To prepare, I reviewed my own AllerDad tips for travelling with food allergy children, plus I got some last minute helpful pointers from Lianne Mandelbaum (thanks for reaching out!).
Thankfully, the airline we used (El Al) was very accommodating and they do not serve nuts. We boarded early to disinfect the seats and tray tables and we spoke to the other passengers around us to make them aware of our allergies.
Overall the flight was nothing but ordinary... a little turbulence, a lot of restless sleep, and a couple of very busy parents - which is exactly what a food allergy family wants to experience on a flight!
Once we arrived in Israel it was a whole new ballgame. I can say that in all my years as a food allergy parent, I've never been as nervous as I was on this trip. The thing about Israel is that it seems to be where we were in America 10 years ago in terms of food allergy awareness and food allergy safety. Also, having 3 children who are allergic to sesame poses a unique challenge in Israel as so much of Israeli cuisine is based on sesame and sesame oil as staple ingredients. This meant that even a simple pizza shop was incredibly intimidating for me and my wife.
Note the following exchange between me and an uninformed Israeli restaurant worker. We had similar conversations with others throughout the trip:
Me: Hi, do you use sesame or sesame oil in your products? My children have serious food allergies...
Him: What do you mean “food allergies”?
Me: Someone who has a sesame allergy could have a life-threatening reaction if they eat it. It’s very very dangerous. Do you have anything with sesame or sesame oil in your store?
Him: No, I don’t think we have anything with sesame here, but if you want to be safe you can remove any sesame if you see it.
When I spoke to local Israelis about my children's food allergies, my overall sense was that they either had never heard of food allergies or they didn't really give me confidence that they understood and appreciated the severity and the risk of feeding my child an allergen. This was very hard on my children, as it forced us to limit their culinary experience. We were forced to bypass the many restaurants and bakeries - really the majority of food establishments that we encountered on our many walks throughout Jerusalem. Luckily, I'm a member of an Israeli food allergy Facebook group and I received several recommendations for yummy allergy-safe restaurants, which helped out tremendously.
Still, our two-week experience in Israel was eye opening. It made us understand how far we've come in the United States and how very lucky my family is to be living with food allergies in America in 2016 as opposed to 1996 or even 2006. It helped me understand what food allergy families in Israel are really going through - I imagine similar to what many families went through ten and twenty years ago here in the United States. I really can't imagine how they did it back then in America and how they do it now in Israel. What is it like to send your kids to school without the support systems and awareness that we have today in the United States? What is it like to walk into a restaurant, explain the food allergies that your child has, and not really know at the end of the day if you can trust the people making your kid’s food?
I did have the chance to spend a significant amount of time with local food allergy families, and I give them a lot of credit for persevering and surviving. I got a better appreciation of the daily difficulties and stress that Israeli families go through to make sure that their children are safe. I can't imagine how hard it must be when there’s an emergency... how are anaphylactic reactions handled in a community that doesn't really appreciate or understand the severity of the problem and how dangerous they could be? Do first-responders and emergency room personnel know what to do when there is an emergency? This would keep me up at night if i were living in Israel!
Thankfully, our trip was pretty stress-free and a lot of fun. We had a fantastic time in Israel overall it was a wonderful experience and beautiful country to visit. Our trip home on El Al was as anticlimactic and uneventful as our flight to Israel, and we arrived home in the United States without incident.
Although Israel may be 10 years behind in terms of awareness to where we are here in the United States, I hope that it doesn't take them 10 years to catch up and that the food allergy community in Israel is successful in their efforts and struggles to unite and build awareness very quickly.
I’d love your thoughts and comments! Have you visited Israel with your food allergy kids? What was your experience like?
Are you a food allergy family living in Israel? Are my impressions correct? What can be done to build awareness?