“Come sit with Marian Tompson, Founder Mother of La Leche League.” Photo courtesy Hannah Katsman

Marian Tompson, Evanston, Illinois, USA
Hannah Katsman, Petach Tikva, Israel

In May this year, I visited Israel after being invited by La Leche League (LLL) Israel to speak at their Mothers’ Conference and Leader Day. I wondered if any of the Leaders I met during my first and only visit there 37 years earlier were still around. That trip was made to participate in the Israeli Pediatric Society’s International Symposium on Breastfeeding in Tel Aviv. You might have heard me tell of the third day of the Symposium when after two days highlighting the latest breastfeeding research,  Leaders were invited to a day of talks on making breastfeeding happen. But the organizers didn’t realize that many of these women would be bringing babies with them. In the middle of the morning, the mothers were told to put their babies in a room on the third floor with a sitter to watch them while they sat in the auditorium to listen to the talks. Luckily my talk was next so I was able to point out how such an offer could only be made in a bottle-feeding culture and asked for the doctors’ understanding of the situation, and that the babies be allowed to stay with their mothers. It was a perfect example of health professionals supporting the value of breastfeeding but not understanding it—a common problem in those days.

My daughter Melanie and I arrived in Israel on May 11th. One of the surprise perks of getting old has been the offer to cover the expenses for a traveling companion on my international trips this past year. Having a daughter along has been heavenly for both of us.

Edie Boxman picked us up at the airport and whisked us off to her home in Tel Aviv where we had a delicious meal with vegetables and fruit grown in Edie and Ray’s amazing backyard. After dinner, a reporter from a major Israeli women’s magazine, LaIsha, did an interview with me over the phone.

The next day Melanie and I were driven to the LLL Israel Annual Mothers’ Conference where I had been asked to talk about LLL and how we grew. My special memory from that day was the sofa in the hallway with a large sign overhead, in Hebrew and English that said, “Come sit with Marian Tompson, Founder Mother of La Leche League.” And that’s what I did! After my talk I sat with Leaders, Applicants and mothers for the rest of the day. What a gift it was to have the time to listen and talk with so many!

During the next few days we stayed at a guest house, where we were able to relax and “catch up” with Donna Ron and her entire family including her children, their spouses and her grandchildren. Donna and I “met” by postal mail 30 or more years ago when she applied to become a Leader and I was temporarily helping out with the Leader Applicant Department which was renamed “Leader Accreditation Department” in 1990. She became a change maker on the kibbutz where mothers were encouraged to breastfeed but they were also expected to leave their babies during the day in a house to be cared for by the grandmothers, while the mothers worked on kibbutz projects.

Another night we stayed at the home of Efi Nevo Cohen, the Conference Coordinator and former Area Coordinator of Leaders (ACL). Efi is the mother of nine children ranging from mid-20s to three-year-old twins. We also had time for some sightseeing. Edie Boxman and her husband Ray took us to Meggido (Armageddon) for a fascinating look into the past history of the region. One day was devoted to visiting the Old City in Jerusalem with current ACL Hannah Katsman and Fayga Tavens, an LLL Leader. Fayga lives in the Old City and was a personal tour guide par excellence!

Our last day in Israel was spent at the first of the Leader Days held at Kibbutz Hafetz Haim. New Leaders were welcomed with certificates and alumnae were recognized. There was also a presentation of the history of LLL Israel. My talk, “Surprises Along the Way,” covered many of the situations which affect breastfeeding, like childbirth, mother-baby separation, or the effects of medication that LLL has had to deal with and how breastfeeding with support changed the way mothers parented their children. I shared a recent study from the University of Notre Dame titled “Extravagant Affection in Infancy Leads to Healthier, Happier, More Relational & Moral Adults.” How nice to have research back up what we have known in our hearts all along.

My second talk included situations like relactation, mixing causes, the uses of social media, the first Braille copy of the The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, LLLI Board committees, and the transgender Leader. Topics presented by Leaders included, When Supplementing Is Necessary; Mothering the Leader, LLL Style; and an introduction from an Arabic-speaking mother active in LLL Israel, to learn how she provides support within the Arabic-speaking community in Israel..

Instead of gathering in an auditorium-type setting as took place at the conference, this meeting was in a large room with chairs arranged in a U-shape and mattresses on the floor in the middle for tired toddlers. What a great idea! I must admit by that time with no naps on my schedule, those mattresses looked very inviting.

Also new to me were the notebooks given to each Leader in attendance. Each Leader’s name was on the cover. Notebooks were set out, easily accessible, providing an opportunity for anyone present to write a personal note on the Leader’s notebook.

There were a goodly number of the “old time” alumnae I met on that first trip present, and at every opportunity we reminisced about our gatherings during a very different time. We were amazed at how fresh our memories were and so excited to be together again. Now the connection continues for many of us through Facebook.

As you can gather, it was a wonderful trip. I haven’t even mentioned the babies, and the toddler who stood next to me on the platform and held on to my leg while I spoke. It’s always interesting to see how LLL was birthed in a country as you celebrate all it has since accomplished!

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Marian and her daughter Melanie, at the Cardo in Jerusalem’s Old City. Credit: Hannah Katsman

Hannah Katsman adds:

I had the privilege of accompanying Marian and her daughter for part of their visit to Israel. Marian, of course, charmed everyone we met. Her daughter Melanie shared what life was like for her and the other “founder babies” growing up in the shadow of LLL’s social revolution. We in Israel were in awe as Marian sat in her special seat under the sign for several hours, sharing words of encouragement and empathy with each mother and grandmother who approached. Despite all of the attention and accolades, she has kept her perspective. At the Leader’s Retreat, Marian replied to a Leader’s thanks saying, “It’s all because of you. If it weren’t for you and the other Leaders and mothers, I would be standing here by myself.” We look forward to having Marian inspire us for many more years.

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Marian, Melanie, and Hannah at the Cardo in Jerusalem’s Old City. Credit: Fayga Tavens

Marian Tompson is one of the Founders of La Leche League International. Wife of the late Clement Tompson, she is the mother of seven children, grandmother of 17 and great grandmother of 14 and lives in Evanston, Illinois, USA. Marian was the first editor of the LLL newsletter, now known as Breastfeeding Today. She started the Center for Breastfeeding Information and founded AnotherLook, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to gathering information and stimulating research about breastfeeding in the context of HIV/AIDS. Marian serves on the International Advisory Council for WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action) and the LLLI Board of Directors and continues to speak at conferences around the world. Her memoir, Passionate Journey: My Unexpected Life, was published by Hale Publishing in 2011.
Hannah Katsman is a mother of six and is the outgoing 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.