1978 – Death of Golda Meir

By Dan Eisenberg (Mazkirut 5774-76)

She was the first female prime minister of Israel. She was called Golda Meir and she died on 8th December 1978. I remember when I was a kid my parents telling me that it was very important that I go see a one woman show with them at the Shaw Theatre called Golda’s Balcony. I remember being skeptical about going because I didn’t want to watch a play about a woman who was reported to have said: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” I remember hearing this quote being wielded as a sober yet ironic statement that somehow captured the “truth” behind all this conflict. It makes me feel queasy to think that a leader would be praised and commemorated for thinking that another group of human beings made in the divine image do not truly love their children. Despite my reservations, I went to see the play because I wanted to understand Golda a bit more than the superficiality if this quote. Tovah Feldshuh’s portrayal moved me to tears. I saw the toughness and the fragility of this female Jewish warrior politician carving out a path that she believed was necessary to stop the destruction of the Jewish people. The play included allusions to the idea that she considered using Israel’s apparently non-existent nuclear weapons in enemy neighbours. I was emotionally drawn to her as a human being and yet I rationally knew that she had made racist remarks. She was like a warm and loving bubele and also a bellicose battle-axe. She signed Israel’s declaration independence and wept at this historic moment. She also presided over the occupation of Palestinian land and allowed the first wave of extremist settlers to set up outposts one Pesach. Golda Meir represents my double-edged relationship to Israel and Zionism. One one side, there is the blade of security provided by the military that cuts through my desire to think of Israel as a warm and living place. I want Israel to be a Yiddishe grandmother to me and sometimes it is, like when I was lost in rosh Hashanah last year and knocked on a random person’s door and was immediately invited for dinner. Yet I am also deeply pained by the way that this grandmother figure who loves her children and grandchildren so much can believe that the Arabs “force us to kill their children”. Golda was a human full of contradictions, like us all, but in her case she had much power and influence which have shaped Israel as we know it. May Israel’s next prime minister be a woman who is able to balance power with genuine compassion for all those created in the image of God.