Golda Meir: The Girl From Milwaukee Who Became Prime Minister

Best known for being Israel’s first (and only to date) female prime minister, Golda Meir, started life in Kiev before moving with her family to Milwaukee in 1906. After a quick stint in Denver, she immigrated to Israel in 1921. One of only two women who signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Meir served as a labor minister and as foreign minister, and in 1969 became prime minister.

Though some of her five years as prime minister were controversial, her commitment to helping the Jewish people and the State of Israel remain her legacy, earning her a spot as an integral part of Israeli history.

  1. Where was Golda Meir born in 1898?
    • Kiev, Ukraine
    • Budapest, Hungary
    • Berlin, Germany
    • Warsaw, Poland
  2. Golda Meir grew up in which American city?
    • Chicago
    • Los Angeles
    • New York
    • Milwaukee
  3. What was Golda’s earliest memory?
    • Stepping foot in Israel for the first time
    • Her father boarding up the front door against rumored pogroms
    • Her first time learning about Zionism
    • The Holocaust
  4. Before the State of Israel was declared, Golda raised how much money in America?
    • 50 million dollars
    • 7 million dollars
    • 25 million dollars
    • 100 million dollars
  5. As labor minister from 1949-1956, Golda supervised the building of how many apartments?
    • 100,000
    • 200,000
    • 30,000
    • 10,000
  6. How many women signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence?
    • 0
    • 10
    • 2
    • 5
  1. Can you be both a good liberal (universal commitment to healing the world) and a good Zionist (a particular loyalty to a specific group)? Do you see these two identities as totally separate entities or ones that can overlap and even complement each other? Can you understand why people may think differently?
  2. Golda Meir left behind her comfortable life in America for a difficult one in pre-state Israel. Why do you think Golda left behind the familiar for the unknown and foreign?
  3. When Golda Meir became the Israeli foreign minister, she became the face of Israel. She was known for her various characteristics: tough, modern, old fashioned, wise, funny and deeply Jewish. If you were to conceptualize the perfect person to become “the face of Israel” what characteristics would that person possess? Does Golda share any of those qualities?
  4. Golda Meir has a complicated legacy. She helped build the fledgling Jewish state, supported developing countries around the world and became Israel’s first female prime minister. Alternatively, she received major criticism for her handling of the Yom Kippur War and her treatment of Mizrahi Jews. What do you think was Golda Meir’s biggest legacy?
  5. After a cabinet member suggested a curfew for women in the evenings to protect them from rapists, Golda suggested “but it’s the men who are attacking the women. If there’s to be a curfew, let the men stay at home.” What lesson do you think Golda was trying to teach here both specifically and generally?
  1. Quote Prompts:
    Use the Golda Meir quotes below as writing prompts. To help prepare your students to write, lead them in a short discussion, ask them to partner up, or put them in small groups to discuss the meaning of the quotes. Reinforce the idea that quotes have different meanings to different people based on our life experiences and that there are a variety of ways to interpret each quote. Finally, ask your students to each choose one quote to write a paragraph about or to reflect on by filming a video.
    Golda Meir quotes:

    • “Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!”
    • “Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here.”
    • “There is no Zionism except the rescue of Jews”
    • “It is true that we have won all our wars, but we have paid for them.”
    • “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us”
    • “We do not rejoice in victories. We rejoice when a new kind of cotton is grown and when strawberries bloom in Israel.”
    • “A leader who doesn’t hesitate before he sends his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader.”
    • “We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle with the Arabs – We have no place to go.”
    • “A story once went the rounds of Israel to the effect that Ben-Gurion described me as ‘the only man’ in his cabinet. What amused me about it is that he thought that this was the greatest compliment that could be paid to a woman. I very much doubt that any man would have been flattered if I had said about him that he was the only woman in the government!”
    • “We’ve been waiting for 2000 years. Is that hurrying?”
  2. Debate:
    Put your students into small groups of 2-3 and have half the groups come up with three successes of Golda Meir’s career and the other group come up with three failures/challenges. Then, call up two representatives from each side to debate Golda Meir’s legacy. After this exercise, survey your students using a tool like mentimeter to see if they view Golda as a hero or not. Can somebody still be a hero without a “perfect record”?
  3. Experiential Learning Activity: Engage your students in an experiential learning activity around the theme of leadership.
  4. Play our Kahoot about Golda Meir!
  1. A hero can be defined as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. After learning about Golda Meir through videos and discussion, what makes Golda Meir stand out as a great Jewish hero in your opinion?
  2. After watching the video, what are three lessons you personally learned from Golda Meir? How can you apply these lessons to your own life?
  3. Is it possible for you to have deep reverence for a leader while acknowledging their imperfections, or do you expect your leaders to be mostly infallible?
  4. How did Golda Meir exemplify how one can be both a universalist as well as a particularist? How does this apply to your own life? Have you ever faced a tension between these two identities? Watch this video from Rabbi Sacks for a clear explanation of particularism vs universalism.
  5. Leading up to the 6 Day War of 1967, Golda famously supported her friend, Israel’s then prime minister Levi Eshkol who was hesitant to start the war when she said “a leader who doesn’t hesitate before he sends his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader.” Share a time where you showed hesitation or saw someone else hesitate before a big decision. Did you see this as a sign of strength or weakness?
  1. Unpacked for Educators:
  2. Rabbi Sacks on Particularism vs Universalism | Video
  3. Daniel Gordis, Israel, A Concise History; Chapter 14: The Yom Kippur War–The “Conception” Crashes
  4. Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers
  5. Francine Klagsbrun, Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel
  6. Ervin Birnbaum, “The Most Fateful Conference of All Times in Jewish History, Part II,”
  7. Center for Israel Education, “Israeli ‘Black Panthers’ Meet with Prime Minister Meir to Discuss Mizrahi Jews”

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