The Severely Allergic Child

The Severely Allergic Child

When I got the email from Yaakov’s gan, I understood which child they were talking about right away. The email read: “In our gan we are learning to be sensitive to a child with life-threatening allergies. Please do not send any dairy products, peanuts, or nuts to gan with your child.”

When I lived in Nachlaot, I spent several afternoons on a playground bench talking with the mother of a boy with allergies so severe, they could be fatal, G-d forbid. Because of the danger involved, his mother stopped working and kept her son home with her until he was 3 (this is unusual in Israel, where most children begin gan at a year old or younger). And when he finally began attending gan, because of the danger of anaphylactic shock, the municipality funded and assigned her son a full-time shadow to make sure he didn’t eat or smell anything that could be dangerous.

So on the first day of Yaakov’s gan this last Friday, I had a chance to meet his mother and her adorable son again. After a discussion with the ganenet, Yaakov is taking this child’s dietary restrictions very seriously.

“Eema, are eggs dairy?”
“Good, then I can bring them to gan, and David* won’t have to go to the hospital.”

And we parents are being forced to take the allergies seriously as well. There are around 7 gans in the same building as Yaakov’s gan, and the administration has decided to make all of them peanut and nut-free. While this is common in the US, in Israel it is quite unheard of.

Yesterday, when I was leaving off Yaakov at gan, one of the fathers was arguing with the ganenet about the dairy-peanut-nut ban.

“If the boy has a shadow, then why do all the other children need to stop bringing these foods?”

And I agree with him that it is an inconvenience. For the last 18 years that I’ve had children in gan, my options for gan sandwiches have been fixed: white cheese, cottage cheese, peanut butter, or hummus. And now, for Yaakov, I am left with only hummus.

But I am proud of the gan for making this tough decision. Every child is important, every child has a right to attend gan–to make friends, to learn -even if it means that 150 other children will be slightly inconvenienced.

And I think that lesson, for Yaakov and for me, as well as for all the children and all their parents, is worth far more than a year of hummus sandwiches.


  1. Wow, that’s great to hear, particularly as the mother of a peanut-allergic child in Israel! My daughter’s allergy was never as severe as it sounds like David’s are, so her gan was reluctant to put an official policy in place, and we therefore trained her to be super careful of going near anyone else’s food from the tender age of 3. Nerve-wracking, and there were a couple close calls. I’m glad to hear that the communal awareness and sensitivity to allergic children is rising.

  2. What a beautiful response to the inconvenience of school allergy restrictions. I’m also dealing with the same issue as I pack lunches. Your attitude gives meaning to the inconvenience and a teaching opportunity for our kids regarding sensitivity toward others.

    Thanks Chana Jenny!

  3. when my son started a new school(because we moved) he was told not to bring any peanuts/ butter etc. this was 16 years ago. I never heard of this allergy. (I have been in Israel since age 13) what I would have liked is the school to make a meeting and explain what was going on, I really didnt understand and thought he was making excuses not to take peanut butter to school.

  4. In South Africa our school has been a nut free zone for a very long time. There are children who are severely allergic to nuts and the school takes the nut free policy very seriously. Unfortunately though many parents of children who do not have severe allergies, do not have any idea how potentially life threatening their child’s peanut butter or Nutella sandwich can be. Hopefully this will change in time but educating parents and children alike is critical.

  5. Some lunch ideas for you! 🙂
    Egg sandwich with mayo on bread. Make an omlet put mayo on toasted bread and yum!
    Pita with falafel and chummus! You can buy ready made falafel from a stand and put the balls in your freezer or buy the mix and make and freeze ahead.if allowed almonds there is almond butter but looks like no nuts. Save a few pieces from chicken soup or chicken dinner and put in pita or bread with mayo and mustard great protein! Behatzlocha!

  6. Chana Jenny- please tell this mother to get in touch with the allergy and immunology clinic at the Asaf Harofeh hospital -Dr. Elitzur. They run a special program to desensitize people with life-threatening allergies, including dairy and nuts. I know someone whose daughter had a life-threatening allergy to nuts and she is just about done with the program and can tolerate just about all nuts now. This clinic saves lives. Tell her to do a google search for it.

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