This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.
(JTA) — No challah on Shabbat for those with celiac disease or wheat allergies. No cheesecake for Shavuot for those with dairy allergies. No mishloach manot gift packages on Purim for kids with severe allergies to the treats inside.
Synagogues and other Jewish organizations are seeing a rise in the number of children and teens who suffer from food allergies, and are adjusting to make sure that no one is endangered or feels left out – from nut-free policies to separate gluten-free kitchens.
For some, however, such accommodations aren’t enough to make them feel part of the mainstream.
“I try not to let it get the best of me, but in the back of my mind I’m like ‘wow, I really wish I could try what everyone else is trying,’” said Micah Pierandri, 17, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who often feels disconnected from others during community events involving food.
More children and teens are being diagnosed with food allergies than ever. In 2007, only about 4% of children in the United States under 18 reported food allergies, but last year the number more than doubled. A 2020 review of hospital admissions data showed a global increase in hospitalizations for anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life threatening allergic reaction. One study found that 37% of children in an Orthodox Jewish community had food allergies.
Food allergies can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health. Up to 40% of parents of children with allergies said that they would associate the word “isolating” with their child’s allergy, according to a study by Allergy UK. And while many synagogues are taking steps to become more allergy friendly, holidays and religious events involvinging food can be a struggle for many children and teens with food allergies.
“I’m that allergy kid that has to sit out or bring their own dessert or their own food to events,” said Pierandri.
Pierandri, who has an airborne allergy to peanuts and severe allergies to pecans, walnuts, soy and eggs, often brings her own food to synagogue events. This can make her feel separated from the rest of the Jewish community during the holidays, even if her food is similar to her peers.
Tu Bishvat and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, are especially difficult to celebrate because of the foods that are involved. On Tu Bishvat, the springtime New Year of the Trees, it’s customary for people to eat nuts and try fruits that they haven’t tasted before. For Pierandri, who has oral allergy syndrome, eating most fruits could cause an allergic reaction. Many Israeli dishes contain sesame or nuts, and her mild sesame allergy and severe nut allergies mean that she struggles to find foods that are safe for her to eat on Yom Ha’atzmaut, forcing her to choose between bringing her own food or eating before she goes.
By listing the ingredients in all food dishes at events, Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, Massachusetts makes it easier for people with food allergies to be included. Around 10% of students at their religious school have allergies. Though the number hasn’t changed much over the past few years, it is high enough that all teachers are notified about students’ allergies, said Joan Perlman, its director of education.
“It’s important to accommodate people with food allergies because it aligns with our core value of being an inclusive community,” said Debbie Ezrin, executive director of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland. To her, inclusivity means making sure that everyone feels like they belong. Their congregation is a nut-free facility and works to accommodate people with food allergies during any event involving food.
“While the synagogue adheres to traditional Jewish dietary laws, we always ask people to share their dietary needs and do our best to accommodate them,” said Rabbi Daniel Kaiman of Congregation B’nai Emunah, the synagogue that Pierandri attends.
She also feels like her food allergies have stunted her BBYO experience. “Part of me feels like it’s not really having food allergies, it’s more like people not being cautious,” Pierandri said. She’s been to multiple chapter and regional events where there have been peanuts even though people are aware that she has an airborne allergy.
“This is one of the areas where we really try to make sure that we’re accommodating our teens and I think it’s a small step we can take towards creating a supportive, inclusive, welcoming environment,” said Drew Fidler, director of BBYO’s Center for Adolescent Wellness.
Like many other organizations, BBYO has seen an increase in the number of teens with allergies over the past decade. All of BBYO’s conventions are peanut and tree nut-free in order to accommodate teens with nut allergies, and the organization also offers vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free meals by request.
“They just want to participate and feel normal and be a part of what’s going on,” she said about members who might feel excluded because of their allergies. At its international convention and summer programs, BBYO has a dedicated area for special meals so that teens with dietary restrictions are able to eat during meals.
Many Jewish summer camps are taking similar steps towards inclusion. “We always tell families that food should never be a reason that campers cannot be at camp or participate in Jewish life,” said Rabbi Ami Hersh, director of Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, New York.
Around 10% of the 800 campers that attend each session have food allergies, a larger percentage than in past years. The camp has a dietary specialist who works with each family to find alternative meals for campers. It’s important that the alternative meals closely mirror what the other campers are eating “so that no one’s feeling left out or excluded based on food needs,” Hersh said.
“I think that sometimes food needs and allergies are misunderstood as something that people are just being difficult about,” he said. “No one wakes up in the morning and says ‘I really wish I had a food allergy.’”
After noticing an increasing number of campers with celiac disease, NJY Camps, an organization that runs five Jewish summer camps in eastern Pennsylvania, opened a dedicated gluten-free kitchen in 2011.
Taking care of children with food allergies costs US families over $25 billion each year. When parents have to provide food for their children, it can be expensive and isolate the child even further. In a study by Dalhousie Medical School, all 56 gluten-free products tested were more expensive when compared to their regular counterparts.
At NJY Camps, the camp charges the same for the gluten-free meal plan as for the regular meal plan. “We don’t charge families extra despite the additional cost, it is simply a courtesy provided to those who need it,” said Carrie Youngs, director of Camp Nah-Jee-Wah, its camp for younger kids. Within the last five years, they’ve had as few as 30 and as many as 60 gluten-free campers register for each session.
The gluten-free kitchen has separate staff, equipment and serving area to avoid cross contamination. Like Ramah Day Camp, NJY Camps try to make the gluten-free meals match the regular meals being served that day so that campers with dietary restrictions won’t feel left out.
“Because we’re a kosher camp, some allergies are just a good fit,” she said. The camp doesn’t have to make accommodations for allergies like shellfish because shellfish aren’t kosher. Camp Nah-Jee-Wah is also completely peanut free in order to accommodate campers who have airborne peanut allergies.
Before arriving at camp, families are able to meet with an allergy liaison who ensures that all of their needs are met. “We just feel that accommodating campers and giving them the most incredible camp experience is important for their upbringing,” Youngs said.
Eating away from home can be scary for people with food allergies, especially when those allergies are life-threatening. “My house is the space where I feel most comfortable when it comes to food,” said Josephine Schizer, 21, a sophomore at Harvard University. She’s allergic to eggs, dairy, sesame seeds, chickpeas, kiwi, lentils and peas, but thanks to her school’s Hillel, she’s been able to eat safely while she’s away from home. She’s developed a relationship with the Hillel’s dining hall staff and made them aware of her food allergies. They’ll often make special meals for her so that she’s able to eat.
Her allergies don’t usually make eating a problem during Jewish holidays, but on Passover, a holiday that imposes additional dietary restrictions, she struggles to find nutritious meals because there are fewer options. “Many of the options that I could normally eat are out of the question during Passover because of the holiday or have egg in them because flour gets replaced with egg,” Schizer said. Nearly everyone in her family has allergies, making it easier for her to celebrate Jewish holidays at home.
“I think it’s harder when I’m in places that aren’t my own home,” she said. “It’s harder, but it’s still doable.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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