She was born as Golda Mabovitz in Kiev in the Russian Empire (today
Ukraine), to Blume Naidtich and Moshe Mabovitz. She wrote in her
autobiography that her earliest memories were of her father boarding
up the front door in response to rumors of an imminent pogrom. Living
conditions in the Pale of Settlement were tough; she and her two
sisters (Sheyna and Tzipke) were often hungry and cold. Her other five
siblings had died in their childhood. Golda especially looked up to
Sheyna. Her father left for the United States in 1903. In the
following years the rest of the family stayed in Pinsk and Golda's big
sister Sheyna was engaged in Zionist-Revolutionary activity, which
endangered her. It impressed young Golda very much, but compelled the
rest of the family to follow Moshe to the United States in 1906.
Emigration to the United States, 1906
They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There, Golda's father worked as
a carpenter and her mother ran a grocery store. When Golda was only
eight years old, she had to oversee the store for a short time each
morning as her mother was buying supplies at the market.
Golda Meir attended the Fourth Street School (now Golda Meir School)
across from the Schlitz Brewing Complex from 1906 to 1912. It was here
that Golda undertook her first public works project, by organizing a
fundraiser to pay for her classmate's textbooks. After forming the
American Young Sisters Society, she rented a hall and scheduled a
public meeting for the event. Despite not having known English upon
entry, Golda graduated as valedictorian of her class.
When Golda was 14 she began attending North Division High School and
took part-time jobs to pay expenses. Her mother suggested that she
give up school for work and marry. Golda rebelled and ran away to
Denver, Colorado where her older sister, Sheyna, was living. She
stayed for about a year in a duplex at 1606 Julian Street. Golda
attended North High School there and met Morris Myerson, a sign
painter, whom she would later marry.
1914 photoIn 1913 Golda returned to Milwaukee and re-enrolled at North
Division, graduating in 1915. While there, she was an active member of
the youth movement, Habonim (which merged with the like-minded Dror in
1982 to form Habonim Dror). She participated in public speaking at
meetings and in her speeches often advocated for Socialist Zionism.
Often she hosted visitors from Palestine.
Upon her graduation from the Milwaukee State Normal School (now
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where the library is named after
her) she taught in the public schools. She formally joined the Labor
Zionist Organization in 1915.
Golda and Morris married in 1917 and began planning to make aliyah
(emigration to the land of Israel, then part of various Ottoman
provinces). The couple and her elder sister Sheyna emigrated to the
British Mandate of Palestine in 1921.
Emigration to Palestine, 1921
Working in kibbutz Merhavia
Golda and Morris wanted to join a kibbutz. She applied to join Kibbutz
Merhavia and was turned down at first, but eventually was accepted
into the community. Her duties there included picking almonds,
planting trees, caring for chickens, and running the kitchen. She also
began to emerge as a leader. Her kibbutz chose her to represent them
at Histadrut, the General Federation of Labor. By 1924, her husband
had grown tired of the kibbutz life and they left.
Yiddish-language poster of fundraising event in Philadelphia.They
lived briefly in Tel Aviv, before settling in Jerusalem. There they
had two children, son Menachem and daughter Sarah. In 1928, Golda was
elected secretary of the Women's Labor Council of Histadrut. This
required her to move to Tel Aviv, but her husband stayed in Jerusalem
while the children stayed with her. Morris and Golda grew apart but
never divorced. Morris died in 1951.
She grew increasingly influential in Histadrut, which evolved into a
shadow government for the yet to be born nation of Israel. In 1946,
the British cracked down on the Zionist movement in Palestine. They
arrested many of its leaders. Golda, however, was never arrested. She
gradually took charge of the organization. She negotiated with the
British, but also kept in contact with the growing guerrilla movement.
Israel established, 1948
Golda Meir was one of twenty-four people (and one of two women) who
signed the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on
May 14, 1948. She later recalled, "After I signed, I cried. When I
studied American history as a schoolgirl and I read about those who
signed the Declaration of Independence, I couldn't imagine these were
real people doing something real. And there I was sitting down and
signing a declaration of independence."
The following day, Israel was attacked by joint forces from Egypt,
Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan and Iraq. Golda was issued Israel's first
passport and went to the United States to raise money for the
September 10, 1948. Ceremony in Kremlin of the first Israeli
ambassador Golda Meir handing certificates to the Soviet officials.
Jewish High Holidays in Moscow, 1948. Golda Meir in the crowd (est.
