The Golda Years

I’ve spent the past two days looking over the titles of more than 4,000 books in my library. I need to remove hundreds, perhaps more, from the shelves. It would be inconsiderate of me to leave the task to my children when I am no longer here. They will fit into 51 crates and to ship them would cost more than the number of the volumes.

My religious Chabad-nik grandson, who at the age now of 20 and is contemplating marriage within a few months gets first pick of the 40 different volumes of Talmud in addition to some 2,000 religious texts. Where he will put them, only God and he will know.

While looking at the titles, my fingers landed on one particular book which I had read shortly after it was published in 1975. I am now re-reading it partly for the pure pleasure and mostly because of its wisdom.

In that year, 1975, just three years before her death, Golda Meir wrote and published the 461 pages of her autobiography, “MY LIFE”.

It is a remarkable story of the life of a very remarkable woman. She was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1898, the daughter of Yitzchak and Blume Mabovich. In 1906 at the age of eight, she arrived with her parents and two older sisters Sheyna and Zipke (Clara) in the United States and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

While growing up in America she had heard of Theodor Herzl and the new Zionist movement which attracted her and which she had later devoted her future life to until her death in 1978 at the age of 80.

She attended Zionist meetings and gatherings and in her teen years she became a leader of a Zionist group in Milwaukee. There she met many of the future great leaders of the Zionist movement who had arrived in Milwaukee to raise funds for the development of Jewish settlement in Palestine. Among them was David Ben-Gurion who, in 1948 became the first prime minister of the new State of Israel.

In 1917 at the young age of 19 she married Morris Meyerson and convinced him to move with her to Palestine Although he loved Golda intensely, he had no interest in moving to Palestine nor committing to a life as an active Zionist.

In spite of his unwillingness, he joined Golda in 1921 arriving together in Palestine. After a very long and almost disastrous ocean voyage they arrived in the newborn city of Tel-Aviv by way of Alexandria, Egypt.

Golda spoke only Yiddish and English and had not yet learned spoken Hebrew. Both she and Morris found part-time work at incredibly low wages, and soon after, at Golda’s insistence, they settled in kibbutz Merhavia in the Jezreel Valley.

Golda was thrilled to be living on a kibbutz. Morris hated it. Life was extremely primitive. Huts in which they lived had no running water, no electricity, no bathroom or toilet. Only an out-house which was used by every member of the kibbutz.

Golda learned how to be a poultry farmer and was put in charge of the chickens in the kibbutz. She also worked in the kitchen, a job that the other women members of the kibbutz resented. They preferred to do the manual labor together with the men. That was kibbutz socialist ideology throughout all of the kibbutzim in Palestine and prevailed until the late 20th century.

Womens’ lib was unheard of in socialist Palestine.

In her autobiography she describes how she cooked a meal for 50 members with only one piece of fish, onions and a few potatoes which the kibbutz members bought from nearby Arab farmers.

Morris simply never adjusted to kibbutz life. He did not like socialist ideology and he really hated living on a kibbutz. He was not accustomed to hard physical labor which would begin at four o’clock in the morning.

(I sympathize with him recalling from my brief experience working in the tobacco fields at Kibbutz Matzuva on the Lebanese border in 1951, bending down in the heat and digging with a small hoe called a turiya).

Morris and I would have shared a common dislike of kibbutz routine and lack of individualism.

Morris was a cultured man, a man who enjoyed literature and art and classical music. Kibbutz life was not for him.

He was a devoted father to their two children, Menachem and Sarah Meyerson and even after he left Merhavia in 1928 and he and Golda were separated, they were never divorced and remained in close contact, he in Tel-Aviv and she in Jerusalem, until his death in 1951.

Golda’s years were dedicated to the socialist Zionist party, Mapai, and over most of her remaining years were in active government politics. She served in various capacities, first as Minister of Labor, then as Foreign Minister.

But her greatest years were 1969-1974 when she served as the 4th Prime Minister and first woman to lead the government of Israel. She is regarded as one of Israel’s greatest prime ministers.

She used to say “Don’t be so humble…. You are not that great”, and “Whether women are better than men I cannot say — but I can say they are certainly no worse”.

She had an active sex life with leading members of the Mapai party and was an habitual cigarette smoker , said to smoke 60 cigarettes a day which increased to 90 a day during the tense days of the Yom Kippur war under her leadership as prime minister.

I was much impressed with her final remarks on the last page of her autobiography.

“To those who ask me “what of the future?” I still have only one answer. I believe that we will have peace with our neighbors, but I am sure that no one will make peace with a weak Israel If Israel is not strong, there will be no peace.
What is my vision of the future? A Jewish state in which masses of Jews from all over the world will continue to settle and to build; an Israel bound in a collaborative effort with its neighbors on behalf of all the people in this region; an Israel that remains a flourishing democracy and a society resting firmly on social justice and equality.

And now I have only one desire left: never to lose the feeling that it is I who am indebted for what has been given to me from the time I first learned about Zionism in a small room in czarist Russia all the way through to my half century here, where I have seen my five grandchildren grow up as fee Jews in a country that is their own”.

I highly recommend Golda’ autobiography, MY LIFE, to prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. I am certain that he can learn much from it on how to be an honest and faithful leader of our nation. If it is possible.

With him, no one can ever really know. On Sunday he says “A” and on Monday he says “B” and on Thursday he denies ever saying either of them.

80 years of Golda’s lifetime to be honored. “K’shma ken hi”… as her name (Golda), so was she (14 carat pure Jewish gold ).

Would that we had more real leaders like her. (But non-smokers please).

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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