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Golda Meir



A bronze sculpture of Golda Meir                                                                                         Sculpture of Golda Mier by 
by artist Helene Hirmes.                                                                                                          Beatrice Goldfine in Midtown,
                                                                                                                                                New York City, 2003.

   Golda Meir was one of the most important and powerful political figures of the twentieth century.  She led Israel at its most critical time in history.  Her contributions to Israel, inspirational achievements, and the power she embodied have gained her fame worldwide and as a subject of many literary works.  Numerous directors, writers, artists, and actors have strived to honor and portray this woman’s life, passion, achievements, and legacy.  In each of these famous works, including the drama A Woman Called Golda, the play Golda’s Balcony, and in various portraits, the author aims to depict two different aspects of Golda Meir’s life.  Golda is portrayed as being both a powerful political leader as well as being a maternal figure at a time when power was dominantly held by men.  As these literary works trace her political as well as personal life, they show the presence of both her maternal side as well as the traits she embodies that are typically considered to be masculine in her actions and decisions as Prime Minister of Israel.

        The docudrama A Woman Called Golda, made in 1982 by director Alan Gibson, traces Golda Meir’s life from her childhood to her final days as an active participant in the affairs of Israel.  This movie does an incredible job of depicting the ironwill and strength that Golda, played by Ingrid Bergman, displayed all her life as well as representing her as the ultimate “Mother of Israel.”  From the very opening scene, the viewer sees simultaneously Golda the politician and Golda the mother.  At her arrival at her old school in Milwaukee, she only agrees to put out her cigarette for the children she is about to speak to.  This single action displays her maternal side. She is instinctually concerned about exposing the children to a harmful substance and of setting a good example.  Golda's  identity as a mother played into her actions and behavior as a politician.  When she meets the first child who greets her by saying “hi Golda,” she affectionately pats her on the head.  She is tough and at the same time maternal in her appearance.  She is dressed in a very grandmotherly outfit of a knee-length skirt and blouse.  Her hair is tied back in a bun at her nape, and she is very short in stature.  However, there is also a powerful air and visible strength in her countenance.  This image of Golda as an inspirational authority figure and a caring mother is seen in the rest of the movie, as well.  In one scene while Golda is living on a kibbutz in Palestine, the women are faced with a broken water pipe.  Golda responds by saying, “Why do we need a man?”  Following this statement she climbs the roof herself and fixes the water clog.  This scene illustrates the idea that she, a female, can do the same things that any man can do.  She becomes greatly respected by the men living there and as a result is offered a position in the Histurdat, the Jewish labor union in Palestine (A Woman Called Golda).

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A Woman Called Golda directed by Alan Gibson  in 1982 traces the life of Golda Meir.

          After having children and being a housewife for several years, Golda returns to her mission in life:  “I came here to work and build a homeland.”  However, the movie also shows her having brief recollections where she displays feelings of guilt over leaving her children so that she can go to work.  She describes the regret she feels after the sad looks her children give her when she leaves for long periods of time.  When she tells Morris, her husband, that she has to see her sick daughter, he replies by saying “many people would be surprised.”  Although she is seen as the mother of Israel, her struggle to balance work and be a mother to her two children is also often represented in literature (A Woman Called Golda).

              While working in the Jewish organization and government, Meir is depicted as having gained influence and power in time in history when only men were in positions of power.  In all her meetings with the other organization leaders, she is the only woman present.  The film shows her as involved in many important political affairs, but then the film also shows her making dinner for the members of the Histurdat.  Even as a politician she is always at the same time a mother (A Woman Called Golda).

            One of the most touching scenes in the movie is when Golda goes to the Cyprus camps where all the Jews who are trying to leave Europe after World War II are being held.  Golda visits the camps because it is her job and because she is a mother.  Her objective is to save the children and their parents from the camps.  Golda refers to them as “these blessed children of ours.”  She goes on to say she wants them to have the chance to “grow up pure, strong, erect, and confident.”  In a moment as Golda displays motherly devotion, the children run to her as if she is their mother and give her flowers made of paper.  When she convinces the adults to let the children come to Israel before them, she sheds maternal tears, crying for the children “who never saw a flower.”   Male politicians are hardly ever shown as having paternal characteristics or feelings.  This aspect is what sets Golda apart from other politicians.  She brought her motherly instincts and traits into her role as political leader (A Woman Called Golda).

