Golda's Balcony
Who was this woman of iron will and a warm “Jewish heart,” whose single-minded dedication to her ideals could make a greater impression on statesmen than any amount of intellectual explanations, whose formidable determination could elicit both devotion and fear among those who worked closely with her?

Her autobiography described the rise of the Russian-born child of poor parents in Kiev to adolescence and young womanhood in the United States, to a kibbutz in Palestine and then on to public life—through the Histadrut, the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel which she served as both diplomat and statesman.

Golda became a Zionist long before she knew the meaning of the word “ideology.” The sound of Cossack horsemen galloping past her home when she was four years old put fear into her heart. But even then she knew instinctively that the terror-laden word “pogrom” presaged harm to her and her family simply because they were Jews. It was her elder sister Sheyna who later explained that the only hope of being freed from that gut fear lay in something called Zionist Socialism.

Many youngsters of fifteen threaten to run away from home when they have disagreements with their parents. Golda, an activist even at that age, did more then threaten when her parents decided it was time for her to leave school. She ran away to live with Sheyna, who for medical reasons had moved to Denver.

It was during her stay there that she met Morris Meyerson, a young Jewish immigrant from Lithuania. In Denver, Golda went to high school and at the same time learned more about Zionism and Socialism. She began to throw herself into Zionist work proper. In the midst of these activities, she and Morris married on December 24, 1917 — a few weeks after the Balfour Declaration. Three and a half years later, on July 24, 1921, she and Morris left the United States for Palestine.

It did not take long for Golda to make her mark in kibbutz circles, and within a year she was representing Kibbutz Merhavia at a conference. But while she felt in her element, the same could not be said for her husband. Morris was a quiet and private man who loved music and poetry. It was hard for him, both physically and mentally, to accustom himself to kibbutz life and a wife who thrived on public activity. The couple moved first to Tel Aviv and then to Jerusalem, where their two children, Menachem and Sarah, were born.

Those were not happy years for Golda. Morris had a minor job, the pay was small and, as was the case so often in those years, irregular. Then, in 1928, David Remez, the secretary-general of the Histadrut, offered her the post of secretary of the Woman Workers’ Council.

When she was appointed to the Histadrut Executive, Golda Meir’s activities lay in the field of labour relations, no easy task at a time of economic depression, but it was to stand her in good stead later on. Then, during the days of World War II, Golda Meir began to show her real steely mettle. She served on the Mandatory Government’s Economic War Council and arranged for emissaries to go to Europe to see how Jews could be saved. On the “Black Sabbath” of June 29, 1946, when the British arrested the leaders of the Jewish Agency, she took over the Political Department.

Four months after the birth of the State, Golda took up her first and only diplomatic post as Minister to Moscow. It was typical of her to decide that the legation should be as characteristic of Israel as possible and should therefore be run on the lines of a kibbutz. She did not remain long in her diplomatic post, however. After the first Knesset elections of 1949, Ben-Gurion recalled her to take up the post of Minister of Labour.

Golda herself described her seven years as Minister of Labour as the happiest of her life. At last, she was where she wanted to be, doing what she most wanted to do. Indeed it was a challenging job. It meant providing homes and work for the thousands of immigrants who had begun to pour into Israel, an almost superhuman task.

In 1956, Golda Meir was appointed Foreign Minister. Golda’s greatest achievement as Foreign Minister, and the one which made her name a household word in far-flung places, was in the field of international cooperation. She saw Israel’s version of international cooperation as typifying the drive towards social justice that was at the heart of Labour Zionism. Mrs. Meir held the office of Foreign Minister for nine years, retiring in 1965, pleading poor health.

Then, in February 1969, Levi Eshkol died of a heart attack and Golda Meir was called upon to step into the breach, to assume the country's highest office. In her own words, she accepted “for the sake of the country, the nation, the Labour movement and the Jewish people throughout the world.”

Her term of office as Prime Minister began when Israel was in the throes of the War of Attrition and ended with the Yom Kippur War. The Labour Party to which she was devoted was torn by divisions. Unacceptable “peace proposals” were being put forward by the Great Powers. The situation was daunting for anyone of her age and her poor state of health. But she thrived on difficulties and once in harness, her health improved.

Although Golda Meir felt herself the equal of any man in her Cabinet, she believed herself less-than-adequately equipped to sum up military situations, and for this she relied heavily on her army advisers. They assured her that the reports need not be taken too seriously.

It was typical of her almost instinctive approach that one item of intelligence should have bothered her, an item that did not seem to perturb her advisers. Why, she asked them and herself, should the families of the Russian advisers in Syria have left in such a hurry? Perhaps the reserves should be called up?

Later, she was to write: “I should have listened to the warnings of my own heart and ordered a call-up.” She never forgave herself for that one decision she failed to take “and I shall live with that terrible knowledge for the rest of my life.”

And so it was Golda Meir’s fate, at the age of 75, to be head of government during the Yom Kippur War and lead the country through its darkest hours. Golda referred to those dreadful early days of the war as “hard as death.”

If the war itself had been agonizing for her, the aftermath was even more exhausting. The Kissinger shuttles and endless negotiations, accusations and recriminations, counter-accusations and the war of the generals, the burning anger of the public which led to protest demonstrations. Although she was personally exonorated of blame for the mishaps and mistakes, she was not so insensitive as to have been left untouched by the public outcry. In March 1974, she told her party that she could no longer carry on.

Most political leaders who retire from office become “elder statesmen.” For Israel and the world, Golda remained “Golda”: a matriarchal figure of undeniable courage, a complete dedication to duty as she understood it; an undeviating love of the Jewish people and its Land. Yet she was, at the same time, a woman of fierce likes and dislikes. She had little taste for intellectual subtleties. She could inspire devotion and yet exasperate those who admired her. She commanded the world's respect. Golda was Golda, solid as a monument.
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