Golda Meir

The first and only female prime minister of Israel.

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Golda Meir--then Mabovitch--was born in 1898 in Kiev. In 1903 her father, driven to destitution, left Russia for the United States. Golda, together with her mother and siblings, moved to Pinsk and waited for her father to send for them. Pinsk was one of the centers of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and Golda grew up amid the threat of pogroms and in the subversive atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Russia.

Early Years

israeli prime minister golda meirIn 1906, the family moved to the States and was reunited with their father in Milwaukee. Golda excelled in her studies and, upon graduating high school, trained as an educator and became a teacher. In 1915 she joined the local branch of the socialist Zionist party Poalei Zion and in 1921, together with her husband Morris Myerson, immigrated to the Palestine.

The couple joined Kibbutz Merhavya in the northern Jezreel valley. Overcoming the grueling conditions on the kibbutz as well as the widespread prejudice that American girls were not tough enough for a life of manual labor, Golda began to fulfill her ambition of being a pioneer. "Not being beautiful," she wrote, "was the true blessing. Not being beautiful forced me to develop my inner resources. The pretty girl has a handicap to overcome."

Rise to Power

Almost immediately, Meir took on positions of responsibility in the Histadrut, the workers' federation responsible for the lion's share of pre-1948 economic development, social services, and political leadership. In 1928 she was appointed as executive secretary of the Women Workers' Council, and served as emissary to the Pioneer Women's Organization in the United States from 1932-34. Upon her return to Palestine, Meir was invited to join the executive committee of the Histadrut and, two years later, was appointed as head of its Political Department. In June 1946, Meir replaced Moshe Shertok (later Sharett) as head of the Jewish Agency's Political Department, the quasi-foreign ministry of the state-in-waiting.

In 1947, the British announced their intention to leave Palestine, and turned the question of the country's future over to the United Nations. As the U.N. General Assembly prepared to vote on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Meir was sent on a clandestine mission to negotiate in person with King Abdullah of Transjordan. In a November 1947 meeting with Meir at Naharayim, in the Jordan Valley, the king declared himself an ally of the Zionists and promised to abstain from hostilities against the Jewish state. Yet six months later, rumors reached the Yishuv's leadership that Abdullah had joined the Arab League and was planning to join the coming attack on Israel.

On May 10, 1948, Meir set out again, this time for a meeting in Amman. She traveled disguised as an Arab woman, changing cars several times to preserve the meeting's secrecy. This time the king was less forthcoming. He admitted the Jews were his only allies in the region, but said that his hands were tied. He argued against the declaration of statehood and offered the Jews the status of a protected minority in an enlarged Jordanian state. Meir, unsurprisingly, rejected the offer.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.