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Using Human Relations Enrichment (HRE) In Hebrew?

Devorah Schesh-Wernick
Elkana, Israel
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 5, October-November 1998, p. 97

When HRE came to Israel many felt that it simply would never work. Israeli people do not show inner feelings often. Israelis are like the fruit of the cactus whose tough, prickly skin bides the soft, sweet feelings inside.

In some cultures it is easy to encourage mothers to open up, but Israelis tend to hide their feelings. Most Israeli mothers who call Leaders only ask for breastfeeding information. They want to know the details of "how to do it." They don't want to discuss their problems and, in general, they do not open up on their own. They don't seek empathy.

Besides this cultural trait, there are language difficulties. Many Israeli Leaders believed that HRE phrases such as '"You feel..." and "You feel...because..." would translate poorly. If "You feel...because..." sounded stilted in English, it definitely would sound so in Hebrew which contains few feeling phrases. When I trained to be an HRE Instructor, although I felt clumsy and awkward using the skills, I practiced over and over until I made the language a part of me. I wrote letters to my brothers that my husband, who had attended an HRE series and who had read most of the materials, said came right out of People Skills by Robert Bolton. I was so relieved that my brothers had not read those books!

Boy, did I sound funny the first few times I tried using the phrases in Hebrew! I kept a chart of Hebrew feeling words right next to my list of Hebrew breastfeeding terms. I used these during telephone helping calls. Panic set in when I could not think of the feeling word that expressed the deep emotion I heard in the voice of the mother calling.

Today, I cannot help - either on the phone or in person - without using these skills. I find it takes little effort to help mothers express their feelings. Maybe those mothering hormones help. Their feelings surface easily. Many times, both the mother and I cry together with frustration over the misinformation that caused her breastfeeding problems.

When the call is simply a request for information, I always end by asking the question, "How does this all sound to you?" This assures me that I have answered all of the mother's questions and helps me check to see if she seems overwhelmed or confused by what I have said.

I got a call last week from "Amit," a mother of a five-month-old baby. It went something like this:

"Are you the person who will give me information about breastfeeding?"


"I got your name and number out of a book on breastfeeding."


"I am the mother of a five-month-old baby whom I have been nursing exclusively. I went to the Tipah Halav clinic and my son only gained 20 grams (.7 ounces) in 2 weeks." I could hear the tension in Amit's voice as she continued. "The nurse told me that I must supplement with bottles. I started immediately."

"Ohhhh," I said, trying hard to maintain a neutral tone. "When did you start with the bottles?"

"I started yesterday. I gave my son four bottles yesterday and four bottles today. I guess it is OK. I am returning to work when he is six months old and I will have to use bottles," she sighed.

"Hmm. Until two weeks ago, how was your son gaining?"

"Oh yes, he was doing just fine."

"Sounds like the visit to your Tipah Halav nurse really panicked you. You thought everything was going really well."

"Yes," responded Amit, clearly emotionally upset. "I have to return to work in three weeks. I am returning full-time. My mother is going to watch my son."

At this point, an open-ended question such as, "Can you tell me more about your work situation?" could have been used; however, being familiar with most work situations in Israel, I chose to find out what flexibility was possible with the mother's job by asking specific questions.

"Are you going to work close to home?"

"Yes, I have to commute only 15 minutes."

"Do you think you could go home on a break?"

"No I work for the Army." Career soldiers in Israel work a 40-hour week. Job flexibility is unheard of. It was very courageous for this mother to take off an extra three months.

"Hm! That took courage to ask for more time off."

"I am so happy that I did it."

"It seems like you have been enjoying this nursing relationship. You really want to continue to do this with your son when you return home at night."

"Yes," she replied with an apprehensive tone in her voice.

"You were upset to see that your five-month-old son hardly gained during his last two weeks. On top of this, it sounds like you are anxious about being able to continue to nurse with the bottles of formula that you must give now."

"Yes," she began to sob. "I just don't think that my son will continue to take from me."

"Amit, you said that your son was gaining nicely two weeks ago..."

I continued with information about periods of time when babies need more breastfeeding. After talking with the mother further, I learned that during the last two weeks she had been using a pacifier more and that the baby had been requesting to nurse less. She revealed this when I asked if she had been doing things differently these last weeks. I gave her further information on increasing her milk supply as well as working and breastfeeding. And, I encouraged her to attend LLL meetings.

"Amit, how does this all sound to you?"

"Hmmm." she replied thoughtfully. "I think some of these things could work."

"You sound calmer."


I ended with a mazal tov on the birth of her child and a wish for things to go well.

Not all my conversations go like this. Sometimes I focus on too much information. Sometimes I forget to pick up on the mother's emotions. If I am in mid- conversation and I realize that I have not been listening carefully, I ask, "How does this all seem to you?" This usually lets me refocus on the mother and understand her feelings.

Sometimes I realize that I do not have the emotional energy to listen. When this happens, I either give the mother the option of calling me later or speaking with another Leader. When I do use HRE, the positive response that I receive gives me the energy to try to do it again.

I have found that HRE does work in Hebrew. It has its own word patterns. Once learned, it gets easier and easier and is very rewarding. Constant use is improving my skills. Feedback from mothers gives me the incentive to continue my practice. I have found that it is not so hard to help Israeli mothers open up and express their feelings. Perhaps it is because I ask them about their feelings. I give them a chance to recognize them, to talk about them and to get them out in the open. All good Leaders do this, whatever their language.

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