By Mordechai Schmutter

Goldfish are pretty durable. People are always saying, “Yeah, we can’t kill this one. We’ve dropped it on the floor, underfed it, left it in the sun, on the stove, we forgot about it when we moved, and it still somehow found its way back to us. It just showed up at our front door, panting. We think it’s the same fish . . .”

The only way to kill a goldfish, basically, is by overfeeding it. Goldfish don’t have stomachs, which means the typical goldfish doesn’t know when it’s full. It just keeps eating and eating until one day it’s lying on its side, moaning. It’s like a tiny yeshiva bachur.

And it’s easy to overfeed. Feeding is basically the only way to interact with a fish, so people do it often. Especially Jewish mothers. Growing up, I had around 14 goldfish, plus some other fish-tank-based animals that came and went, and frankly, I’m surprised that my mother didn’t overfeed any of them.

But we had the fish for several years. And then one day my sister went to a Bais Yaakov carnival and won a fish–which is weird, because Schmutters don’t win anything–and she put it in the tank with the others, and all 15 were dead within the week. Was it murder-suicide?

But after that, my parents retired the tank, and it kept moving around the house until it eventually broke during routine Pesach cleaning. But they were still open to the idea of having fish, probably because they still had some food left.

Then at some point after I moved out of the house, one of my siblings came home with a fish. My parents got a small fishbowl, and I don’t know if every time I came to visit them it was the same fish, but I never asked. There was just a bowl with a fish, and we got the same stories–“We almost killed it”; “We can’t kill it”; “Oh, we still have that fish?” And then one time I came over, and it wasn’t there anymore. But I figured that it wasn’t because they lost the fishbowl.

So when my 10-year-old son suddenly inherited a brown-green goldfish from one of his friends, I called my parents to see if I could borrow it.

My youngest sister, Chanie, answered the phone. No one else was home, because everyone was getting ready for my brother’s vort, because apparently my siblings have moved on and taken up new hobbies, such as getting engaged every other weekend. I feel like getting engaged is basically what my siblings do these days.

So I asked Chanie if they still had the bowl, and if she could leave it out so I could come get it while we were in town for the vort.

My sister told me five things:

1. She found the bowl, and it still had rocks and a castle. I don’t know if the fish is supposed to know what the castle actually is, or if it’s there for your sake, but the rocks are there to give it something to do–namely, spend all day tasting them and spitting them out to make sure they’re not food, because it never stops eating, and for some reason it doesn’t realize that food comes from above. I think there’s a mussarvort here somewhere.

2. There was also a medication of some sort that she said I shouldn’t use, but she was leaving it for me anyway, because it goes with the bowl. Apparently, at some point that last fish was turning colors, so they asked someone what to do–and I think it’s weird that they suddenly asked someone what to do, because they didn’t do this during the Carnie Fish Massacre of ’97. So someone suggested that they buy this medicine, of which you put a couple of drops in the tank, and it magically heals the fish.

This left me with several questions: How does the medicine know where to go? And do they make a kids’ version that I can put in their bathwater? If they did, I would no longer have to chase them around with pills; I’d just have to force them to take baths!

My sister went on to say that they’d actually put some medicine in the water, and the next day the fish died. So they think maybe the medicine killed it. I don’t know; maybe it was allergic. Point is, she said, “I’m including the medicine, because I don’t know where else to put it. But don’t give it to the fish.”

(The medicine, I later found out, is called “Stress Coat,” and it’s supposed to reduce stress in fish. So it’s like blood-pressure medication.

Wait. What do the fish have to worry about?

“I can’t believe this! I have places I need to be, my roommate is always getting in my way when I want to get around the castle, and there’s some guy on the other side of this invisible wall who keeps copying everything I do! And who lives in this tiny castle? And why do they never come out? Plus I have all these rocks I have to keep tasting! Did I taste this one already? I can’t even tell! They all taste the same!”)

3. There was also a can of colorful fish flakes, but she was going to check to see how many flakes were still in the can. Oh, look at that! Turns out it conveniently died right after my parents bought a big thing of –

4. Whoops, she just dropped the entire container of flakes into the bowl. Where it immediately mixed with the rocks.

5. Turns out I have to deal with it.

So that night we came into Monsey, and my son and I snuck into my parents’ house during the vort and sat there for a half hour separating colorful rocks from colorful flakes, which is incredibly boring but not any more so than eating cake at a vort for three hours.

But it was not easy. I now know exactly how many rocks are in the bowl.

So we did the best we could. I figured we did a pretty good job, and if there were a few flakes left between the rocks, then fine. We just wouldn’t feed the fish for a couple of days.

Then we got home, and I poured the fish and the pretzel water (salt water?) into the new bowl, and all of a sudden, millions of flakes came floating out of the rocks all around the fish. They were everywhere. I had never seen a fish so happy in my life.

“No!” I yelled.

So I reached in and grabbed the fish out with my bare hands, and I put it back into the pretzel bowl.

I should have asked if my parents still had their net.

I then rinsed the rocks a few times and tried again, and the fish seemed pretty happy in its new surroundings, though definitely not as happy.

And then my son, who is still bothered by the fact that his goldfish, which he’d named “Goldie” before he found out that one of mine was named Goldie–because apparently creativity in naming things runs in the family–isn’t actually gold. (He’d named it Goldie ironically. I actually wanted to honor the fact that it came from a boys’ yeshiva by calling it by a last name, such as “Goldstein.”) So he poured some medicine into the bowl.

Yes, the medicine that might kill the fish. It’s not childproofed. Though I guess it is fish-proofed. It’s hard to open if your fins are always wet and the bottle is 30 times bigger than you are.

But this is a kid that will not take pills.

Anyway, this was less than a day ago.

So now the fish is in a bowl with possibly too much food, which tastes like human hands and vort cake, and a blood-pressure medication that may or may not kill goldfish in general. So I figure it’s only a matter of time. But if it makes it through the night, it’s probably not going anywhere for a while.

UPDATE: As of when I’m putting together this second part of the article, the fish is still alive. Not only is it alive, it’s turning gold. We’re all thrilled. But I guess that still leaves plan B: Eventually, my son will get bored of the fish, and move on to other things. Such as getting engaged. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to



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