The Fish Aren’t Talking, But Everyone Else Is


new-square-fishLinda Lombroso of The Journal News reports:
When a carp started speaking Hebrew six years ago at the New Square Fish Market, the story made headlines around the world.
The fish have since kept their mouths shut.
But the market, in the Chassidishe community of New Square, remains a hot destination in the weeks before Pesach: It is one of the few spots in the area that sells homemade gefilte fish and live carp directly to the public.Most shoppers know gefilte fish as the beige forms wedged inside jars of clear jelly, sold by manufacturers like Manischewitz and Rokeach. Commercial gefilte fish is generally a blend of whitefish, pike, mullet and carp. But old-fashioned Pesach gefilte fish – the kind they make at the New Square Fish Market – contains only ground carp, eggs, onion, salt and sugar.

“That’s the real holy Passover fish, and it comes out delicious,” says Zalmen Rosen, who’s worked there since he married into the Kupperman family more than 40 years ago.

The fish market, tucked into a residential street near Route 45, does a brisk business, says David Kupperman, grandson of the founder. Year-round, the store sells 12 different kinds of gefilte fish, some sugar-free, and stocks a variety of fresh fish that Kupperman picks up every morning at the Fulton Fish Market.

But with the Pesachcarp, it’s a different story. During the busy season, the live fish are delivered daily in a tanker truck and kept outside in a large vat of water. They range from 4 to 55 pounds in weight and are carried into the market in the arms of workers.

Many home cooks who make gefilte fish like to buy their live carp at the New Square Fish Market. But they can be a suspicious bunch.

“Some people come here and want to see it alive in the truck,” says Rosen. He hesitates, blue eyes glimmering behind his glasses. “Maybe on the truck somebody gave it something to eat, some bread.”

When kosher cooks buy fish that is not alive, there is always a concern about how it’s been preserved, says Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of OU Kosher. “In Europe, particularly, they used to preserve the fish in alcohol.”

In the old days, Zalmen Rosen affirms, things happened. Tricks were used. “They used to put alcohol and bread in the mouth of the fish to make it look alive,” he says.

At the New Square Fish Market, when live carp are turned into Pesach gefilte fish, they are quickly filleted, deboned, skinned and put into a grinding machine with onions.

Every step of the process is monitored carefully, including inspection of the onions. “We look them over for bugs,” says Zalmen, his blue gloves dripping fish juice. “You know onions can have bugs?”

The ground carp and onions are then mixed with salt, sugar and eggs, cracked only after their shells have been rinsed with lukewarm water. The mixture is formed into loaves, cooked in a seasoned water bath and wrapped in kosher-for-Pesach paper. A loaf of gefilte fish, which can serve seven people, sells for $7.75, says Kupperman. Fresh carp, which is also cut into steaks, retails for $7.49 a pound.

The New Square Fish Market’s carp retain a certain celebrity status – especially the one that started muttering in Hebrew in 2003, saying something about the end of the world.

Zalmen, who’s told the story a million times, shrugs at telling it again. Then he changes his mind.

“It was a Tuesday afternoon,” he says. “We had a whole box of fish. Live carp, they jump.”

Suddenly, Zalmen heard fish cutter Luis Nivelo yelling in the back room. “I hear this guy screaming: ‘The fish is talking!’ Why should I believe him?”

“I was running away,” says Nivelo, who’s worked there for 13 years. “It was like the devil.”

When Zalmen went into the room, the fish was indeed speaking Hebrew. “Before I cut it, I heard noise,” he says. “I heard a voice coming out.”

Nivelo still believes the fish’s warnings came true. One local resident was killed in a suicide bombing in Israel, he says. Another died unexpectedly.

Zalmen is suddenly tired of the talking fish. He holds up the severed head of a carp. “Makes a good soup,” he says.

{The Journal News/ Newscenter}


  1. After all is said, New square also doesn’t wear Tukish-Taleisim any more-fish don’t talk any more, even a fish wouldn’t have gotten imto trouble if he kept his mouth shut-things do change.

  2. I was at a wedding recently and the waiter served me a delicious piece of salmon. As I was about to eat it, the salmon started smiling at me. At first I couldn’t believe it. Then I asked , what are you smiling about ? The fish answered me, I remember you at a different wedding.

  3. Well everyone, Rabbi Gefiltefish is speaking on Pesach in West County Shul. First of all, did a fish really speak hebrew at a fish martket six years ago, do they have proof or is it some guy who wanted to make the headlines???