“[Golda Meir was] one of the greatest women in the history of the Jewish people and one of the decisive figures in the shaping and the fate of the State of Israel…a stalwart lioness…She may have had doubts during her life but she was never in doubt as to the justice of our actions, of our existence and our path.”
-Shimon Peres, 1978
"I never could have imagined… the great changes that have taken place here and I cannot get used to them... On one side there is still the crack-brained tumult about 'prosperity.' On the other, in our small world, a painful, frightening depression... I attended the last Labor Party conference where the discussion was not of peace but of ending the in-fighting. After that I attended party meetings where again this was discussed and I could not believe my eyes and ears; this wasn't our movement, not our people, not our style. We never imagined that the calamity in Germany and Austria would be reflected this way here. Thousands of people have persuaded themselves that there is no difference between what happened there and what is happening here. They have simply lost their heads."
- Golda Meir to Hayim Greenberg, 1934 [the offered letter]
EARLY LETTER FROM ISRAEL’S ONLY FEMALE PRIME MINISTER DEMONSTRATING HER UNYIELDING COMMITMENT TO THE LABOR ZIONIST CAUSE.
A passionate visionary, a tireless activist, and one of the founders of the Jewish state, Golda Meir (1898-1978) stands as one of the most formidable prime ministers in Israel’s history. Born in Kyiv, she immigrated to Milwaukee in 1906 at the age of 8, and became keenly interested in politics at a young age. Childhood memories of hiding from the Cossacks, and antisemitic violence contributed to her lifelong commitment to Jewish security. Meir’s passion for Labor Zionism drove her to make Aliyah with her husband and join a kibbutz in 1921. She quickly became a representative to the Histadrut (General Federation of Labour) and served as the secretary of that organization’s Women’s Labour Council. This work earned her a reputation as a pioneer of the Labor Zionists and brought her to the attention of David Ben-Gurion and other leaders of the movement.
From 1932 to 1934 Meir was sent to the United States to represent Histadrut’s Women’s Labour Council. During that time she forged a friendship with Hayim Greenberg (1889-1953), the recipient of the letter we have on offer. Greenberg, a leader within the American Labor Zionist Movement, was an important writer on ethical and philosophical issues, a political spokesman for Israel within the Jewish and non-Jewish world, and the first editor of Jewish Frontier, a journal that featured articles from well-known Jewish writers and future Israeli prime ministers including David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertoka. It served as a comprehensive source of information and analysis about Israel/Palestine and was an important forum for liberal and socialist discourse. As an editor and activist, Greenberg was steadfast in his beliefs which sometimes put him at odds with others within the Zionist movement. This led Meir to hold him in even higher regard, explaining “It was important to know what Greenberg thought on this or that…In the same way, thousands of people in Jewish Palestine…longed to know what Berl Katznelson thought…Hayim Greenberg was of this type…diffusing moral purity over his surroundings…There was always a feeling that he saw and knew.” (Raider 16-17)
This fine letter from Golda Meir to Hayim Greenberg was written upon her return to Jerusalem in 1934 following two years in the United States. It’s addressed to “Chaver” (meaning close friend in Hebrew). In this correspondence, Meir focuses on the state of affairs she encountered upon returning to Israel in 1934 and her disappointment in the rise of Revisionist Zionists who, in contrast to the Labor Zionists, believed in militance and territorial maximalism. Greenberg, credited with creating the ideological vision that all American Jews could unite behind the Zionist cause, worked against the Revisionist Zionists and other zealots who believed in the immediate declaration of the Jewish right to political sovereignty throughout Mandatory Palestine and Transjordan. In this letter Meir opens up to her dear friend, “And the riveting question is - What will be? Do we have sufficient strength to stem the tide that is dragging us on a downward slope? It would be so good to have you here. Many friends have asked about you.” Meir embraced the advice and insight of friends like Greenberg and together they stood against the Revisionists.
