Yair and Lihi Lapid are, in the eyes of many, Israel’s most glamorous couple. And, with Yair Lapid’s recent rise to prominence as Finance Minister in Israel’s coalition — the most powerful.
The one downside is that, now he is a political insider, his popularity is not what it was in his former life as an actor, playwright and celebrity writer.
Lihi Lapid, herself a prominent newspaper columnist, was in London last week to deliver the inaugural Annual Spiro Lecture at JW3. And in a frank and wide-ranging interview, she told us her friends warned her against marrying Yair.
“They told me that I was crazy and stupid, that he’s not a serious guy,” she says. “He was already divorced and with a child from his previous marriage. But I was in love of course. I thought he was the best guy ever. I told all my friends: ‘Let’s see in 20 years, you will see, he will be a great husband’.”
Even so, the transition to married life and parenthood was far from easy — something explored in detail in her newly translated book, Woman of Valour, which she is now promoting in both the UK and the US.
“Women were meant to be princesses,” she says. “If you look at little girls today, they are raised to be princesses with a ‘palace’ and everything is pink and shiny.
“Then we become 18 and realise that all our lives we were told lies because we are not princesses and won’t be able to get everything. I think women are experiencing the breakdown of their dreams in a much harder way than men. Work is difficult and love is difficult… at a certain point, women crash into a wall. So, when we are sad, that’s why we are sad.”
The Lapids met while they were working for the IDF weekly, Bemachne, a highly sought after posting for many young recruits. Yair was one of the magazine’s military correspondents while Lihi worked as a photographer.
Yair composed a love song for her that was recorded by the girl band Mango and became a huge hit in Israel.
Once Lihi completed her army service, she became a freelance photographer for Haaretz. Then the writing took over and, to date, she has written 11 books including Woman of Valour and spent seven years as a regular columnist for Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s most popular daily newspaper.
The experience of raising two children, including a daughter who is autistic, was one of the reasons, Lihi says, why she took a new interest in feminism, and what she sees as the failure of feminist theory to address the practicalities of modern motherhood. Women, she argues, need to step back from the impossible standards they set for themselves, particularly in balancing work and family life.
Instead, she believes that women should accept that life is imperfect and communicate their feelings more effectively to their partners. This is a philosophy she encapsulates in a book, soon to be published in English: I can’t always be wonderful.
So, how does she cope with being in the limelight? Since her husband has entered the political fray, media interest in her family has, as she puts it, “exploded… I didn’t think the change would be that big, but I was wrong. Now I need to watch my words a lot more than I used to. But that’s life and we have to be strong. As a family, we really believe in what Yair is doing”.
Asked if she sympathises with Sara Netanyahu over her negative press coverage, she describes it as “heartbreaking” .
She is much keener to discuss aspects of her husband’s political career, citing his appointment of a director-general for the finance ministry when, after reviewing candidates, he asked his advisers if he had seen the best people.
“They said there was one extra person he hadn’t interviewed yet, but she was seven months pregnant.
“He hired that woman anyway,” she says, “because she was the best. She worked for a month and a half, gave birth, went for three months vacation, and now she’s back doing an amazing job. These are the things which change everything.
“It’s our era — the era of women,” she says. “It all starts now.”
The Annual Spiro Lecture is supported by the Pears Institute