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With renewed attention on Golda Meir, a look at the new film and her Milwaukee connection

Golda Meir in New York City, 1970
Golda Meir in New York City, 1970

You may have seen the movie marquees up for a new film about Golda Meir. She was Israel's fourth prime minister and only woman to hold that post to date. The new film Golda depicts Meir’s time as prime minister during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, with Helen Mirren portraying her.

While Meir is best known for her five decades in Israeli politics, perhaps you’ve noticed her local legacy passing by the Golda Meir School or the Golda Meir Library on UW-Milwaukee’s campus. That’s because she spent most of her formative years in Milwaukee after her family had moved here from Russia.

Meron Medzini not only knows about Meir’s time in Milwaukee, he also served as her spokesman during the 1973 war. He was a consultant on the current-day film and wrote an extensive political biography on Meir.

For Meir, leaving Milwaukee was a necessary move for her future, despite her enjoyment of the area. "'I will go to Palestine, I will become one of the founders or lay the foundations for a future Jewish state [and] in the process, I will build myself.' And this is basically what happened," Medzini explains. "She built herself, her career, and eventually she reached the top. So, she loved America. She had very, very strong feelings about America, especially Wisconsin, which is a beautiful state. She loved the lakes, the greenery, the space, the freedom and democracy, the unions and so on. But she came to the conclusion, this is not a place where I can fulfill my dreams, my ambitions."

Mezini's family was close to Meir and her family — his mother and Meir's were close friends since childhood. Medzini first met Meir in the 1930s as a younger child. "A rasping voice, always with a cigarette in her hand," he recalls.

Medizini got to see Meir's passion for social justice blossom into a political drive, which led her to advocate and pursue the formation of the Israeli state.

He notes that Meir was a compelling leader and asset even before she was named prime minister. "She became one of the top 15, 20 leaders of the country already in 1930 when she was one of the founders of the leading Labour Party. ... She showed the capacity to fulfill virtually any role, and people knew that she was reliable."

Meir's time as a leader, particularly during the Yom Kippur War, is seen somewhat controversially in Israel. She was known to be rigid, secretive and exceedingly strong willed. Medzini says the Golda filmmakers hoped to portray the circumstances that motivated Meir to make those decisions. "Now it's turning around," he says. "Now younger Israelis are beginning to get a totally different view. And in a certain respect, there is a growing understanding and probably respect, as well."


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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