Golda Meir (Goldie Mabovitch,1898–1978)

Golda Meir (Goldie Mabovitch,1898–1978), born in Kyiv, Ukraine, forged a dramatic life path and career that enshrined her standing as an illustrious political leader in the global arena and a legendary figure in the establishment of the State of Israel. She was also renowned for her blunt sense of humor, once quipping: “Let me tell you the one thing I have against Moses. He took us forty years into the desert in order to bring us to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil!”

Her father, Moshe Mabovitch, a carpenter, and her mother, Blume Naidtich, named her for her maternal great-grandmother, a domineering matriarch who lived to be ninety-four and who supposedly always took salt instead of sugar in her tea to remember the bitterness of the Jewish Diaspora. Moshe left for America in 1903 and three years later sent for his family and settled them in a two-room flat in the poor Jewish section of Milwaukee. Golda was eight years old. At fourteen, Golda graduated from elementary school as class valedictorian but battled her parents to go to high school. She wanted to be a teacher, and they wanted her to find a husband. Defying her parents, she enrolled in a public high school in 1912, paying for her supplies by working various jobs. She escaped further parental pressure by running off to join her older sister Sheyna in Denver, where she met her future husband, Morris Meyerson.

In 1921, Golda and Morris Meyerson (she officially Hebraized her name from Meyerson to Meir in 1956) immigrated to Palestine and joined the Merhavia kibbutz. In 1924, the couple moved to Jerusalem and soon had a son, Menachem, and a daughter, Sarah. Golda plunged into intense political work by representing the Histadrut Trade Union, serving as a delegate to the World Zionist Organization, and acting as a Jewish community liaison with the British authorities during the extremely dangerous years of the 1930s and the Second World War.

Golda Meir played vital roles in creating the Jewish state, including raising money for the cause. In 1948, David Ben-Gurion appointed Meir to be a member of the Provisional Government. A few days before the Declaration of Independence, Ben-Gurion sent her, disguised as an Arab woman, dressed in traditional robes and with her head and face covered, on a secret and hazardous mission to persuade King Abdullah of Jordan not to attack the newly born Jewish state. However, the clandestine visit failed as the King had already decided his army would invade following the British departure. When Israel declared independence in 1948, Golda Meir was one of the 25 signers of this historic document.

Israel was just four days old and in the thick of battle when Meir returned to the United States to do more fundraising for the war effort. A month later, Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett appointed her ambassador to the USSR, a profound event for Soviet Jews who, at great danger to themselves from the Stalin regime, crowded the Moscow synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to greet her.

Meir went on to become the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics. When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died suddenly in early 1969, the 71-year-old Meir assumed the post of premier, becoming the world’s third female prime minister (after Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka and Indira Gandhi of India). The major event of Meir’s administration was the Yom Kippur War, which broke out with massive and coordinated Egyptian and Syrian attacks against Israel on 6 October 1973. She officially retired in 1974 but continued to play an important behind-the-scenes role.

Meir, who had been privately battling lymphatic cancer for fifteen years, died on 8 December 1978, at the age of eighty, and was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Golda Meir was not shy in offering her opinions or advice, and perhaps the following statement best reflects her guiding principles: “Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”