           In the film Golda is depicted as the mother of Israel because of her important role in the birth of Israel and all that she sacrifices to keep it alive.  When threatened with attack from the Arab nations, Golda raises 50 million dollars, twice the expected amount, to help fight the war and keep Israel alive.  Golda states, “We’re paying for the birth of our nation with our blood.”  When she returns home from the United States, Ben Gurion, the first Israeli Prime Minister, greets her and tells her she will go down in history as the “woman who made it possible for the Jewish state to be born.”  It was a woman, not a man, who made Israel.  Without the money she raises, Israel would not have been born. This money she raises goes towards defending Israel from the Arab nations. Although the money Golda raises is used to purchase weapons which is ultimately used to bring death, she did not take pleasure in causing death.  Her instincts are very maternal.  She wants to protect her nation from harm and use the weapons in response to others using the weapons against Israel first.  Without this funding Israel would not have been able to finance the war and therefore would have been conquered by its enemy, leading to an ultimate end to the dream of the creation of an independent Jewish state.   So, in a symbolic way, Golda does give birth to the state of Israel.  In the time following the victory Golda becomes a “typical doting grandmother” to make up for the years that she has not been a doting mother to her two children. In her years as the Prime Minister of Israel, she never neglects her role as the mother of Israel or as grandmother (A Woman Called Golda).

            Unlike other politicians, as Prime Minister, Golda concurrently exhibits her maternal and political qualities in all her actions and decisions.  There is a scene in the movie where she meets with an American senator to discuss war and weapons, and serves coffee and honey cake she has made for him.  The Senator is surprised, but in the end her political wit and strong-will win him over.  In another scene where she meets with President Saddat she gives him a gift “as a grandmother to a grandfather.”  Most politicians do not tend to bring aspects of their personal life into their job. However, Golda brings her experiences and identity as a mother into her political dealings.  She uses this identity as a mother to communicate with other political figures and to achieve her political objectives (A Woman Called Golda).

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Ingrid Bergman played Golda Meir in the 1982 docudrama A Woman Called Golda .

In the final scene Golda is introduced as the “Earth mother and Mother of Israel” at a political conference.  In her last speech in the final scene of the film she says since she is the Mother of Israel, “I have the responsibility to be a good mother.”  In her attempt to be a good mother, she tells the audience “good night, it’s late. Go home.” The film reflects historical reality.  Golda Meir always tried to be a good and responsible mother to Israel.  She does what she thinks is best for her “child,” the state:  “I did what I thought was right.” Golda was a symbol of hope to the Israeli people.  She symbolized their ideals and dreams and helped make them come alive (A Woman Called Golda).

            Golda’s Balcony, written in 2003 by William Gibson, is a story that depicts a woman who sacrifices to make the birth of Israel possible.  At the same time it describes a passionate woman who struggles to balance duty and her maternal feelings of concern for the wellbeing of her people.  The play centers mainly on the conflict between Jews and the Arabic countries, and the difficult decisions she faces.  In an important scene in the play after Golda has declined King Abdullah’s offer for averting war by partitioning Israel to Jordan to be placed under their rule, he is assassinated.  She then thinks of what might have happened if she had accepted the offer to avert war.  She states, “Women aren’t made for killing; we bring life into the world” (Gibson, 34) That is exactly what Golda Meir attempted to do in reality as a politician.  She combined her maternal characteristics and values with her duty as a member of the Jewish government. She hated having to do anything that caused bloodshed.  And although you can argue that she was a wartime leader she agonized greatly over any decisions she made during war and tried to allow as little bloodshed as possible.  Ultimately Golda's maternal values led to her retirement because she was unable to allow and give orders that led to the death or her people.

              In the play there is mention of Golda’s struggle to be a mother and follow her passions in politics.  She mentions the guilt she feels to the children for working so much. Golda’s husband tells her he wants his children to grow up with a mother.    However, she sacrifices spending time with them when they are young so that she can make the world a better place for them to live in: “I want them to grow up in a world that’s safe for Jews” (Gibson, 40).  She sacrifices time with her children to think about being a mother not just to her own children but to Israel as well.  Creating a Jewish state is her life.  She spends 50 years “laboring to beget-and to keep, to keep!”(Gibson, 40).  The character of Golda uses the word “beget” (which means to produce, sire, or be the biological father of) to talk about the founding of Israel.   Perhaps, the author uses this word to show the violence and struggle Golda has to endure in order to create a Jewish state.  Golda is Israel's creator as much as any father or man.  It may also be used to represent the personality traits generally associated with men that existed in Golda.  Golda is always described as being tough, iron-willed, and passionate.  Stereotypically these are all traits that are often attributed to men. In the play Golda is depicted as the mother of Israel.  Like mothers work to give birth to their children when in “labor,” Golda worked hard for 50 years to give birth to a Jewish state. 

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"Golda's Balcony" a play by William Gibson  depicts the life of Golda Meir played by Tovah Feldshuh in 2005.

