Shira Zwebner

Israeli’s Lax Attitude Towards Food Allergies

This past Friday, during gan pick up for our 18 month old, the gannenet went on and on about how much our daughter enjoys her weekly cupcake. She then mentioned that she was so excited about her special cupcake, that she wasn’t even upset about the bamba that the other kids were eating as their pre-Shabbat treat. Instead of the happy response the gannenet was hoping for, I was a little aggravated.

You see, my daughter has a peanut allergy, and if she would have just reached her little fingers across the table and eaten some of that favorite Israeli snack, she would have broken out into hives. And this is merely one example of how lax Israeli society is about food allergies.

According to the website Yahel, which monitors food allergies in Israel, only 2% of adults and 8% of children, suffers from food allergies in this Country. Comparatively,  6 million children suffer from food allergies in the United States! Regardless of the statistic, better education and awareness about food allergies in Israel is extremely necessary.

Truth be told, bamba shouldn’t ever be allowed in my daughter’s gan. In fact, at the beginning of school parent meeting, my husband requested that no one bring bamba to gan. Clearly, the parents forgotten and brought a bag for the pre-Shabbat treat. The gannenet, knowing that our child is allergic to peanuts, simply didn’t give her any. Instead, they watched to make sure she didn’t take from the other children.

But what happens during the days when they aren’t watching? What happens if they aren’t so vigilant? What if our daughter would go into anaphylaxis shock instead of “just” breaking out into hives when ingesting peanuts?

Finding a gan in Israel if your child has a food allergy is extremely difficult. Originally, our daughter was signed up at a different gan. But, during our first day orientation, the gannenet took us aside and asked that we switch her to another gan. She was the youngest child in the gan, they already had 22 kids, and they were overwhelmed by her food allergies. At first, I insisted that she remain in the gan, since I was okay with her being the youngest child. She is smart, strong-willed and very strong-minded. I knew she could hold her own against the older kids and, after the initial adjustment period, would thrive. I was also comforting and encouraging about her food allergies. I explained that, once they understood how to feed her, she would thrive.

But, she’s allergic to egg protein, rice, oats, sesame, and peanut. Two of those allergies are severe and causes intense vomiting and hives, while the other three cause just hives. It’s a long and difficult list, and when it came down to it, it was just too much for the gan to handle. I wish they would have told me before the first day of gan, especially since I specifically discussed it with them when we signed our daughter up, but at that stage it didn’t matter. They didn’t want her, and we didn’t want her to be where she wasn’t wanted! We ended up switching her after the second day and found a gan that had less children, where she was no longer the youngest, and they were willing to work with us on her food allergies.

But, raising a food allergic child in Israel is very difficult. Our daughter’s allergies, in particular, are not conducive to Israeli cuisine. There is sesame in almost everything! Hummus spread, the Israeli breakfast staple, has Tehina in it which is made from sesame. Forget trying to find a Challah in Israel that hasn’t either been made with eggs, has an egg wash, or isn’t sprinkled with sesame or oats. My daughter has also never, in her life, eaten a boureka. Our house is devoid of peanut butter or any food items that might have peanuts in them. Because of her extreme rice allergy, my husband and I only eat sushi when the girls are fast asleep. And, in my person opinion, vegan baked goods pale in comparison.

The biggest challenge though, is the juggle between wanting your child to fit in, and keeping her safe. We don’t want our daughter to feel like she’s different, nor do we want her to be placed in a table by herself during meal times. Instead, we work with the gan and the gan’s catering company. On the days when they serve rice or majadera as a side dish, I send in a container of orzo. It looks similar to the rice and, at such a young age, my daughter doesn’t know the difference. When it’s shnitzel day at gan, I send her in with a home made shnitzel substituting soy milk for the egg. On Friday, for her pre-Shabbat treat, our daughter gets a special vegan cupcake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. And, when it’s a birthday at gan, I’m going to send in a wedge of vegan chocolate cake that will hopefully look like the birthday cake, so she won’t know the difference.

So far, thank g-d, we’ve managed without too many incidences. Aside from a couple of hive break outs, which we dealt with swiftly, she has been fine. But, with her long list of food allergies and the lack of awareness in Israeli society, I wonder just how much of a handicap it will be in her future.




About the Author
Shira Zwebner is a public relations consultant and writer living in Jerusalem. A Mommy blogger and recent Olah, Shira writes about living and raising a family as an American trying to find her niche within Israeli culture.