Golda Meir was Israel’s fourth prime minister, serving from 1969 to 1974, and the world’s third female head of government. In her seventies at the time, she charmed much of the world with her “Jewish grandmother” image—especially as juxtaposed with her defense minister Moshe Dayan, a tough sabra (native-born Israeli) with an eye-patch.
Unlike Dayan, Meir was not a sabra; she was born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1898. Her first memory was of her father boarding up the front door because of rumors of a pogrom. In 1905 her father moved to Milwaukee by himself in search of work; a year later, having found a job in a railroad yard, he brought the rest of the family over.
Golda showed leadership qualities early, forming something called the American Young Sisters Society. She was also drawn to socialist Zionism, then an energetic enterprise devoted to creating pioneering settlements in the Land of Israel. She joined a socialist-Zionist youth movement, and in that context she met Morris Meyerson. They got married in 1917, and in 1921 they left to join the fledgling Jewish community in Palestine. (Golda later Hebraicized the name Meyerson to Meir.)
Golda Meir’s story stirs a certain nostalgia. The current Israeli Labor Party—a descendant of socialist Zionism or, as it came to be called, Labor Zionism—is a pallid, even ludicrous remnant. It hardly has the spunk and grit that Golda Meir embodied. True, the decline of socialism left a void for this ideological trend; but it’s not only that.