        In the play, there are two balconies represented in Golda’s life.  The first balcony is outside her apartment in Tel Aviv, and the second is her post at Dimona.  The first balcony represents her domestic life and maternal side.  The other symbolizes her political life.  However, in many cases, the two different elements of her life fuse together, affecting her decisions and political views.  From these balconies she has a view of the ships arriving with the Jewish exiles, refugees and survivors coming from Cyprus.  When she goes as ambassador to Russia and decides to bring back to Israel a whole group of Jews,  thousands of Jews show up (Gibson, 45-46). They blow her kisses, cry, and kiss her dress.  She thanks them for remaining Jews, “a sentence that passed through the crowd, like a word from Isaiah” (Gibson, 46).  Golda is presented as a prophet and powerful being in this scene.  A teenage boy takes a picture of her and for weeks Jews on the street whisper to each other, “I have the picture” (Gibson, 47).  Copies are passed around to everyone.  Meir is a symbol of hope and inspiration to Jews all over the world. In a way, she is represented in this play almost as a mother goddess respected and worshipped by all. 

        As part of her role as the mother of Israel, she fights to keep it alive as it is a mother’s responsibility to make sure her child stays alive.  She spends so much time at Dimona, preparing to defend Israel against attack from the Arab nations, the men called it “Golda’s Balcony” (Gibson, 58).  Golda states: “Do I even think of letting Israel die?” (Gibson, 54).  No, even when she is physically sick and cannot sleep or eat she does everything in her power to keep Israel alive.  She does this all because of a dream she has.  She dreams of a paradise, with “grandchildren, a backyard with swings, a slide, and toy trucks to fall over” (Gibson, 56). This is where the two halves of her life come together.  Her vision and dreams for Israel combine her views as a mother and as a politician.  She wants a state where Jewish people and her own children can live in peace: “I ache, oh, all day for this simple paradise” (Gibson, 56).    These two aspects of her life both influence her to make many decisions on behalf of Israel. 

In later years of Golda’s life, and even after she had passed on, there were many portraits made of Golda because of her renowned fame as one of the most important figures of the twentieth century.  Andy Warhol, one of the most influential twentieth century artists and filmmakers, created many pieces of art from popular culture, including a portrait of Golda Meir.  This portrait shows Golda as a powerful and influential woman in history.  The print shows her with a very peaceful expression on her face with just the smallest of smiles.  She has a very motherly presence.  Her hair is pulled back in a bun, and there is warmth in her eyes and face.  Her nose is very prominent, and her eyebrows are thick.  There is still a feeling of her power and importance in the fixed gaze of her eyes and calm expression. Warhol's representation of her suggests that although she struggled through hard and violent years to establish a Jewish state she always and foremost tried to advocate peace through her authority.  This portrait displays her as one of the most popular  and beloved mother figures in the twentieth century (Warhol). 


Andy Warhol  pop culture portrait of Golda Meir painted in 1987.

    Another portrait that she sat for a year after her retirement was painted by Raphael Soyer, a Russian-born American socialist realist painter.  He found no deceitful or pompous behavior on her part although many politicians possess them ("Golda Meir").  She did not choose to become prime minister so that she could practice authority over others or because it was a prominent position.  Golda’s only motive was to help establish a Jewish state for her people.   In the portrait she is sitting in a chair with her hands in her lap.  She looks very maternal in this painting.  She is wearing a long, blue, full-sleeved dress.  She is not smiling but there is still something nurturing in her appearance.  She has bags under her eyes and seems a little tired or like she has been through a lot in her life.  This portrait represents Golda as a mother who worked hard as a politician of Israel (Soyer).  

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Golda sat for a portrait in 1975, a year after her retirement, painted by Raphael Soyer, a socialist realist painter.

        The image of her on the cover of Time Magazine shows both a maternal aspect and an aspect of a tough woman.  She looks very serious in the image and very strong.  However she also looks very much like a grandmother.  Her hair is once again pulled back in a bun, and many wrinkles are etched across her forehead and face.  Although she looks very stern and like she has been fighting a long time, there is warmth in her eyes and she still undeniably looks like a grandmother (Golda Meir).

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September 19, 1969 Time Magazine Cover

Golda Meir has been featured in various works of literature including plays, movies, books, as well as portraits.  All these works of literature portray the story of a loving mother and an exceptional political leader.  These two halves of her life came together and greatly influenced the choices she made, her achievements, and why she was seen as an inspiration by many.  Her instincts as a mother and as a talented politician led her to be seen as the mother of Israel and as a symbol of hope.  She will forever be remembered this way in these literary works, as well as in future ones.



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