Fish Head Symbolizes Hoping to Be Head, Not Tail in Society

by Yelena Gerovich
New American Acculturation Coordinator

For centuries, Jewish communities used the head of a fish as a part of their Jewish New Year meal. It expresses the hope to be a head, not a tail, in society.

On July 10, almost 120 people gathered at the Jewish Community Center to celebrate their freedom, Independence Day and the success of their families. Special thanks were given to the Jewish Federation, which helped resettle refugees, assisting them with everything from food to transportation to education. The keynote performer of this event was Dalia Medovnikov.

Dalia was born in Connecticut 17 years ago, but her parents and grandparents escaped from the former Soviet Union with the hope of having a better life and freedom for future generations. Their dreams came true. Dalia is the winner of many international and American competitions, and she now has an opportunity to travel all around the world. Jewish families in the former Soviet Union had to hide the fact they were Jewish because of anti-Semitism and persecution from the state. Their exposure to Judaism and what freedom and independence mean was very limited.

Many of them were called refuseniks, referring to those who were initially not allowed to leave the Soviet Union. Many have memories of secretly listening to Voice of America broadcasts on a shortwave radio, dreaming about leaving for the U.S. After Jewish families escaped and landed in the New Haven area as refugees, they were finally able to celebrate not only Jewish holidays and learn the traditions of Judaism, but also to celebrate their freedom, American holidays and traditions.

The gathering at the Jewish Community Center was a celebration of the community, of people who came to America with nothing and became successful. Many of the refugees were educated, but sometimes had to find lesser-paying jobs because of language barriers. Most families are contributing members of our community now. They pay taxes, they help others in need, and they also reconnect with their Jewish traditions.

The goal of the New American Acculturation program is to help the Russianspeaking community strengthen their Jewish identity. As one of our modern sages taught, “When choosing to be ritually observant, it is better to do something rather than do nothing.” Let’s have a great New Year and enjoy the head of a fish as a part of the Jewish New Year meal, celebrating that whether you speak English with an accent or not, you are trying to be a head, not a tail, in society.

For more information about the New American Acculturation Program, including sponsorships of specific programs, contact Yelena Gerovich at (203) 387-2424 x321, or email

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