Lihi Lapid can pinpoint the exact moment she realized that her life had changed. It was a year ago, on the morning after the general elections in Israel. Her husband, Yair Lapid, a former television host, had just secured an upset victory, with his centrist Yesh Atid list becoming the second-largest party in the country. “It’s 7:07, and I need to send the kids to school,” Lihi Lapid recalled the other day, on a visit to New York. So, without thinking, she threw on a sweater over her pajamas and headed out the door—straight into an onslaught of paparazzi. That’s when she decided to change one thing about her new life: “I went and I bought a decent pajama.”
These days, Lapid, who is 46, cuts a striking figure, with long dark hair and steel blue eyes. Her husband is now Israel’s finance minister; she still writes a popular column in the the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that mixes recipes with romantic and family-related anecdotes. She was in the U.S. to promote her newly translated book, Woman of Valor, a semi-autobiographical novel that details, among other things, the struggles she and her husband—who’s referred to in the book solely as “my man”—suffered when their young daughter was diagnosed with autism. Her tour included a talk at an apartment in SoHo hosted by a board member of the American Friends of Yesh Atid, a New Jersey-based nonprofit dedicated to help the nascent Israeli party “generate dialogue, unity and mutual respect among different Jewish groups.”
“Don’t ask her about politics,” a visitor was warned upon entering the spacious apartment, which had been piled high with fresh roses and macaroons. Some 30 women—and three men—took their seats. Sheets of rain were pouring down outside. The topic of conversation was “the plight of the modern woman.” Lapid came prepared. “One day, I understood the conflict in me,” she told the audience, smiling, her English a staccato of Hebrew sounds. “I was standing and making sufganiyot, donuts for Hanukkah.” The holiday that year happened to coincide with New Year’s Eve, she said, and as she was frying the dough, “I was thinking what will I wear in the evening.”
She went on: “I realized I have two women living inside of me. One is the donut from Hanukkah, and the other is the champagne from New Year’s. The champagne wants to party all night and the donut needs to wake up tomorrow for the kids. The donut wants the kids to eat only food that she made. And the champagne stopped on the way and bought cold pizza, because she didn’t have time.”
It was a story typical of the “plight” that Lapid envisions and the sort of feminism she espouses—unobtrusive, self-deprecating, noncommittal. (“I don’t burn my bras because I know how much they cost,” she later quipped). She peppered her talk with vague, digressive references to Little Women, Sex and the City, Virginia Woolf, and an Argentinian telenovela that had once been hugely popular in Israel. She also gave tips for men on how to “understand” women—“No. 4: You don’t like surprises; we love them!”—and proffered her feel-good philosophy on life. “The now is very important.” “This moment can be good.” “Happiness is something that glitters for a moment.” The audience—mostly Israeli and American women in their twenties and thirties—was rapt.
“I think all of us are feminists,” Lapid said, as the evening was winding down. She seemed triumphant. Her message, though—such as it was—perhaps did not have the desired effect. “Lihi!” an older woman called out when it was time for questions. “Can we get the recipe for those Hanukkah donuts?”
Ruth Margalit is an Israeli writer living in New York. She is on the editorial staff ofThe New Yorker. Her Twitter feed is @ruthmargalit.