“Eight trays of pizza?” I (wryly) asked with a big grin, looking at the coffee table in Lihi Lapid’s living room, where she’d invited me for Chanukah candle lighting with the family and kids.
To be honest, Lihi and I had become acquainted via an Internet site, where we both wrote columns and had, since then, become good friends.
What’s interesting is that we come from such different worlds: She’s a mother of two, lives in Ramat Aviv, a trendy neighborhood in North Tel Aviv, and lives a secular lifestyle. I’m a mother of 11, living in Gush Etzion, a West Bank Settlement, adhering to a haredi, strictly observant Jewish lifestyle.
The clash of such different worlds could be expected to cause sparks, arguments, and even ruin a “beautiful relationship.”
But, ironically, just the opposite occurred.
We turned into very good friends, who – amazingly enough – have succeeded in keeping our differences at bay. And not by a conscious decision, but because we discovered that we had more in common than not.
Lihi Lapid, who began her career as a photographer, found herself increasingly attracted to the world of writing. Her weekly newspaper column became a hit, and was eagerly anticipated by her female readers.
She wrote about everything in a woman’s world, from kids to husbands, and feelings including pain and grief. Writing her book, at least in my opinion, was an incredibly brave statement, one that exposed a truth that must be told.
And that, as a matter of fact, is the subject of Lihi Lapid’s new book, A Woman of Valor, which has become a major bestseller here in Israel, one that cuts across the secular-religious divide.
Every woman who has read this book feels it was written about her. When I began reading it, for a moment I thought I’d written it. Which is to say, I already had the manuscript in mind, and it was as if Lihi had just hit the print button in the middle of the night to run off a copy!
It was then that I understood the success of the Hebrew version of her book, and the need to translate it into English. Lihi wrote it in the name of womankind, for womankind.
The novel alternates between the stories of two women, with the author interweaving actual letters by real women sent to her in response to her newspaper column. The two women live not so dissimilar lives: both marry, have children, and are then torn between home and career; consider separating from their husbands – until the question gradually arises in the reader’s mind whether, in fact, the novel essentially centers around just one woman.
And, inevitably, this is what Lihi succeeds in showing us: that there are no “princesses” vs “plain Janes,” no “Desperate” vs “Dirty” Housewives. All of them suffer, the “overbearing” Polish mother and the “harassed” Moroccan daughter. And then, “…And to think – after all I did for him … And after trying so hard to be good.”
They sit in solitude. In darkness. Grieving.
The point, successfully depicted, is that in reality, all women lead “regular” lives. Any woman reading the novel will discover her own experiences.
As a mother of 11, I can remember the terror that gripped me with the birth of my first child. I sat for a month after the birth, and hated my predicament; not understanding why I couldn’t express love for my newborn, and why my heart, instead of being enraptured, wept.
If I’d only known then that every new mother encounters the same feelings. But I only remember my wish to hide what I was going through.
The author, while narrating the most utterly mundane activities, nevertheless succeeds in extracting the most marvelous impressions of them.
Each chapter is introduced with a relevant Biblical verse: “Why dost thou weep, and why dost thou not eat?” for example, was said by Elkanah to his wife Chana in Shmuel Aleph.
Lapid’s book also contains sociological worth, wherein one can learn to what degree relying on “expert” opinions, and hysterical, scandalous self-referential comparisons are wrapped up in the elemental act of birth and motherhood among the Western bourgeoisie.
In the West, motherhood is “career by other means,” and, it should be pointed out, also translates as, “You mean, for this, I put on all these pounds?” meaning, “I didn’t make a child so I could be ‘average,’ but rather so I could be ‘wondrous.'”
In preparation for the English translation of A Woman of Valor, I met with Lihi. And once again, it was a get-together of “working moms.”
We had to set a date to meet, which, in my case meant that the day that worked for me turned out to be the day she had to attend an event at her son’s school. And the day that suited her, my littlest one awoke with a burning fever.
But, in the way that only us supermoms know how to schedule, we managed to meet, where else, but over lattes at a coffee shop, with me sitting across from her deep turquoise eyes and understanding gaze.
Only after I vented about my frustrating week did the actual interview begin, an interview that morphed into a deep “heart-to-heart” in which my “take-away” included recipes for life as well as for the kitchen.
Lihi, when did you discover your writing talent? For years you were a photographer.
“When I became a mother, I realized that no editor wanted a photographer who would have to nurse every four-to-five hours, and I found myself unemployed from a career that I’d devoted everything to for the previous 12 years. And I wanted to scream. To scream about what they hid from me and from all women, [telling us] that we could have it all; what they didn’t say was about the personal and emotional price we’d pay. So I wrote my scream.”
What was your goal in writing the book?
“To talk about what it means to be a mother. About the joy and the difficulty. About the difficulties in maintaining a marriage. The trials of looking at the dreams we once held warm and close, in the cold light of day. The reality that not every child is perfect, not all children have it easy, and that it’s not easy for mothers, either.
“We live in an era where we’re told we’re entitled and able to be wonderfully perfect. So we invest a lot of energy in the effort – only to find out in the end that it’s unattainable.
“At heart, my intention was for the book to help us understand that it’s ok to be a bit more forgiving towards ourselves, and to accept that not everything’s going to always come up smelling like roses.
“But to also remember, that with all of our trials and tribulations, when we smile and are happy, then we are at our most beautiful, and then everyone around us will be happy. And, in turn, we can allow ourselves to stress out a bit less.”
Did you dare imagine that the book would become a bestseller?
“I had no idea it would reach this point, and touch so many women’s hearts. I’d hoped it would be accessible to women, but had no idea it would reach so many audiences and ages, and appeal to new mothers, as well as grandmothers.”
Tell us some of the most moving responses you’ve received, as well as the angriest, and saddest.
“Inasmuch as the book focuses on motherhood, I also expose my own personal experience of motherhood. At the outset, I spoke publicly about my daughter and the fact that she’s autistic. The most moving responses were from mothers who share that same fate, and cope with the complex role of being a mother of a disabled child.
“One of the most moving responses was from a woman who said that after she finished the book, she decided to go public with the fact that she has an autistic child. As it turned out, until she read the book, she’d never told her co-workers or extended family; the book gave her the strength to do that.
“She shared the love and acceptance she received in return, and that it was the most important thing she could have done for herself, as a result of the strength the book gave her.”
What is your message to women abroad? Do you think there’s a difference between women here and elsewhere, and what do you think we can we learn from each other?
“I think that motherhood is something that crosses borders and continents. The need to find a mate and raise a supportive and loving family is the goal of any woman. It’s really hard to cope in this driven modern age, with such an insane race for success. And that, in the end, a home is the most central value to us, and something to be treasured.”
And finally, what do you want to be when you grow up?
“I want to live in a Middle East in which there is peace, one in which women from every country unite to help our children achieve a peaceful life, full of love and fulfilled dreams.
“In such a world, I’d like to help women take better care of themselves, to allow themselves to savor and enjoy things from time to time, to slow down and be good to themselves as well as to others.
“It’s important for me to point out to women that the present is no less important than the future. And that this very moment can be wonderful. And that that moment of wonder can be joyous, because such moments can appear suddenly, and we shouldn’t miss out on them.
“And women often do miss out on them, in the midst of taking care of others.”