It was brief. It lay in the recesses of my mind. Still, it had an impact.
That’s how I would describe my meeting with Golda Meir, a distant encounter decades ago that catapulted out of my memory box after seeing the film Golda. It went like this: Golda was a top honcho in Israel’s Labor Party. My father worked for the American branch of the Jewish Agency, directing all of its adult education activities (which were numerous). I was a college freshman, a two-year committed Zionist determined to live in Israel after personally experiencing the post-Six Day War euphoria and returning the following year to rough-and-tumble kibbutz life.
Golda arrived in the U.S. for a round of speaking engagements, beginning in New York. Upon my father’s prodding, I went with him to hear her speak. When she finished and the applause subsided, my father asked: “Do you want to meet her?” My answer was an adamant “no” to which he enthusiastically responded “Good,” grabbed my hand and quickly shepherded me to a room populated by one person: Golda, in the process of putting on her simple cloth coat. Leading me to stand in front of her, my father glowed as he said in Hebrew:
…תכירי את בתי. היא רוצה להשתקע בארץ
“Meet my daughter. She wants to settle in Israel.”
Golda briefly looked at me then turned to my father, eyed him up and down, and answered in a flat tone in English: and what’s wrong with you? She then turned and left the room.
Overcome by relief that the encounter was over, I didn’t process my father’s reaction. Instead, I felt that she reinforced what I loved most about Israelis: no poses, just דוגרי – dugri – straight talk.
Telling it as it is – that’s part of the Israeli mentality. Golda embodied it along with a passion for ensuring the viability and stability of the Jewish State. Back then, that passion spilled over into the broad, American-Jewish public, with Golda’s American roots reinforcing their fervor even though America had long ago turned into a 15-year stop-over for her.
Born in Kiev in 1898 as Golda Mabovitch, she immigrated to the United States with her family in 1906, where Milwaukee became her home. While In Kiev she and her family had to hunker down in fear in the basement as brutal, antisemitic pogroms raged above; in Milwaukee she could hold her head high and stand up for what she believed in. At age 11 she officially became a social activist, helping establish the Young American Sisters’ Society and organizing a book fundraiser to help poor fellow students who could not afford the textbook fees necessary for learning at Milwaukee’s free public schools. That event is beautifully recaptured and retold in the children’s picture book Goldie Takes a Stand, by Barbara Krasner.
As a picture book author, I am proud that the American Jewish picture book world has introduced Golda to young readers, but now I feel that they need to know more since the times have changed so much. Golda has long passed on and as an American educator explained to me ten years ago: “The further away the Holocaust gets, the greater the disconnect to Israel.”
Thanks to the Big Screen, Golda is back on many people’s mental screens. Certainly back on my mind, with her terse response to my father reminding me not to be a showoff, not to invade a person’s private moment, and most important: keep your comments simple and to the point. Quite a contrast to today’s politically correct climate overseas and the world’s narcissistic social media era. In short, there’s still much to learn from Golda.