“He’s not in the bowl,” my mother’s voice was pitching higher.

“He’s not in the back, either,” my sister chimed in.

Despite my sister and I insisting that we could care for our fish, my father was the one who ended up changing out his water in the back pantry. It was an elaborate process and my father complained about it repeatedly, but we were pretty sure that he actually enjoyed the opportunity to play with Fish.

Dad traipsed upstairs to the living room. Sure enough, the bowl was empty. He clomped downstairs to the pantry and inspected the sink. No fish there.  Had he accidentally throw Fish down the drain? He found the dog and forcibly opened her mouth. No fish tail there, either.  My dad repeated these actions, looking for Fish in the pantry, down the drain, in the empty container of reserved water, while the rest of us were too scared to look closely ourselves.   He continued to look all around the fish bowl and the pot-belly stove, and along the floor, all the way over to the cooling vent 6 feet away.


There was Fish, lying on his side. How on earth had he gotten over there? Uh-oh. It appears that the bowl was filled a little bit too high and Fish tried to make an escape.

My father gingerly picked up the fish. “Poor Fish. Oh, poor, poor Fish.”

He was about to give Fish the usual fish funeral flush, when the rest of us insisted that he get a proper burial. By now Fish had grown to be several inches long and he did not fit inside a match box. While my mother went upstairs to get a jewelry box, my dad plopped the fish back into the bowl.

Fish lay on his side, the way fish do when they’re dead.

And then, Fish moved his fin. My father shook his head in disbelief. Fish moved his fin again, and opened his mouth for a big breath.  We all stared at the bowl in disbelief. There was Fish swimming around his bowl, happy to be alive.

The very next day, Dad bought a new 25-gallon fish tank—with a lid.

I’ll happily tell you more Fish Stories on Sunday, when you come to the JMM for GefilteFest!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland