A couple of weeks ago I was invited by the non-profit Vibe Israel to visit the country and meet with some of the top parenting activists in the area. I will be releasing multiple articles which focus on some of the most interesting people and encounters that I had on this adventure.
Interview with Liat Vardi-Bar
I was initially paired up with Liat Vardi-Bar who started one of the largest and most successful nursing in public campaigns against the government manifesto towards parents back in 2011. Currently, Liat is leading “The Worthy Ladies” online group with over 8,000 members, all of whom help mothers in their local communities. There are 37 branch-off groups in Israel and even one in New York City. And somehow Liat manages to do all of this, be an amazing mother to two beautiful children, and work at a digital agency as the VP of Strategy and Innovation.
I knew I would be meeting Liat prior to my arrival in Tel Aviv. I looked up as much as I could about her (and as much as Google Translate would allow me to understand), but nothing could prepare me for the firecracker that greeted me at Google Campus Tel Aviv.
Liat had completely taken charge of the day and was presented with a handmade boob jar as soon as we entered our cab. It was then that I knew this lady must not take herself too seriously. As someone who also gets burned out fairly easily when in the midst of cause and activism, I’ve noticed that humor really does keep you going for the long haul. Liat seemed to get the importance of infusing humor into life, especially when overseeing very serious projects.
The taxi dropped us off along the coast in Jaffa where we entered a photography exhibit and met with photographer Linn Memran. Linn is doing an gorgeous photo series for breastfeeding awareness in Israel (which I will discuss in detail in another post). We discussed her project, took a lunch break, and then when straight to our next destination.
We arrived at WMN, a company that aids startups with a female founder, CEO, or COO (I will also will be discussed in another post). I was overwhelmed knowing that Liat had put together a full day of meetings without ever meeting me in person that were filled with so many people that I came to respect and admire. These initial connections would bring so much value to many different projects that we are trying to accomplish. But mostly, these ideas need to be shared to inspire other people, because some of them are brilliant and the models should be used world-wide.
Now, before I go too off-topic, this is a post dedicated to Liat, and so I will reign in my thoughts to give her the spotlight she deserves. I did a quick interview with her that I will leave intact so that you really can get a feel for personality.
JG: Tell me about the breastfeeding campaign you started in 2011.
Liat: In 2011, I initiated and led the “wagon protest” along with four other mothers.
At the time, the young state of Israel was undergoing a social protest, perhaps even the first protest of that kind.
The “wagon protest” or “mother/parents protest” had raised awareness to the fact that in Israel it is difficult, if not impossible to live in dignity as parents. The protest led not only to public debate but also to a substantive change – Among some of the effects were: The right to free education from the age of 3 law was passed, as was a new baby formula law which stated that hospitals cannot force new mothers to use a specific brand of formula due to various monopolies or pay offs to the hospitals by certain brands.
It was completely a protest of mothers. True, fathers were present, but it was a spontaneous solidarity of mothers nationwide which led them to the hot July/August streets with their carriages, children and yellow balloons to protest and fight for their rights.
A piece of history I am so proud to be a part of.
Another initiative that has totally changed my world and my life (and the lives of thousands of mothers in Israel if I may modestly add) is a community I founded that same summer call “Hashavot”. “haShavot” or “THE TRIBE” in English is a community of woman and mothers based on geographical location.
I started the first group when we decided to leave Tel Aviv after the protest and move our lives to Pardes Hana, a suburban area of Israel approximately and hour drive from TLV.
I was anxious about being for far away and alone so I decided to open a secret FB group called “Habanot hashavot baezor” (“The local tribe”) and added the five women I knew lived in the area. I was under the assumption that if I died of loneliness at least someone would come looking for me☺.
Today, we are almost 10,000 woman and mothers and just about 30 identical groups around the country. The community’s reputation has reached overseas and “HaShavot” NY & New Zealand wear established a few months ago!!!
There is a clear and orderly covenant or belief system in which all the groups are managed, for instance: There’s no place for politics and advertising on the group is permitted on Thursdays only.
The groups have truly managed to create real communities and connect between woman and mothers in their areas, not only online but in the real life too.
We’re super active in our communities and are constantly assisting one another through various moving and life changing projects like: “a pot for a new mother”: When a woman gives birth – she receives hot, healthful, nutritional, home cooked food 3 times a week for her and her family based on their preferences. We also renovate structures for numerous groups at risk and so so much more… Next step – Hashavot Global APP!
JG: What made you want to start the campaign?
Liat: Itwas one year after I gave birth and I had just gotten over postpartum depression. I was going through an extremely difficult period, professionally, mentally and physically.
One morning I was reading the economic section of the paper and came across an interview with marketing manager in an article where she was quoted saying “Parents are the best target audience – we can sell them anything and at a high cost”… I lost it!!! It drove me crazy.
Specifically because of my background in advertising, marketing and communications, I knew just how little a statement like that has room for. At that exact moment I decided I cannot and will not stay silent. I opened a FB group called “the screams of consumer mothers” and within the hour, thousands of mothers (and fathers) joined. Within a day, news of the group reached Y-net and from there to every paper and news website in the country. I freaked out; it was the first time I found myself in the midst of such an enormous media frenzy. At that very moment I happened to find four mothers – Yael, Anat, Shelly and Noga who were planning to go out to the streets of Tel Aviv and protest and although I didn’t know them I had sent them an email offering to join forces. The rest…is history ☺
JG: What are you most passionate about?
Liat: WOW, there are so many topics which are for my like a red cloth to a bull.
