By looking at the amazing life of Golda Meir, we can follow the history of Jews from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Golda’s story takes us from the pogroms of Russia to life as an immigrant in the United States and from there to a kibbutz in Israel and finally to prime minister of Israel! She was a teacher, a Zionist activist, a kibbutznik, a politician, and one of the first women in the world to be prime minister.
Explore this interesting figure with primary sources from the National Library of Israel.
Early Childhood in Russia
Golda Mabowitz was born in 1898 in Kiev, then part of the Russian Empire (today part of Ukraine). Her first memory was of her father boarding up the front door in order to protect his family following rumours of an imminent pogrom.
Immigration to the United States
In 1906 Golda and the rest of her family immigrated to the United States and lived in Milwaukee. During her youth, Golda was exposed to Zionism, literature, women's rights, and trade unionism at her sister’s home in Denver where intellectual evenings were held. In 1913, she became an active member of Young Poale Zion, which later became the Habonim youth movement. After completing school, Golda worked as a teacher for some years.
At the intellectual meetings at her sister’s home, Golda met a young man named Morris Meyerson whom she married in 1917. Golda’s condition for marrying Morris was that they would immigrate to Israel, which they did in 1921. Golda and Morris Meyerson joined Kibbutz Merhavia where she worked as a farmer and in the kibbutz kitchen. She was later appointed the kibbutz representative to the Histadrut (Israel’s national trade union); this was the beginning of her political career.
In 1924 Golda, her husband, and their two children left the kibbutz. They first moved to Tel Aviv and later settled in Jerusalem. Golda Meir moved up the ranks of the political department of the Histadrut. In 1938 she was appointed the Jewish observer from Palestine at the Evian Conference called by the US to discuss the Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. After “Black Sabbath” in 1946, during which many Zionist political leaders were imprisoned by the Mandate police, Golda took over from the incarcerated Moshe Sharett as acting head of the political department of the Jewish Agency. She held this role until the establishment of the state of Israel.
In 1948, four days before the establishment of the State of Israel, Golda Meir disguised herself as an Arab woman and met King Abdullah of Jordan in a vain attempt to urge him not to attack the new state. Unfortunately her mission was not successful.
On May 15, 1948 Golda Meir was one of the two women (the other being the activist and politician Rachel Cohen-Kagan) who signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence. During 1948 and 1949 Golda served as Israel’s first ambassador to Russia. In 1949, she began her career in the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) as a member of Mapai (the Worker’s Party) – the party she served until 1974. From 1949 to 1956 Golda served as minister of labour responsible for welfare state policies, the integration of immigrants, and housing and construction projects. In 1956 she was appointed foreign minister. During her service she established diplomatic ties with various African countries. She was also responsible for planning and coordinating with the French government prior to the Suez Crisis in 1956 and in charge of the Israeli delegation to the UN after the crisis.
Prime Minister of Israel
In 1969 Prime Minister Levi Eshkol passed away. Golda Meir was elected his successor and served as prime minister until 1974. During her years of service, she met many world leaders in an attempt to promote her vision of peace. She also accepted the US peace initiatives in order to bring the War of Attrition to an end. Following the terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, Golda ordered Mossad to track down the leaders and operatives involved in the massacre.
In 1973 intelligence reports warned of Arab preparation for a war against Israel. Golda was alarmed by the intelligence reports but, assured by her advisors that war was not about to break out, she did not mobilize the IDF early enough. Six hours before the war broke out, she finally decided on full-scale mobilization but avoided a pre-emptive strike so as not to harm relations with the US. The results were very severe, and the Yom Kippur War left many killed and injured in action. The public blamed the government for these grave consequences, and the Agranat Commission was appointed to investigate the war and the steps leading up to it. Golda Meir resigned in 1974 following the commission’s conclusions and was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin.
On December 8, 1978, Golda Meir died of lymphatic cancer in Jerusalem at the age of 80 and was buried on Mount Herzl.