50,000) of Soviet Jews who gathered to meet herWhen she returned, she
was assigned to be the first ambassador to the Soviet Union. She
served there briefly, leaving in 1949. During her stay in Moscow, she
attended high holiday services and was mobbed by thousands of Russian
Jews chanting her name; Stalin's repression of Jewish identity in the
Soviet Union made many observers wonder whether there was still a
strong sense of community but the crowd's welcoming treatment provided
the answer. The picture on the back of Meir's Israeli Shekel banknote
is that of the crowd in Moscow surrounding her and lifting her in
happiness. She then entered the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) where she
served continuously until 1974.
Political life prior to becoming Prime Minister
From 1949 to 1956, Meir was the Israeli Minister of Labor. In 1956,
she became Foreign Minister under Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The
previous Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharett, had ordered that all members
of the foreign service Hebraicize their last names. Golda had ignored
that order as amabassador, but now that she was becoming Foreign
Minister herself, Ben-Gurion asked Golda to change her name to a
Hebrew name. She chose Meir, meaning "makes a light".
In the early 1960s she was diagnosed with lymphoma, which she kept
hidden because she thought others might deem her unfit for service.
She resigned from the Cabinet in 1965, citing illness and exhaustion
of her years of service. At first, she returned to her modest life,
but she was soon called back into service. She served as Secretary
General of the Labor Party for eight months and retired again on
August 1, 1968.
After Levi Eshkol died suddenly on February 26, 1969, the party chose
her to succeed him as Prime Minister. Meir came out of retirement to
take office on March 17 and served in that role until 1974. When Meir
became Prime Minister, Israel was brimming with confidence, having won
a decisive victory over the Arabs and capturing large areas of
territory in the Six Day War. Nonetheless, Meir had to deal with the
continuing Egyptian shelling of Israeli forces along the Suez Canal in
the War of Attrition.
Operation Wrath of God
Following the 1972 Munich murders at the summer Olympic Games, Meir
appealed to the world to "save our citizens and condemn the
unspeakable criminal acts committed" . Meir and the Israeli Defense
Committee felt that the world did not adequately respond and therefore
authorized the Mossad to kill Black September and PFLP operatives
wherever they could be found (Morris 1999). Steven Spielberg's movie
Munich (2005) was loosely based on these events, as written in the
novel Vengeance by George Jonas.
1973 Yom Kippur War
Israeli intelligence was never entirely sure if war was indeed
impending or not. The day before the war was set to begin, Israeli
intelligence was able to finally verify that war was indeed imminent.
Six hours before the war was set to begin, Meir met with Moshe Dayan
and Israeli general David Elazar. While Dayan argued that the war
might not even start, Elazar wanted to launch a pre-emptive strike on
Syrian forces. Meir considered both options and then decided not to
launch a pre-emptive strike. Meir made this decision because she
believed that Israel could not depend on European countries to supply
Israel with military goods as European countries were under the threat
of an Arab oil embargo and trade boycott. She felt that the only
country who would come to Israel's assistance would be the United States, and Meir feared that by launching a pre-emptive strike, the
U.S. would be less likely to do so. In hindsight, this was probably a
wise decision, as the U.S. launched Operation Nickel Grass. Henry
Kissinger later verified Meir's fears by stating that if Israel had
launched the pre-emptive strike, Israel would not have received "so
much as a nail".
Golda Meir's graveFollowing the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Meir's government
was clouded by internal squabbles among the governing coalition and
had to face serious questions over strategic misjudgments as well as
the general lack of leadership that resulted in the unanticipated Yom
Kippur War. On April 11 1974, Golda Meir resigned leadership, to be
succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin on June 3, 1974.
On December 8, 1978, Golda Meir died in Jerusalem, Israel of cancer at
the age of 80. She was buried on Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem.
Israeli postal stamp commemorating Golda MeirGolda Meir's story has
been the subject of many fictionalized portrayals over the years. She
has been portrayed by actresses as diverse as the late Swede Ingrid
Bergman and the Australian Judy Davis on television, and the
Jewish-American Tovah Feldshuh on Broadway. The Broadway show about
her was mildly controversial in that it suggested she gave serious
consideration to launching a first-strike nuclear attack during the
Yom Kippur War. In 1977 she was portrayed by Anne Bancroft in the one
woman play "Golda" by William Gibson on Broadway.
Most recently, she was played by actress Lynn Cohen in the 2005 Steven
Spielberg film Munich. She is also portrayed by Valerie Harper in
William Gibson's play Golda's Balcony, which tours various North
American cities in 2005 and 2006