For some families, cleaning and preparing fish for the holiday means making sure the carp you brought home from the market was rinsed properly in the kitchen sink and all the scales were scraped off properly – or at least, was rinsed and ground up or cut to measure as you wanted by the fish monger at the supermarket.
For many, fish at this time of year have come to mean tashlich, the customary Jewish atonement ritual performed during the High Holy Days.
But in Arad, fish carry another significance altogether, at least when it comes to thinking about how best to keep them at one’s home.
When you’re talking to two young partners who man the counter at Sharon’s Jungle, you’re likely to get a stream of good-natured wisecracks along with the incredible amount of practical wisdom flowing from one or both.
Their shop is a family-owned enterprise that has morphed from a small pet shop into a rapidly-growing outfit that now also provides consultations to homeowners with fish ponds in the northern Negev town of Arad. At this season, it’s Grand Central Station.
The culture of an independent spirit has always existed in the city, with long-time residents and new immigrants building new homes and experimenting with landscaping in their yards. Fish ponds have become very popular, in part because they are not very expensive and because they are not difficult to maintain. They are also soothing and extremely, endlessly entertaining for children.
But they do require some maintenance, at least a couple of times a year. “Rosh Hashana is the perfect time to clean out the muck of the summer months, and to prepare the pond for the fish to settle in for hibernation,” says Sharon Aloush, owner of Sharon’s Jungle.
“We get swamped with calls at the end of the summer.”
Part of the reason for that also has to do with the Jewish custom of Tashlich, when observant Jews traditionally “cast away” their sins into the water on the first day of Rosh Hashana, to be consumed by the fish. The custom can only be carried out over a body of “living water” in which fish are living and swimming.
Needless to say, this is a busy season for the partners.
Yoram Cohen, the resident expert on fish ponds, has little time to spare. But he points out that the weeks around Rosh Hashana may be the last bit of time in which such maintenance can reasonably be carried out.
“After that, the fish are hibernating; it’s getting colder and they aren’t moving around as much – they are already at the bottom of the pond and it isn’t a great idea to move them around so much. This kind of cleaning should be done when it’s warm,” Cohen says.
“Even the fish deserve a healthy and happy New Year!”