1. Inequality – particularly within genders but honestly and inequality or injustice drives me crazy and drive me to take action. Ever since becoming a mother I am also extremely aware and active on the matter of things girls can do vs. boys – including “repairing” most children’s books (in our house mom is always at work and dad in also in the kitchen) it also includes explaining to my daughters and their friends why girls can do absolutely EVERYTHING, I also don’t let them play with toys/dolls or any other object which demean girls or woman and explain why in a way fit for a 6 year old.
2. Gender discrimination in the work place – it drives me crazy! And by the way I must say us women, play a significant role in the matter, i.e. “THE IMPOSTR SYNDROM”. The glass ceiling, woman in science, women entrepreneurs, and leaders – another topic I find myself highly involved it and totally passionate about.
3. Community – I’m a community freak. I think the internet is a gift from GOD to all women and particularly for mothers. I believe that because of the connection to the community through the computer and then out to the physical world – we have the ability to create real significant change, it can even start with having coffee together on maternity leave or a gathering of breastfeeding women who simply need a reason to smile through the difficult time after giving birth.
JG: You have your day job, your activism, and your family life – is it hard to stay balanced?
Liat: On Sesame Street there’s a part where Ernie says to Bert that he wants to be “there” and Ernie explains why he can’t – because he’s “Here”. Well, that’s how I felt until not too long ago. I work in the strategical an innovational department in a digital advertising company
I work long hours and I’m far from home. I love my job dearly; however up to a few weeks ago felt like my two worlds –personal and professional – just didn’t work together. I felt like I was constantly missing out, I wasn’t here or there 100% because I was busy feeling guilty about not being good enough.
A few weeks ago I said enough! This (my life) was the choice I made and I’m standing behind it. I’m an amazing mother – when I’m home, I’m with my kids full-time; no phone, no emails, no distractions and of course weekends are a full 48 hour interruption-free time and serve as my personal gas station.
I think that would have to be the biggest tip – Decide to be, totally be present, in the choices you make.
Luckily for me, I have a crazy attention deficit disorder, allowing me to do 100 things simultaneously, even when I’m asleep. I don’t recommend it but if you do suffer from it, in my opinion, it’s your gain☺
Another tip I think is important – is giving the partner who is mostly present at home full support and the feeling that your children are in the best of hands.
I write to you in terrible times, just today three Israelis were murdered in Jerusalem and the feeling is that of an undeclared war. Israel is a crazy place, for better and for worse. Raising children here is not an easy task. Luckily, I’m able to creating a big safe and warm bubble for my children and as of now they are not aware of the situation happening just inches away. Only two days ago there was a terrorist attack 5 minutes away from our home, as I was coming back from work. It’s hard to put into words what that does to you as a mother. I think raising children in Israel, to be a mother in Israel means you’re either anxious or repressed, I can’t see how you can live here without being one of them. Anxiety is in my nature, making it even that much more difficult because most of my time is spent worrying about my loved ones. It’s just such a hard time here right now, so I’m finding it a bit hard to find something fun and cool to say about it at the moment.
JG: What are the biggest challenges of raising a child in israel?
Liat: The biggest challenge for me is not passing my anxiety on to them. Both my kids are super independent, social, confident and not afraid of anything. I feel like my biggest challenge is to maintain that.
I also think that when you live in Israel it’s challenging not to eat, drink and breathe hatred, disgust and judgment but to raise your children with the ability to accept the different, accept and respect different opinions and not to be judgmental. I hope my kids grow up as children of the world and not of a conflict zone and hope they grow to be leaders, accepting individuals and with the will to change and make the world a better place.
JG: What are some things about parenting in Israel that other countries may not know?
Liat: Israel is a warm place and I’m not referring only to the climate. There’s something about the phrase “Israeli” that’s possess qualities such as: warmth, giving, sharing and hosting. I think that growing up in Israel with everything I mentioned in the previous clause, gives you numerous things that you wouldn’t necessarily get anywhere else:
Mutual responsibility – helping others regardless of whom, when or where.
Human warmth – whether it be a physical embrace or the “at home” feeling even if it’s the home of someone you’ve just met.
There’s something very direct, filter-free, real, honest, authentic and down to earth about it – that’s really the secret of its magic.
JG: What are your next plans of action for your activism?
Liat: I want to create a unicef for mothers, “unimoms” – a nonprofit organization filled with mothers from all other the world, through which we will be able to make significant change across the globe.
I think there is a common denominator that allows mother to connect regardless of race, religion or region to – connect.
I think if mothers were to run the world, it would be a truly peaceful and better place and I intend on doing everything I can to make sure that happens.
Immediately after that, or parallel to doing so, I plan to promote a gender equality project in kindergartens and schools and to educate girls on subjects such as computer science, technology, science and various sports.
JG: Is there anything else you want to add to this discussion?
Liat: Israel is a complex place, it’s true. Especially these days when everything is so ignited and the hatred is distancing. Regardless, there is no place like it. There’s nothing like the warm hospitality, the amazing weather, the family vibe, the warmth, the spontaneity, the community, the food oh the food and the ocean (oh my!), the innovation, the ideas – in short – there is so, so much more than what is communicated via news channels, papers and websites around the world. There are mothers, like you, like your readers; there are babies and children, like your children and your reader’s children. I truly believe that if we will be able to see past the news feeds and double spreads in the papers, we will be able to truly connect through our common denominator – motherhood and the will to raise our children in a better world – we will be able to move mountains.
When I met you, I felt as though I had met my American twin. The day we spent together was so meaningful to me. It filled me with inspiration, dictated a new vision and colored my spectrum with colors I didn’t even know existed. You are an extraordinary woman Jaime and I am so fortunate to have been set up with you. I hope we’ll be able to do amazing things together and have no doubt that together; we can paint the sky in any color we set our hearts on.
Thank you for this opportunity.