Lady Liberty – Golda Meir and America

Stand for Israel  |  December 7, 2022

Golda Meir in pageant about America as Liberty, 1919
(Photo: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries)

Like many Jews who eventually ended up moving to (and helping form) the modern state of Israel, Golda Meir was born in Eastern Europe—in Kyiv, the Ukrainian city now once again facing violence. Life at the turn of the 20th century wasn’t an easy one then, especially for Jewish people. One of Golda’s earliest memories was of her father boarding up the family’s door to keep out rioters during an anti-Semitic pogrom.

Golda’s family at last found some safety and peace in America, moving to the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Golda was raised. The girl showed her leadership early on, tending her father’s humble shop by the age of eight, and even raising money to buy books for classmates even poorer than her own immigrant family.

While Golda also began her lifelong support for Zionism in Milwaukee, she was also a proud American, as seen in the above photo. There, in 1919, a young Golda Meir played the part of Lady Liberty in a patriotic pageant put on by some of the city’s Jewish immigrants.

Golda Meir would, of course, make aliyah (immigrate to the Holy Land) only a couple years later, the U.S. would always hold a special place in her heart. In 1932, she returned to America for an extended period, as her daughter Sarah suffered from a kidney ailment that required specialized help.

As Prime Minister, Golda would again return to the U.S., welcomed by President Richard Nixon, who called it:

A very great privilege for me, speaking in behalf of the American people, to welcome you, Madam Prime Minister, in a very personal sense, because you were raised in this country. You have been to this country many times, but we are particularly proud that for the first time we welcome you as the Prime Minister of Israel.

Near the end of her life, Golda again returned to the U.S., to see a play based on her life, with Anne Bancroft playing Meir. Called back to Jerusalem to meet with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (who insisted on dealing with Golda, of whom he said “She has guts”), the Jewish girl from Milwaukee would never again set foot in America. But as she said during her 1969 visit (seen above), Golda Meir believed that:

The history of Israel reborn in the years preceding statehood, and in the decades since its achievement, cannot be told without reference to the unwavering support and friendship shown by successive American governments and the American people.

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