LLL Israel

Hannah Katsman, Petach Tikva, Israel

LLL thriving in Israel!

Just two or three years ago, we thought that LLL Groups in Israel were dying. One of our Leaders said “moms don’t bother to leave the house anymore. We should focus our efforts elsewhere.” But we have seen a revival. Of 23 Groups, many are now thriving, and a number of them have 15–20 mothers at each meeting.

Secrets of our success

We think the secrets to our success include the following:

1. Social media

LLL Israel has a countrywide Facebook group (over 12,000 members) and we actively promote the Groups, inviting mothers who have been to a meeting to share their experiences. One of our Leaders posts the upcoming meetings every week on our Facebook group and page, and on our website help forum.

2. Leader support

Most of our Leaders report on their meetings directly to all Leaders through our Yahoo email group. Previously our Leaders had not been sending in meeting reports very often. Through the Yahoo list Leaders get encouragement, ideas, and support from other Leaders.

3. Two meetings every month

Several of the Leaders decided to hold meetings twice a month. Some of our Leaders are lone Leaders, some have co-Leaders, and some alternate Leaders each meeting. Most of our Group meetings are on weekday mornings, so having meetings every two weeks means that mothers are more likely to get to two or three meetings before returning to work. In Israel mothers have 26 weeks of maternity leave, with 14 of those weeks paid.

5. New Groups to meet demand

The mothers in an isolated area complained about not having an LLL Group. So we organized a way to send one or two Leaders each month to the city of Beersheva (a one to two-hour drive for most Leaders). Twenty-eight mothers came to the first meeting and there is already one Leader Applicant!

6. Our own meeting format

Most Groups here don’t follow the Series Meeting format and only a few Groups announce a topic or plan a topic in advance.

An invitation to the Israeli Parliament

La Leche League went to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament)!  We were invited by Dr. Aliza Lavie, a Knesset member and head of the Committee to Advance the Status of Women. The committee held a special session, “Protest on behalf of breastfeeding in public: Breastfeeding is not a dirty word.”

The background for the session was an incident involving a woman visiting a local mall with her two young children. After she began breastfeeding, the mall manager approached her accompanied by a security guard. The manager told the mother she could not breastfeed there, and that she should go to the breastfeeding room. The mother tried to explain that the room was small and stifling and on a different floor. But the manager insisted, so the mother decided to leave the mall. She felt humiliated. There have been several similar incidents, some of which made the press.

As a result of this, two women, Ivana Sela and Tammar Neeman-Golan, decided to take action. They asked people to change their Facebook profile pictures to a breastfeeding picture, whether of themselves, someone else, or a piece of art, for a week in November 2013. Secondly, they planned “nurse-ins” in malls throughout the country for December 24. This attracted a lot of attention in both social media and the news.

LLL Israel did not officially endorse the protest, but many Leaders took part or promoted the event.

Special session of parliament

Lavie’s office invited representatives of LLL Israel, the Israeli Association of Certified Lactation Consultants (IACLC), the organizers of the protest, representatives of women’s organizations, and the Health Ministry to attend the special session. The women’s organizations did not send anyone. In the past, breastfeeding legislation has been opposed by these organizations, presumably because they see breastfeeding as conflicting with women’s employment opportunities.

Dr. Lavie opens each session of her committee by highlighting a female pioneer in the topic under discussion. The day before the session, her aide asked Ivana Sela, an organizer of the protest, if she knew of a suitable candidate. Since Sela has no children and is not familiar with the history of breastfeeding support, she asked me for a suggestion. Naturally I thought of the co-Founders of La Leche League, and Sela agreed it was a wonderful idea.

While I was on my way to the Knesset in Jerusalem, Lavie’s aide called to ask me to open the session! Efrat Feldman, a Leader from Givat Shmuel, who also came to the discussion, pointed out that if the co-Founders had chosen not to nurse in public at the church picnic in 1956, La Leche League might never have gotten off the ground. I mentioned that in the introduction.

When  Lavie introduced me, she mentioned that she herself had benefited from the support of LLL.

Israel has no laws relating to public breastfeeding. A survey presented by a health ministry representative showed that in some sectors, a majority of Israelis are uncomfortable around breastfeeding. Most women report that they have never been challenged for breastfeeding in public. Yet it only takes one or two publicized instances for mothers to be concerned about harassment when they breastfeed in public.

We hope that LLL participation in this session will help ensure that breastfeeding in Israel will be protected by public policies.

Proposals from the session

Ideas proposed included a law prohibiting discrimination against breastfeeding women, and a requirement for new public buildings to include a breastfeeding room. Lavie was extremely supportive, promising that her committee would start work on these proposals. She invited Yael Broida, a researcher who wrote her doctorate on legal aspects of breastfeeding in public, to join her committee. Another Knesset member has already proposed an addendum to an existing law prohibiting sex discrimination that would also protect breastfeeding mothers from harassment and discrimination.

LLL Israel and IACLC submitted a joint position paper that was printed out and distributed to the participants.

Lavie, a professor of women’s studies, encouraged anyone who had experienced discrimination or poor treatment as a breastfeeding mother to report it to her committee’s office. She has written a book, a collection of Jewish prayers written by women, and read aloud a 1786 prayer by a pregnant Italian woman, who asked that she have enough milk to raise her child to adulthood.

Pleasantly surprised

We were pleasantly surprised by the reception LLL received at this session. It is wonderful when LLL gets public recognition for the work we do that touches the lives of so many mothers and babies. We hope that LLL participation in this session will help ensure that breastfeeding in Israel will be protected by public policies.

Hannah Katsman is a mother of six and currently serves as Area Coordinator of Leaders for LLL Israel. She lives in Petach Tikva, Israel, and is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice. She blogs at: A Mother in Israel and Cooking Manager.