Dear Rabbi Ross. My name is (Redacted) and I feel like a bad kid. Here’s why. I love peanut butter. Chunky and plain. My parents used to always give it to me for lunch and snacks when I was a little boy. Now I’m in 7th grade and I still can’t have it in school since the school is nut free. What’s next not having meat? Why can’t the boys with allergies go into one class for their grade, and the other classes can have nuts? I know I sound mean, but I’m just frustrated. (Redacted)
I don’t think you’re a bad or mean person. I think you are a bit confused about what allergies are, but that’s understandable. We spend a lot of time educating adults about the dangers of certain foods, but children are just told they can’t have them. I’ll try and make it clearer for you.
Let’s start with the difference between allergies and dietary habits. You mentioned not having meat, and there are people who are vegetarians and therefore don’t eat meat. There are also people who are vegan which means that they don’t eat meat or animal products including eggs, milk and so on. Those people made a decision to change their dietary choices, and we respect their decision. We are not obligated to hide the fact that we eat meat, nor do we have to stop eating meat (or eggs) in front of them.
Allergies are a completely different ballgame. Nobody chooses to have an allergy, and it’s a life-changing event. I know some children who have such severe allergies that if they even smell peanuts, they can become seriously ill. These kids are unable to attend any events that might have nut products present and need to carry an EpiPen with them at all times.
An EpiPen is a special shot that can save the life of someone having an allergic reaction. This reaction can be from a bee sting, eating certain types of fish or even smelling a peanut, depending on what the person is allergic to. During this allergic reaction, the person’s throat can swell up so badly that they will be unable to breathe. The EpiPen reverses the allergic reaction, giving enough time for this person to get to a doctor or hospital.
The obvious question is, which children get allergies? Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer to that. Scientists and doctors have been testing theories for a long time, but as of now, it’s still unknown. In other words, it could be a neighbor, a relative or a close friend. It’s absolutely terrifying to have an allergic reaction, not only for the person having the reaction, but even for the people watching. There was one time that I had to inject a boy with an EpiPen, and it was not a pleasant experience.
What does this have to do with you? Well, there are even adults that have asked this question. “Why do I have to stop eating peanuts in front of the other people? Let them go somewhere else!”
The answer is, that allergies affect all of us. We’re one nation, and when we stick together we bring Moshiach closer, which is our ultimate goal. Sticking together means more than just wishing each other “Good Shabbos”, it means actually taking care of one another. If your best friend was unable to be in a room with peanuts, would you stop being his friend? Of course not! You would learn to adapt. Not only that, you would make sure that no one else is eating peanuts around him.
We have an obligation to be sensitive to the needs of other people. Instead of thinking about the fact that you are being inconvenienced by not being allowed a PB&J sandwich in Yeshiva, you should be focusing on the fact that these boys are never allowed to have one. You need to understand that when you want to go to a ballgame, you just go. Many of these children cannot go to a game. They can’t go to concerts or even some amusement parks. They have it much harder than you!
What if no one in your class is allergic, but the school has a “No nuts” policy? Can you bring in nuts? The answer is still, “No”! We don’t want to risk a different child’s health (or life C”V), so a different child can have a chocolate bar with nuts. I once had a parent ask me, “What are the odds that a child will get hurt if my son eats a PB&J sandwich?” I told him, “There are no acceptable odds when we’re talking about someone getting hurt.”
It’s completely normal for you to be frustrated that you can’t have the foods that you enjoy in Yeshiva. However, you need to keep things in perspective. You can go home and have these foods, the boys that are allergic can’t. Focusing on the feelings of your friends is a great way to improve your own Middos.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.