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April 8, 2014 8:48 pm

Lihi Lapid on Jewish Feminism, Biblical Women and Israel’s Special Needs Community (INTERVIEW)

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Lihi Lapid. Photo: Elinor Milchan.

While the wives of most of Israel’s senior ministers are hardly mainstays in the country’s public discourse, Lihi Lapid, wife of the Jewish state’s finance minister, is an exception. Perhaps surprising for someone who actively champions a particular brand of feminism, or post-feminism, that celebrates imperfection.

“My goal in life is that women would stop trying to be so perfect,” she said simply, in a recent interview with The Algemeiner.

Lapid, an accomplished author, columnist and photographer, said that her theories are inspired by Jewish tradition and biblical characters, and have been proven in practice by women in modern Israeli society and those who helped found the state of Israel.

“Women did it. The feminist revolution succeeded, we can live lives which are radically different from our mothers’ and grandmothers’ lives,” reads an introduction to her latest book, Woman of Valor.

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The struggle for many women today, she said, is that they “need to be perfect at home, at work, the way they look, as mothers, as daughters and girlfriends.” On the other hand, men only “need to be perfect at work. It’s not a big thing.”

Instead of giving up on one responsibility or another, the solution, she says, is for women to embrace all of their roles but to accept “that it’s okay if I won’t be the best mother” and “It’s okay if I won’t be the best-selling author in the world.” It’s a message that many women feel relieved to hear, she said, not least in the weeks leading up to Pesach.

“It’s a very Jewish thing,” Lapid explained. “I think Judaism talks about the strong Jewish mother that has a say in the house and has a say sometimes out of the house.”

Lapid also pointed to biblical models of leadership and the often flawed characters portrayed in scripture.

“[Martiarch] Sarah… she was envious… Miriam… was very, very strong and wanted to lead… We usually talk about the men, but the Biblical characters of the Jewish women are fascinating, really fascinating,” she said. “There were both sides — definitely not perfect and definitely not just standing on the side.”

As a self-proclaimed modern secular Israeli, Lapid believes that Israeli women often serve as the living embodiment of her doctrine.

“Israel is a country where everything is always very stressful… so we never get to be perfect and complete with everything in order, so we don’t expect it anymore.”

Lapid asserts that the unique journeys and experiences of the Jewish state’s founding ladies bear practical pointers for the feminist movement.

“I do think that the establishment of Israel was men and women together,” she said. “You know, if you read about the kibbutz… the women fought and did agriculture and worked in the fields and did everything with the men. So in a way we grew up with grandmothers that… started this country.”

While Lapid has maintained a public profile for some time, writing a regular column for one of Israel’s largest dailies Yediot Ahronot, she conceded that her new profile as the wife of one of the country’s most influential political leaders has imbued her with an enhanced sense of responsibility.

It also means her message has greater resonance.

Lihi Lapid. Photo: Avi Valdman.

When “I stand on stage and I say it’s okay not to be perfect and they know… what I’m dealing with in life, with the politics and everything, and when I say, ‘I’m sorry my house is not always spotlessly clean'” the impact on people is greater.

Lapid’s other passion is to serve as an advocate for the special needs community, a cause she adopted soon after her daughter, now 17, was diagnosed with autism.

It took some time for her to fully adopt the calling.

“We waited a while to see if… we could ask her permission,” Lapid said of her daughter. “But we didn’t get to the point where she understands enough to answer.”

Speaking at a recent Hebrew University of Jerusalem conference, Lapid credited her daughter with helping her become the person she is today.

“I don’t know who I am without her,” she said. “I don’t know what kind of person I am. I definitely don’t know what kind of adult I am. She made me the person I am.”

In her role as political wife, a position she said she is “still studying,” Lapid said she feels “that I have an obligation to my community, which is the community of parents of kids with special needs.”

“I don’t feel that I cannot talk about it if I’m invited to,” she said. “Maybe two years ago or even a year ago I could say I don’t feel like it, you know, it’s my personal life and I don’t have to talk about it.”

“I think this year was the first year that I really stood on stage talking about being the mother of an autistic kid.”

Is she surprised to find herself as the first lady of Israel’s second largest political party? “I’m not so sure,” she said. Her husband “even talked about it a few years ago.  He said, ‘If I won’t have a choice… and there will be a need, so I will go.'”

Lapid, it seems, has adopted a similar attitude.

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