All the Ways Being Celiac Affects My Jewish Practice
Being Celiac and an observant Jew is by far not the easiest thing in the world.
When you get the diagnosis after months of being sick, years of unclear stomach pains, and hundreds of doctors appointments, the last thing you think is: SHIT! How will this effect my Judaism??
Well, shortly after (probably the first Friday night after) it hits… Suddenly you realize you will never eat freely at a Shabbat dinner again. You will never be able to eat your Bubby’s famous Matzah Ball Soup. YOU CAN’T EAT BAGELS AT SHUL ANYMORE! (I’m being a bit dramatic but this was a really emotional thing for me at the time.)
One thing that I have learned from my Celiac diagnosis is how much of Jewish communal life is centered around food; Shabbat, Weddings, Sheva brachot, Purim, Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, Tu B’shevat, Pesach, a bris, etc. We are raised by our Jewish grandmothers to never have a friend over without offering them some nosh, we always know where the closest deli is, and baking is our love language. Suddenly, I felt so cut off from this huge part of my culture and my religion. It took years of not washing at Shabbat dinners, of being worried about attending simchas, and avoiding any sort of challah bake to finally decide not to let my autoimmune disease control my Jewish life.
Six years later, I’ve sorta figured out how to navigate communal Jewish life but it’s been difficult.
- Shabbat dinners are hard AF.
Now, not only do I need to worry about who I’m eating by on Shabbat but also will there be food for me? Do I have challah to bring? How do I ask a new person to be accommodating of my allergies? Can I be someone’s plus one? Are my needs too annoying to host?
The answer is no, my needs are not to annoying. Yes, I can be someone’s plus one and yes there will be food (usually.) For the first few years I felt left out when everyone got up to wash. I learned to joke about it and talk once everyone else had washed but it definitely wasn’t easy. I’ve now learned to make challah (I love my recipe and you can find it here) and I never show up to a meal without it.
Being unable to participate in Jewish ritual can be lonely but once you find your groove it gets easier.
2. Don’t expect to eat at Kiddush.
You know that post davening hunger? It’s different than most hungers, its more of an “It’s going to be an hour before we sit down for lunch and I NEED some kugel” kind of hunger. Well, when you’re celiac, its often a hunger that stays, the entire hour, until you finally sit down for lunch and can eat exactly one thing that is gluten free at lunch. It definitely allows for more time scoping out the new cutie with the cool kippa because you aren’t busy elbowing your way towards the cookies.
It’s okay Bubby, I still love you. Even if I have to explain that I am not allergic to rice but I am allergic to your matzo balls literally 5 times a day. I still love you. No, your cooking isn’t bad. I love your cooking, I just really really can’t even have one little bite. Yes, Bubby, even one crumb will make me sick. No, I am not making it up. Yes, I will still find a husband.
3. Your Bubby/ Savta probably won’t get it.
4. You have to learn how to prepare for fast days.
It’s not so easy to find things that will keep you full for a 25 hour fast when you can’t have bagels, or pita, or bourekas or any of the million other gluten filled things that are typically served at a pre-fast meal. But, if you fill up on beans, rice, and other nutrient dense foods you will be just fine!
6. Pesach isn’t as easy as you might assume.
Everyone always freaks out for Pesach because “the whole (Jewish) world is finally gluten free” but I hate to break it to you, that isn’t 100% true. Matzah itself has gluten in it and thus restaurants and meals are not automatically safe. Be careful to read product labels, check with the chef, and make sure you buy the right matzoh meal.
For all the Sephardim out there, I feel for you with mimuna. Hoping one day to finally experience it when I find a celiac friendly sephardi house hold to go celebrate the end of Pesach with!
And stock up. Get all the gluten free goodies while they are available because they won’t be out for long!
7. Learning how normal people make brachot is confusing.
But everything I eat is She Hacol? What do you mean your cake is mizonot? This is so confusing! And do I say bracha achrona or can I bench?
It can be really confusing to understand the Jewish Laws around eating and blessing food right after diagnosis. Suddenly 85% of what you are eating is she hacol. If you make bread using oat flour you will be able to say hamotzi and bench at Shabbat dinner.
8. Food at summer camp just got so much worse, as if that was possible.
Just go ahead a rip up that summer staff contract right now. JOKES! I was on staff for 5 summers and I totally survived. Just be really clear with the head if the kitchen what your allergies are and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Depending on the age of your campers they may be confused but it is a great learning opportunity for them as well! Keep protein bars in your bunk for those days when the meals just weren’t enough and be sure to check with the trip head before any off site camping trips or you may find yourself without food for 3 days.