Can you imagine censoring Golda Meir or Margaret Thatcher? Oh, I would have liked to have been in the room if such a conversation had actually happened. Which makes me wonder, did these two leaders, these two women, these two politicians, ever meet on common ground?
Let’s take a look at some sources and explore these women who, along with Henrietta Szold, are connected to the upcoming 75th birthday of Israel. Come along now, over to the curious side we go. (This is part of the fun I have as an educator when teaching, planning for professional learning workshops and facilitating educational webinars.)
Let us start with numbers. Henrietta Szold was born in December 1860 and died in February 1945. If she were alive today, she would be 163. Rearrange those three numerals and you get 613, the total number of commandments, or mitzvot, in the Bible. Today, a mitzvah is generally understood to be a good deed, such as study, an action, and engagement, all of which have the power to impact the present and future. That is poignant as, throughout her life, Szold engaged in many mitzvot.
Golda Meir was born in May 1898 in the Ukraine and died in December 1978. If she were alive today, she would be 125 years of age. Margaret Thatcher was born in October 1925 and died in April 2013. If she were alive today, she would be 98 years of age.
There are many connections among the lives of these three women.
The year Meir was born, Szold was appointed the first editor of the Jewish Publication Society. Both were teachers while Thatcher served as the UK’s secretary of state for education and science. Both Szold and Meir spent periods of their lives in Palestine and both Meir and Thatcher served as the first female prime minister of their respective countries, although their terms did not intersect; Meir passed away in 1978 and Thatcher became prime minister in 1979.
Both Szold and Meir spent part of their lives in the USA, Szold in Baltimore and Meir in Milwaukee. Both have connections to Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, with the former being its founder and the latter having been treated for lymphoma at one of its hospitals in Israel, Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem. Both pioneers passed away in Jerusalem and both are buried in Israel.
Their personal lives were a bit different. Szold would live her life without being the mother of biological children. Meir and Thatcher would each have two children, a boy and a girl. In Israel, the 30th of Shevat is celebrated as Mother’s Day. That date coincides with the passing of Szold, a person who was certainly a mother in spirit to many.
As pioneers, as teachers, as people, what would these three Jewish women think about what is going on in America today? We are experiencing book bans, a censoring of teachers relative to topics they can and cannot talk about in schools, and a bill in Florida, which passed the first vote, as a result of which girls would no longer be permitted to talk about their periods in school. (Bring in Anita Diamant and The Red Tent, bring in The Period Project!)
With Szold not being allowed to pursue higher education as she had desired, Meir running away as a child and devouring books, and a young Thatcher helping another young child during the rise of the Nazi party, what would their remarks be about the rise in antisemitism around the world?
What would these leaders have to say about censoring topics, from the likely impact being the discontinuation of specific areas of study at colleges and universities to legislation like the proposed bill in Florida?
What do you think about these topics? How do you perceive the actions and lives of Henrietta Szold, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher being connected to you, to the future, to our sense of hope, and to our children, grandchildren and those in schools and in our countries, today, tomorrow and 75 years from now?
In 2023, the year Israel turns 75 years of age, we should explore the thread of connections that links these women. Although Szold died three years before Israel became a state, her imprint is indelible and there are hospitals and programs that bear the name of Hadassah, the organization she founded. Meir’s signature is on the Declaration of Independence of Israel and although she asked that, after her death, nothing be emblazoned with her name, her mark on the country is evident if you look for it.
While Thatcher, a prime minister and, ultimately, a baroness, did not dwell in the land of our Judaic and spiritual history, she did meet Meir. Thatcher was lauded as a friend of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. She, along with Meir and Szold, left their marks upon the country.
As an educator, I see these three remarkable women as being among the many we can continue to learn from, we can continue to teach about, and we can continue to explore with each other and our students. My hope in writing this column and sharing it with you is that you, too, have become curious about these women. What connections can you make among them? I look forward to reading your answers in the comments section.
Hope Blecher, Ed. D, is a member of Hadassah’s newly formed Educators Council.