Snapshot Golda Meir Biography

Black and white photograph of Golda Meir sitting on a sofa. She has a thoughtful expression, with slight smile, and is looking off to the side. She is wearing a dark blazer, a white blouse, and a pearl necklace. Her hands are clasped in her lap, and she is wearing a watch on her left wrist.
Golda Meir, 1973

Golda Meir: The Inspiring Life and Legacy of a Pioneering Israeli Leader

She was just a child of about four, watching her father and neighbors barricade the door and windows with boards of wood. A pogrom is coming, they had been warned. This was early 20th century Kiev, a time and area in which pogroms, where violent mobs would steal from, beat, and sometimes kill Jewish people, was a reality of life. In this instance, however, no pogrom came, but the memory would stay with Golda.

Golda Meir was born Golda Mabovitch on May 3, 1898, in Kiev, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. When she was eight, the family immigrated to the U.S., settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For Golda, this move was a welcome change, and here, she thrived. She excelled as a student and led fundraisers and protests for the first time. In school, one day, a boy used a Jewish trope to mock Golda. Golda in turn, gathered some friends in front of the boy’s house and held a demonstration against anti-Semitism.

From a young age, Golda was known for being stubborn. What she believed in is what she followed. In her teenage years, this mindset led her to run away from home to live with her sister in Denver after Golda’s parents wouldn’t allow her to continue school as they wanted her to marry. She didn’t tell her parents she was going. She just left them a note, “I am going to live with Sheyna, so that I can study.”

Sheyna’s home was full of political debate and discussion, often amongst many Jewish immigrants from Russia who had come to Denver for treatment at the famous Jewish Hospital for Consumptives. Golda would sit and listen while learning the patience required for a thoughtful debate. And of all the views she heard, she gravitated towards those of the Socialist Zionists. Later, she would say, “I understood and responded full to the idea of a national home for the Jews — one place on the face of the earth where Jews could be free and independent.”

Soon, she moved back to Milwaukee. Where she became more active in the Zionist movement and for Jewish rights in general, organizing protests like a march down one of Milwaukee’s main streets to bring awareness about new pogroms that had broken out in Eastern Europe after WWI.

But Golda was also coming to realize that she needed to make a decision about her commitment to Zionism. In her words, “Palestine, I felt, not parades in Milwaukee, was the only real, meaningful answer.”

Golda and her husband, Morris, whom she had started dating while living in Denver, made Aliyah in 1921. The couple joined a kibbutz, which is a collective community traditionally based on agriculture, in the Jezreel Valley. This decision was a testament to her dedication to establishing a Jewish homeland.

Life in the kibbutz was challenging and required hard physical labor and a commitment to the collective. Despite the hardships, she relished the opportunity to be a part of building a Jewish homeland.

Though initially immersed in the daily life of the kibbutz, Golda soon became involved in the larger political scene of the Yishuv, the body of Jewish residents in Palestine before the establishment of Israel. She was elected as the representative in Histadrut, the General Federation of Laborers, where her roles deepened her understanding of labor rights, social welfare, and national security.

In the following years, Golda grew in her political roles within the Yishuv. By the mid-1940s, she had taken on many important positions. But as statehood was becoming a reality and tensions were escalating, Golda was tasked with what was arguably her most important role up to that point. Leaders of the Yishuv recognized they had an urgent need for financial resources to purchase arms and supplies to face the impending conflict with neighboring Arab states. Golda pushed for and was tasked with raising funds from the Jewish diaspora in the U.S.

Golda arrived in the U.S. in January 1948. Despite being relatively unknown in the U.S., she embarked on a whirlwind campaign, meeting with Jewish leaders, organizations, and communities. Her appeal was deeply personal and urgent, emphasizing the life-and-death struggle that awaited the Jewish community in Palestine. Before she left for the U.S., some believed that Golda could raise a few million dollars. She raised $50 million. Some leaders said the money Golda raised made the state possible.

On May 14, 1948, Golda was one of 24 signatories of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. She said of the moment,

“After I signed, I cried. When I studied American history as a schoolgirl and I read about those who signed the U.S. 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 establishment.”

Following the declaration, she embarked on a diplomatic career, serving as Israel’s ambassador to the Soviet Union and, after her return, joining the Knesset. As Israel’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, Golda further established her reputation as a formidable figure in international politics. From her Ambassador role, Golda held several ministerial positions, including Minister of Labour and Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 1969, she became the Prime Minister, a position that she held until resigning in 1974 after the Yom Kippur War.

A few years later, Golda passed away on December 8, 1978. She is buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

“Snapshot Golda Meir Biography” Notes

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Sources

  • Meir, Golda. My Life. United Kingdom, Putnam, 1975.
  • SCHMIDT, SARAH. “Hagiography in the Diaspora: Golda Meir and Her Biographers.” American Jewish History, vol. 92, no. 2, 2004, pp. 157–88. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23887352. Accessed 13 Oct. 2023.
  • Syrkin, Marie. Golda Meir: Israel’s Leader. United States, Putnam, 1969.