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Food allergies in Israel: Difficult or doable?

If you knew that simply eating the food in Israel could kill your kid, would you make aliyah?

Sometimes I wish I had food allergies, a reason to not be able to eat that chocolate-covered-oozing-with-chocolate chocolate cake. To even smell it would mean trouble for me. I don’t have food allergies, so I need to count on my self-control and pray a little bit.

But the truth is that I am the mom of a daughter with anaphylactic food allergies. She is allergic to all tree nuts, peanuts, and seeds. I remember when I found out, nine years ago. All I was scared about was keeping her alive. Not letting her ever eat a nut or seed.

When we decided to move to Israel, the land of Bamba, another mom with an allergic child, my friend, said to me, “Are you crazy? How can you move your family to Israel? Your daughter has nut and seed allergies! You’re a horrible mom!” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she said that with love and pure intentions. But it made me think. Would it be wrong to move to a country that doesn’t have nut-free schools? A country where everything is covered in sesame seeds. And if it’s not covered in sesame, it is definitely covered in poppy.

My daughter knows how to use an Epi-Pen. She is also old enough to be aware of her surroundings and ask about ingredients before she eats anything. We even bought her a beautiful silver bracelet engraved in Hebrew explaining her allergies. And she memorized the phrase, repeating it over and over again. So, no, I do not think I am a horrible mom for moving to Israel. I actually think quite the opposite. I’m pleased with myself that I gave my daughter the tools to understand her allergy and the knowledge for how to manage it. And I think it would have been a horrible decision to not move to Israel.

Whenever we eat out at friends’ homes, I always tell them in advance about the allergy. I also always offer to bring food for my daughter. It should never become someone else’s headache or responsibility to worry about her food allergy. That falls on my shoulders. Most of the time the family says it’s okay and they prepare food without the nuts and seeds. And for that I’m thankful. However, just recently we ate out and I brought food for my daughter. I was so grateful to the host for being upfront and honest with me. She had never needed to deal with allergies in her home before and she didn’t want to make a mistake. She said she felt terrible for asking me. I told her, I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t expect to be taken up on it.

So now that we live in the land flowing with peanuts and sesame seeds, I mean, milk and honey, I am pleased to say that we’re doing pretty well. My daughter’s teachers are all aware of her allergies. The schools celebrate birthday parties on Fridays with homemade cakes. After getting a weekly call from the teacher to ask if my daughter can eat it, we decided on a new plan of action. Now she keeps a special treat in the classroom to eat instead of the birthday cake.

When I walk through the shuk in Jerusalem and see all the delectable foods that I can’t bring home, instead of feeling sad for her that she’ll never be able to taste so many foods, I realize there’re plenty more for her to eat. So all the vendors trying unsuccessfully for me to purchase from their overflowing burlap sacks of savory almonds, cashews, pecans, and walnuts, know that it’s nothing personal. It’s just a matter of life and death.


And I’d like my daughter to feel safe to eat whatever she wants in our home since she can’t eat everything outside our home. Home should always be a safe haven. Now, if only there was no reason to bring in that succulent chocolate cake, we’d all feel safe!

So, for anyone else who has a child with food allergies, it may be difficult in Israel, but it’s definitely doable. Please don’t let that be the reason to not make aliyah. Nothing could’ve stopped us!

About the Author
Tova Knecht is a wife and mom of 3, living in Jerusalem, Israel. After living all their lives in New Jersey, she and her family made the ultimate decision to fulfill their dream of living in the Jewish homeland.
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