Golda Meir was the fourth prime minister of Israel, as well as a beloved and fearless leader of the Jewish people, and the Jewish State.
Born in Kiev, Russia (now Ukraine) in 1898, Golda had seven siblings, five of whom died in childhood. When Golda was seven, the family fled to America during a vicious pogrom targeting the Jews of Kiev. They settled in Milwaukee, where her parents ran a small grocery store.
While attending public elementary school, Golda discovered that some of her classmates didn’t have enough money to buy textbooks, so she organized a fundraiser to help them. For the rest of her life, Golda would prove to be a remarkably successful fundraiser.
Golda’s mother was a traditional “yiddishe mama” who wanted her daughter to get married instead of working towards a career. Golda did both. She attended the University of Wisconsin, and was teaching in public school when she met and married Morris Meyerson, a sign painter.
Golda and Morris moved to Palestine, then under British rule, and settled on a kibbutz. They had a son and a daughter. They changed their surname, Meyerson, to something more Israeli, Meir. Golda was elected secretary of the Working Women’s Council and then joined the executive committee of the Organization of Trade Unions.
In 1938, Golda was appointed the Jewish observer from Palestine at the Evian conference, called by President Franklin Roosevelt to discuss the question of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. Delegates from the 32 invited countries expressed polite concern regarding the genocide of the Jews, but only one country – Dominican Republic – stepped up to accept refugees.
Golda said, “There is only one thing I hope to see before I die and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy anymore.”
After World War II, in 1946, Golda became head of the Jewish Agency in charge of settling Jews in Palestine. Golda was the principal negotiator between Jewish refugees from Europe and Arab lands, and the British authorities.
Two years later, during Israel’s War of Independence, the treasurer of the Jewish Agency expressed concern that they would only be able to raise about seven to eight million dollars from American Jews to help with the war effort.
Golda immediately got on a plane and traveled to the US. She mounted a hugely successful speaking tour, addressing Jewish groups around the country. She convinced American Jews to support the fledgling state in a major way.
She raised over $50 million, which was used to purchase arms from Europe. Without these resources, the War of Independence would have failed.
Golda was one of the signatories of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The first holder of an Israeli passport, Golda became ambassador to the Soviet Union. While there, she attended High Holiday services at a synagogue in Moscow and was mobbed by thousands of Russian Jews chanting her name.
In 1949 Golda was elected to the Knesset (Parliament), where she served until 1966. During part of that time, she was Minister of Labour and Foreign Minister. Golda orchestrated the integration of huge waves of immigrants into Israel’s workforce, and oversaw the construction of hundreds of thousands of residential units, as well as new factories, hospitals, schools and roads. During Golda’s tenure, Israel fought – and won – multiple wars against her hostile Arab neighbors.
After being diagnosed with lymphoma in 1966, Golda retired from public life. In 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died suddenly and Golda Meir was elected to be the country’s next prime minister. She graciously came out of retirement to accept the position, and served as prime minister until her final retirement in 1974. Golda was the world’s third female head of state.
Golda was known for her charisma and her ability to get things done. Famous quotations from Golda Meir include:
“Don’t be so humble – you are not that great.”
“A leader who doesn’t hesitate before he sends his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader.”
“Not being beautiful was the true blessing. Not being beautiful forced me to develop my inner resources. The pretty girl has a handicap to overcome.”
For dedicating her life to her nation, and inspiring women and Jews around the world, we honor Golda Meir as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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