A Fishy Fiasco

At a night celebrating achievements, few expect death. Yet, on Thursday night, May 19, at AJA’s “Under the Sea”- themed annual Awards Night, a number of goldfish met their untimely demise. The goldfish floated dead in fishbowl centerpieces at every table, as students circulated the room while chatting, eating sushi, and gawking at the shocking centerpieces. Obviously, something had gone wrong in the fishbowls.

Initially, bowls of live goldfish as centerpieces were meant to be fun, theme-fitting surprises. When the idea surfaced in a meeting of the Awards Night decoration committee, a number of Student Council (STUCO) members enthusiastically endorsed it. As STUCO co-president Leah Houben explained, “I thought it would be really cool.” After brainstorming the idea of goldfish, the decoration committee planned the full centerpiece, which involved a handful of goldfish and a waterproof cube light in a water-filled fishbowl.

On Thursday morning, Leah, accompanied by senior Daniel Bland and Senior STUCO Cabinet Member Josh Asherian, visited a pet store in the Toco Hills area and purchased sixty feeder goldfish. “We walked into school with two bags of thirty goldfish,” Leah continued. After bringing the fish to school, both bags  of goldfish were placed in one bucket and fed. Throughout that day, STUCO prepared the Homburger Commons for Awards Night. At approximately 2:45 when STUCO left, Sophomore STUCO Cabinet Member Mollie Glazer remembers noticing already that a few fish had begun to die. Moreh Amir Dan noticed some commotion among the students, and after hearing that the goldfish were dying, he suggested removing the lights from the bowls. He theorized that perhaps the lights created some kind of electric current in the fishbowls that killed the fish.  The lights were soon removed. The dead fish were not. Although they considered removing the dead fish, STUCO decided, “There [was] no point in that.”

When students and faculty arrived at the Homburger Commons later that night, many more fish had died. “I looked down, and I saw one fish just floating upside down in the bowl,” senior Racheli Seeman recounted, “and then I sat down and found five more dead fish.” She personally removed the fish from her table and flushed them down the toilet so that she did not  have to look at them all night. Many students, who did not follow Racheli’s example and dispose of their fish, sat in front of bowls filled with the sad remains of what was supposed to be a living centerpiece. At Mollie’s table, “All of them were dead.” Needless to say, for many students, the sight of so  many goldfish corpses was a less-than- positive feature of the Awards Night  experience.

There exists, in addition to Moreh Amir’s theory about the lights, an alternative theory to explain the goldfish’s sudden death. Both Mollie and Leah believe that the fish likely died because their water was supplemented with tap water. Goldfish generally need distilled water to survive, and the wrong type of water may well have killed many of them.

In the end, the many dead goldfish left at the close of Awards Night received a short funeral after the event, orchestrated by the B’not Sherut. The few goldfish that survived were taken home by students to keep as pets. Junior Gavriella Bader, for example, took home five fish and named the three that survived the night Rat, Cassandra, and Joleyne-Joleine. Although some students found silver-lining in the situation and salvaged some fish as pets, the death of AJA’s Awards Night goldfish remains, as Morah Tali Dan said, “a real tragedy.”


This story received First Place in the 2023 Jewish Scholastic Journalism Awards for “News reporting on Jewish communities, religion, education, institutions, activism, culture, challenges, leaders or personalities”. Judges said “A very smart piece that reads like a movie script. Great details, humor and depth on the fish crisis no one saw coming.”