By 1934, the year of this letter, Meir’s own political star was rising and she was elected to Histadrut’s Executive Committee and then quickly became the head of its political department, positions that would lay the foundation for her future success in Israeli leadership. She brought vigor, eloquence and shrewd diplomacy to the cause to which she had dedicated her life—the creation, preservation and betterment of the state of Israel—by fundraising in America with the help of Greenberg and others, secretly meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah in 1947, and serving as Israel’s minister of labor (1949-1956), minister of foreign affairs (1956-66) and prime minister (1969-1974). As one of only a few female heads of state during the twentieth century, Meir is one of the most notable women of our time and according to Eleanor Roosevelt was “one [who we] cannot help but deeply respect and deeply love.”
From the 1920s until her death in 1978 Meir remained closely connected to her colleagues and friends in the Labor Zionist movement. In 1963, on the 10th anniversary of Hayim Greenberg’s passing, she hosted a memorial meeting at her home in Jerusalem. On that day there were community-wide observances around the globe and more than 150 American rabbis delivered sermons in his memory. While the correspondence between Meir and Greenberg exposes some of the challenges facing Zionists in the 1930s, their work would ultimately lead to success for their cause - the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Autograph letter signed. Jerusalem: 1934. Three pages, on the recto and verso of a square bifolium, the text in Yiddish, signed "Golda" in Yiddish, 6 x 6 inches (15.5. x 15.5 cm), accompanied by a translation into English. Fine condition.
RARE: This is the earliest letter we can trace from Golda Meir that has been on the market.
WITH: A number of additional items from Hayim Greenberg’s estate including typed and signed letters from theologians Louis Finkelstein and Reinhold Niebuhr; an autograph letter signed from philosopher Jacques Maritain; an autograph letter signed from Eliahu Elath, Israel's first Ambassador to the United Kingdom; a rare 1949 printed invitation to the opening of the reception honoring Israeli Independence Day, hosted by Prime Minister and Mrs. Ben-Gurion; and two envelopes with the return address in the hand of painter Marc Chagall.
Full text of Golda Meir’s letter to Hayim Greenberg (translated from Yiddish):
Dear Chaver Greenberg,
I have been wanting to talk with you for quite a while but haven’t written because the mail is not a satisfactory medium for a conversation; but what can one do? I do want to talk to you about many things, bitter things.
While I was in the states I could have never imagined the great changes that have taken place here, and I cannot get used to them.
On one side there is a crack-brained tumult about “prosperity.” On the other, in our small world, a painful, frightening depression. Only when one is here and meets our people and finds oneself in our labor Zionist circles can one realize the effect of the last 15 months. First, looking closely at our ranks one sees the success of the revisionists. There exists, however, a small group of weary creative people who want to stop the tide, but seldom experience moments when they believe that they will succeed.
I attended the last Labor Party conference where the discussion was not of peace but of ending the in-fighting. After that I attended party meetings where again this was discussed and I could not believe my eyes and ears; this wasn't our movement, not our people, not our style. We never imagined that the calamity in Germany and Austria would be reflected this way here. Thousands of people have persuaded themselves that there is no difference between what happened there and what is happening here. They have simply lost their heads.
All of this is taking place in an atmosphere where Arab labor is being introduced into every corner of economic life in the land. Jewish labor is sought, but there are no workers. And the riveting question is - What will be? Do we have sufficient strength to stem the tide that is dragging us on a downward slope?
It would be so good to have you here. Many friends have asked about you.
Hearty regards from [Shlomo] Hestrin with whom I speak frequently about you.
[Shlomo Hestrin (1912-1962), Israeli biochemist. Born in Canada, went to Palestine in 1933, completed studies at Hebrew University. Awarded Israel Prize in 1957. Appointed head of biochemistry of Hebrew University in 1959. Source: Encyclopedia Judaica]
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Golda Meir.” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 4, 2022.
Paul Hofmann. “Golda Meir, 80, Dies in Jerusalem; Israelis Acclaim ‘Stalwart Lioness.’”
The New York Times. December 9, 1978.
Stephen Klaidman. “Golda Meir: She Lived for Israel.” The Washington Post. December 9, 1978.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin. “Golda Meir.” The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 1999.
Mark A. Raider, Editor. The Essential Hayim Greenberg. University of Alabama Press, 2017.
Price: $6,800 .