When I became an observant Jew, I needed to learn many things. The holidays in my childhood home consisted of Chanukah and Pesach. Rosh HaShana was a day to suffer sit through synagogue and then come home to watch tv. So our home was lacking both the traditional holiday meal and the simanim (“symbolic foods”). After becoming observant and setting up my own home, I needed to learn about the simanim and their significance.
In addition to cooking the holiday meal, I loved putting apples and honey, dates, carrots, and a pomegranate on the table. The fish head was a bigger problem, though. I was a bit squeamish about it, and sometimes I would solve the problem by taking a slice of gefilta fish and making a smiley face on it with carrots and a pepper slice. My boys would sometimes gently tease me about this fake-out.
This year I had my revenge!
The first night’s meal went well. We had a vegetarian guest, so I lept at the chance to leave the fish head off the “menu”.
The second evening was not in my control, though. We were invited out for the evening meal, and we enjoyed the simanim that usually grace our table. I then said to my host, “you also don’t put a fish head on your Rosh HaShana table?” He answered me with a big smile and a “just you wait….”
He then proceeded to bring out both a plate of gefilta fish slices and another plate with five or six fish heads, all stuffed with the same tasty mixture.
The westbankfamily all took slices, and our hosts took the fish heads to eat. The adults were sitting at one corner of the table, and my sons sat next to me, with our host’s lovely daughters sitting opposite them.
Now my boys are not quite the uncouth savages I sometimes make them out to be, and they know how to behave at the table. They know that different people have different tastes in food, and they don’t discuss this. But they have not yet attained the sophistication of adults, and they did not school their faces into neutrality. I glanced to my left and had to restrain myself from laughing out loud, as I took in their shocked looks. They couldn’t help by being a bit appalled at the scene of four nice girls, all attired in pastel colors and lace, digging into their fish heads with unconcealed relish. I thought one of my boys was going to faint when one of the girls turned to her sister and asked her for the eye!
I turned to my friend and told her that “my boys seem to think your girls are pretty tough!” She appreciated the joke.
Afterwards one of my boys said to me, in a backhanded apology at past teasing, that I didn’t really need to put all of the simanim on the table. One evening with fish heads was enough!