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When the Polar Vortex Meets Passover, and A Fish Becomes a Bird

by Judy Stone-Goldman on April 16, 2014

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Passover is a time of tradition, and passing the traditions down is written into the celebration. The Seder is full of symbols and rituals — from Seder plate to Afikomen hunt, from Hagaddah choice to songs — and the rhythm and tone of the holiday are shaped by family preference and lore. Food is essential! Some foods are mandated (matzoh, bitter herbs) and some are so traditional we forget they are not required (macaroons, matzoh brie). And then there’s gefilte fish.

Gefilte fish falls into the traditions category — not an official part of the Seder, but who can imagine Passover without it? But apparently gefilte fish is an endangered species. The white fish used to make it is in short supply because the northern lakes in the US and Canada have been too frozen this year by the polar vortex. No fishing, no whitefish, no fresh gefilte fish.

Now in truth, most of us end up with Manischewitz gefilte fish in a jar, and those supplies are apparently still intact (made months earlier when whitefish was ordered in bulk, before its dearth became apparent).  I’ve never gone to a deli where gefilte fish is made fresh, and where the shortage is most keenly felt. But I feel a stir of anxiety nonetheless as I contemplate frozen lakes and gefilte fish shortages. Was the polar vortex because of climate change? Are we running out of gefilte fish because of climate change? Is this an example of the small ways in which life is going to change?

(OK, I know that we don’t know which weather extremes relate to a changing climate and which don’t, but I do know that weather extremes didn’t use to seem so commonplace. I believe what we’re learning about climate change, and I now see the debate as one more effort to deny and avoid.)

Disaster movies love the big scene. Huge buildings crumbling while cars and people flip around on unstable ground. Cows blowing sideways in monster winds. Sharks falling out of the sky (or do they come from the ocean?) And most currently: viruses that decimate all in the blink of an eye, while a hero rushes around to save the world. I can attest to the allure of these images, because I’ve long been a fan of a good disaster movie.

But maybe the real disasters come with tiny, quiet footsteps, changes creeping up on us so slowly we barely realize what’s happening. Maybe in our lifetime we won’t notice a direct effect of the changing shorelines or the disappearance of common creatures. Maybe in our lifetime the changes that seem most scary will be happening elsewhere, to other people, and we won’t have any in-our-gut feeling of shock. But what if the changes ARE happening, and we don’t have the motivation or courage to understand them?

Maybe a shortage of gefilte fish is the new canary in the minefield. How sad if in the future, gefilte fish is just one more story told at Passover.

Questions for Reflection: What symbols and traditions hold meaning for you? What small parts of daily life would you miss if they ceased to be there? Does this blog seem like a good-natured joke about gefilte fish or about something more serious?

Writing Prompts: “The traditions I hold most dear are those that ______” (then keep writing); “A change that would have a profound effect on me would be ______” (then keep writing); “When I hear about climate change as a threat, I react by ______” (then keep writing).

Whatever the season and celebration for you — Passover, Easter, spring bursting forth — may it be a time of awareness and appreciation for the gifts in your life now.

May we all have the courage and energy to preserve the beauty of life around us.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz Gow April 23, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Some very interesting observations and reflections. I have been thinking about change a lot and come back to the saying about what can be changed, what cannot and the knowledge to know the difference. I do think there is a place to celebrate and grieve what has been. I think change is inevitable no matter what and although I feel sad for so many things I am also heartened that some changes are for the better. I just think right now change is happening so quickly and on mass that it can be overwhelming. Thank you for this space to pause and reflect on what I am grateful for and for the experiences I have had.


Judy Stone-Goldman
April 26, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Liz, I have been such a “holder on-er” in my life, it took me a long time to appreciate changes, even those that bring identifiable losses. Sometimes I’ve resisted change without understanding that I was just scared of going through the loss, even though I would then be available for something new. The Serenity Prayer, which you allude to, is so powerful in its simplicity. Perhaps for me I need to add, “and the skill to grieve changes as they come.” May you have wonderful changes come into you life, and loving support for any that are more difficult. I really appreciate your comments and reflections.


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