`How Yussel Caught the Gefilte Fish'

Story Time

May 26, 1999|By Charlotte Herman

Editor's note: When he goes fishing with his father for the first time, a young boy hopes to catch the gefilte fish for his family's Shabbos dinner. Instead, he catches a carp, a trout and a pike.

Yussel loved gefilte fish. Mama served it every Friday night for their special Shabbos meal. And Yussel loved Shabbos, the day of rest. It began on Friday when the sun went down behind the hills, and it lasted all the next day until three stars appeared in the evening sky.

Every Friday morning, before anyone else woke up, even before the sun was up, Papa slipped out of the house and went fishing in Vasser Lake. Yussel always wanted to go with Papa. He wanted to catch a gefilte fish, too. But Papa always said, "You will have to wait until you are older."

Then early one Friday morning, before Papa slipped out of the house, he came into Yussel's room. "Wake up, Yussel," he whispered. "Wake up.

"You and I are going to catch the gefilte fish for Shabbos."

Yussel leaped out of bed and dressed quickly. Then he went outside, where Papa was waiting for him with a fishing pole, a basket, and a pail. Papa handed Yussel the fishing pole, and they started their mile-long walk to Vasser Lake.

As Yussel and Papa walked together, Yussel thought of all the gefilte fish he would catch. All those fat, round gefilte fish for Shabbos. Wouldn't Mama be surprised!

"Did you go fishing when you were a little boy?" Yussel asked.

"I went with my papa. Just as you are going with me now. I loved those Fridays with my papa. And after you were born, I dreamed of the day you would be old enough to go fishing with me."

As the sky turned pink, they entered a clearing in the woods and came to Vasser Lake.

They sat down on the grassy bank. Papa reached into the basket. "First we need the bait. And there is nothing better than your mama's fresh challah dough. Gefilte fish can't resist it."

Papa dropped the line into the water and handed the pole to Yussel. "Time to go fishing," he said.

"How will I know when the fish bites the challah dough?" asked Yussel.

"You will know," Papa answered.

The sky grew lighter. Papa hummed softly -- very softly, so as not to frighten away the fish. Yussel hummed along with him.

Suddenly Yussel felt a tug at the end of his line.

"Papa! I think I caught something! I hope it's a gefilte."

"So do I," said Papa.

The fish flipped and flopped. It jumped and splashed.

"It looks like you caught a big one," said Papa. "Hold on tightly."

The fish pulled and tugged for a long time. And when its tugs grew weaker, Yussel, with Papa's help, hauled it in.

"But it isn't a gefilte fish," said Yussel when he saw that it wasn't round like a ball.

"No," said Papa. "It's a carp. But we'll keep it anyway." He took the hook out and placed the fish inside the pail.

"Gefilte fish like cheese, too," said Papa. He broke off a piece and gave it to Yussel. "Put it on tight so it won't fall off."

Yussel hooked the cheese and threw his line out. To make sure the cheese held, he dangled the bait above the gentle ripples in the water. Suddenly the water exploded; a fish leaped out, swallowed the cheese, and dove back in.

"Papa!" Yussel cried out.

"Hold on!" shouted Papa. He grabbed onto the pole, and they yanked the fish out of the water. The fish went flying through the air and landed, flipping and flopping on the ground.

The fish had brown spots and tiny scales. It wasn't round like a ball.

"This isn't a gefilte fish, either," said Yussel. "Who ever heard of a gefilte fish with brown spots?"

"It's a trout," said Papa. "But we'll keep it anyway." He put the trout in the pail with the carp.

The sun climbed higher. Yussel and Papa were wet and tired.

"Time to go," said Papa.

"Please, not yet," said Yussel. "We didn't catch any gefilte."

"Don't worry," said Papa, putting an arm around Yussel's shoulders. "Your mama can work miracles."

When they reached their house they could already smell the Shabbos meal cooking: the chicken roasting in the oven and the chicken soup simmering on the stove. Mama smiled when she saw Yussel and Papa.

"Two wet fishermen and three nice fish. How wonderful!"

"A carp, a trout, and a pike," said Papa. "And Yussel caught them all."

"But no gefilte fish for Shabbos," said Yussel.

"Don't worry," said Mama. "Tonight, as always, we will have our gefilte fish."

Yussel watched and waited for Mama to work her miracles. He watched her clean and skin the fish. Then she cut it up and chopped it in her wooden bowl. Mama let Yussel help her add eggs and onions, bread crumbs and sugar, salt and pepper, and mix everything together.

They formed the mixture into balls.

"Gefilte fish!" Yussel cried out when he saw what they had made.

"Not yet," said Mama, dropping them into a pot of boiling water.

After the fish had cooked and the pot had cooled, Mama took out each piece and placed it on a large platter. She surrounded the fish with carrots and parsley.

Yussel recognized the familiar platter. "Gefilte fish!" he cried out again. "We made gefilte fish!"

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