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Deb Reich: No More Enemies #6

Deb Reich
November 14, 2012

Breastfeeding without Borders

by Deb Reich
In 1987, just after my son Amos was born, when I was married and living in Karkur about fifteen minutes down the road from Wadi Ara, I went back to the old neighborhood for a visit. We were only recently returned from a couple of years overseas and I had somewhat lost touch with my Wadi Ara connections, but I wanted to take my baby son to meet the family there. The reunion was very warm, with a lot of excitement, hugging and kissing, and admiring of one another’s children and how they’d grown. Faiza, her cousin’s wife Rasha from next door, and several other neighbor women oo’ed and ah’ed at my infant’s undeniable charms: blond hair, dark eyes, a plump and happy baby.
I sat around with the women and we exchanged stories for a while, and when Amos started fussing, they all wanted to watch while I nursed him. It felt weird: like, let’s see how the Jewish woman does it. I hesitated. I was not yet adept at this game and the baby did not always latch on properly right away; to minimize distractions, I usually nursed him in a very quiet and private space. Then I thought — well, why not! I had often seen this same sort of innocent curiosity in Jews who came to Wadi Ara and met Palestinian Arabs for the first time: What do they eat? How do they eat it? What kind of towels do they hang in their bathrooms? I suppose that, when Palestinians who visit Jews infrequently come to a Jewish home, they must feel much the same curiosity; it’s only natural. Today it was: Hmmm… does this Jewish woman nurse her baby the way we nurse ours? So although I felt a bit vulnerable, I hiked up my shirt and undid my bra and nursed Amos right there in Faiza’s living room, surrounded by several interested breastfeeding veterans.
They all wanted to share their best advice about the most effective way to hold the breast, position the baby, angle the nipple – the works. Mothers all, most with several children, they were sure they knew more about this business than I did. They were probably right. I was busy trying out the new angles for a considerable time afterwards.

Deb Reich is an American-Israeli Jew who lived for several years in Muslim Arab Palestinian communities in Israel. She trained in cross-cultural mediation and group facilitation at Wahat al Salam-Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace), the shared Jewish/Arab village near Latrun founded in the 1970s. Deb has freelanced widely for civil society organizations in Israel, and was a staff translator with Haaretz-International Herald Tribune. When her book No More Enemies was published (2011), Deb was living in Jerusalem/Al Quds.