06 April 2008

Fun: Fishing the Great Gefilte Lakes

As I've frequently mentioned, my grandparents had a bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake, NY - heart of the Catskills and all that, the genuine Borscht Belt. Born in May, I spent every summer there from birth through high school.

One day, when I was a very little kid, my father took me fishing on our dock at the lake. We were fishing for lox (smoked salmon, for those who may not know the term), he said. And, how do you catch lox? You use a bagel for bait, of course. Yes, I know - stop laughing! - but I was only about 5 years old and it seemed logical at the time.

It didn't bother me that we didn't catch any of that lovely orange lox (nova, of course, the best).

What likely traumatized me for life was returning home and telling the story to people who first said "What?!?" - then snorted (as in "milk comes out of your nose" snorting) - and then fell off their chairs, holding their bellies and laughing hysterically to the point where they could have used oxygen.

I'm not sure I've ever gotten over that, although there's been a lot of lox under the bridge since then (and bagels - onion, of course - and Philly cream cheese!).

Since it's erev Pesach (which means anytime after Purim and before the first Passover seder) and bagels may not be the best thing to write about, here's the next best thing.

Warning: Do not read while drinking milk or any other liquid!


Many times I have been upset by people who seem to think that gefilte fish is some kind of mixture you make in the kitchen rather than one of Hashem's creatures. This has led me to explain exactly what a gefilte fish is. So once again here goes.

Each year as soon as the frost on the Great Gefilte Lakes (located up state New York somewhere in the Catskill Mountains) is thin enough to break the surface, frum fishermen set out to "catch" gefilte fish. Now unlike your normal fish, gefilte fish can not be caught with a rod and a reel or your standard bait. The art of catching gefilte fish was handed down for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. For all I know Moses used to go gefilte fish catching. I'm sure that the Great Rambam (Maimonides) when he wasn't busy playing doctor spent his leisure time G/F fishing.

Enough already, you say, so how is it done? Well you go up to the edge of lake with some Matzoh. Now this is very important!! It has to be Shmurah Matzoh or the fish will not be attracted. You stand at the edge of the lake and whistle and say "here boy", "here boy". The fish just can't resist the smell of the Matzoh They come in mass to the edge of the lake where they jump into the jars and are bottled on the spot.

Again you must remember that there are two kinds of gefilte fish. The strong and the weak. The weak are your standard fish which are in a loose "broth" (it is actually the lake water). Now the strong are special. They seem to be in a "jell". These fish are actually imported from the Middle East where they are caught in the Dead Sea. They have to be strong to be able to swim through that "jell".

Last year a well-meaning gentleman tried to correct me by stating, "Reb, shouldn't they be saying "Here Boychic". I didn't have the heart to tell him, Boychic is a Yiddish word and Gefilte Fish don't understand Yiddish, only Hebrew and surprisingly, English! There has been a big debate as to whether to use the Hebrew or English in the US. With a big break from tradition, shockingly the English is accepted by almost all G/F fishermen. Some still insist on using the Hebrew and consider the use of "Here Boy" as Reform and not halachicly acceptable. However the Congress of OU Rabbis (who have to be present at the lakes when the fish are bottled) uniformly accept "here boy"! The time of the catch is very important! The fish can not be caught before Purim is over or the fish are considered Chometz! Besides the fish know when Pesach is coming and will not respond to the Matzoh before the proper time.

I am still a little bothered by which end of the fish is the head and which the tail (not to mention that I am not sure where their eyes are). This is a small price to pay the luxury of eating this delicacy.

Have you ever had the baby G/F? Oy, they are so cute that I feel a little guilty eating them! Have a great Pesach and hope that the Matzoh doesn't affect you like Pepto Bismol or worse yet, prunes!

Shalom, Reb Sherry

This had escaped me until Lyn Blyden, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State, sent it to me. Then I had to track it down. I've found it on three websites, but still have no idea who Lawrence Sherry is or where or when it was originally published. It is found here, here and here.


  1. A fun story! I grew up in the Catkills (in Liberty) and have fond memories of what the resort region used to be like - not only my own but those of my relatives who lived in Sullivan County during the heyday of the 1950s.

    Now when I mention "Borscht Belt" or "Catskills" to anyone under 30, I get a puzzled look.

    p.s. - I've added you to my blog list and I really enjoy your writing style.

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  3. Schelly Talalay Dardashti said...
    Hi, Thomas,

    Welcome to the Catskills "club."

    Don't know if you've seen the Catskills Institute at Brown University (RI)pages, but Prof. Phil Brown (his parents had a hotel on White Lake) has done a masterful job of archiving everything about the golden years. And they have a great annual conference at Kutsher's the weekend before Labor Day.

    Liberty - hmmmm, you drive 17B from Monticello to White Lake, hang a right around the lake, drive through Kauneonga Lake and take the first right in "downtown" for one way to Liberty and Swan Lake, or drive out the other side of town and when it forks left around the lake, take the right hand road. Right?

    We had MERLIN cousins in Liberty who had a drycleaners (but I never met them).

    I have a bunch of blogs to add to my blogroll - yours is among them.


  4. Barbara Sherry10:53 PM

    This was an original story by my husband Lawrence Alan Sherry DDS. of Mountain Top PA. It was first posted on a Prodigy Passover Recipe Bulletin Board in 1993. I am the Yenta in question, now married and still nudging for what now is 38 years. Many thanks also go to Elaine Radis who imported it into meal master and posted it elswhere on the internet so that it survived the demise of Prodigy, and has continued to circulate the web and the globe for the last 15 years. We are both amazed and gratified that it has continued to provide laughs these many years.
    Barbara (Yenta) Sherry (sherryb0202@verizon.net)