Today is the day Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, Golda Meir, was born. Born Goldie Mabovitch, on May 3, 1898 in Kiev, Russia, young Golda immigrated to the United States with her family in 1905.
The Mabovitch family escaped pogroms in Eastern Europe and made their new home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, eventually named the most segregated city in America. As a child, she attended a local public school, Fourth Street Grade School, later renamed in her honor.
From the famous book, My Life, by Golda Meir:
“One important event (to me) took place when I was in the fourth grade. I got involved in my first ‘public work.’ Although school in Milwaukee was free, a nominal sum was charged for text books, which many of the children in my class could not afford. I decided to launch a fund. It was to be my first experience as a fund-raiser.
I collected a group of girls from the school, explained the purpose of the fund, and we all painted posters announcing that the American Young Sisters Society (we were particularly proud of the name we had made up for our nonexistent organization) was to hold a public meeting on the subject of textbook. Then, having appointed myself chairman of the society, I hired a hall and sent invitations out to the district. Today it seems incredible to me that anyone would agree to rent a hall to a child of eleven but the meeting took place as scheduled on Saturday evening, and dozens of people came. The program was very simple: I spoke about the need for our children to have textbooks whether they had money or not. The result of the meeting: A considerable amount of money (by our standards) was raised.”
Golda Meir, known for her advocacy for human rights, inspired Milwaukee playwright Jonathan Gillard Daly to write the play, To The Promised Land. The story focuses on Ruth, an African-American girl who is mourning the murder of her brother by police during the Milwaukee riots for open housing. As punishment for ditching school, Ruth is given an assignment about the life of Israeli PM, Golda Meir. Ruth discovers that she attends the same school and lives in the same house where Golda Meir grew up 60 years earlier. After being forced back to school, Ruth gives a presentation about Israel’s PM, Golda Meir, to her entire class.
“I was so interested in her affinity for the African-American struggle,” said Daly. “Golda Meir School [at the time she attended, Fourth Street Grade School] used to have an entirely Jewish student body. Now, the school has an entirely African-American student body. There’s an iconic photo of Golda on a visit to the school…she’s embracing a young African-American girl. That was my inspiration. I wanted to bring those worlds together. The struggles of these races are so similar—the scorn and displacement and years of mistreatment.”
“More than fifty years later — when I was seventy-one and a prime minister — I went back to that school for a few hours. It had not changed very much in all those years.They welcomed me as though I were a queen. They serenaded me with Yiddish and Hebrew songs and raised their voices to peal out the Israeli anthem “Hatikvah” which made my eyes fill with tears. Each one of the classrooms had been beautifully decorated with posters about Israel and signs reading SHALOM.” – PM Golda Meir z”l
In 1921, Golda and her husband, Morris Meyerson, made Aliyah (immigrated) to Israel where Golda served the Israeli government in several roles, including Minister of Labor and Foreign Minister, for 20 years.
In 1948, Israel declared its independence and Golda Meir was one of the signatories of the declaration. Golda officially Hebraized her name from Meyerson to Meir in 1956.
In 1969, Golda Meir became the country’s first woman Prime Minister, and only the third woman in the world to hold the title. On December 8, 1978, at the age of 80, Golda Meir died of leukemia, and was buried on December 12, 1978 at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Former Prime Minister, Golda Meir z”l, continues to inspire people of many different backgrounds. She was called the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics and former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion affectionately called her, “the best man in the government”. Not only did she exemplify empathy, compassion, and leadership qualities from a young age, she also became aware and involved in issues of women’s suffrage, trade unionism, and most importantly, Zionism and Israel.