Golda Meir speech raises $50 million for Haganah
In January 1948, Israel's declaration of independence was imminent, and war with Arab states seemed inevitable. Golda Meir (at that time Golda Meyerson), acting head of the Jewish Agency, was sent to the U.S. to try to raise $25 million to equip the Jewish armed forces. In a speech that she remembered as "unscheduled, unrehearsed ... and unannounced" at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds in Chicago on January 21, Meir spoke so compellingly that she raised twice the requested amount.
Born in Ukraine, Meir was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she trained as a teacher. During a year in Denver, where she lived with an older sister, she discovered Zionism, which became her life's passion. She moved to Palestine in 1921, and soon became her kibbutz's representative to the Histadrut, the general federation of labor. By 1934, she was on the Histadrut's executive committee, and two years later was named head of its political department. During World War II, she moved up the ranks of the Jewish Agency, and became its acting head after the male leadership was arrested by the British authorities. Thus, by 1948, her proven abilities, added to her perfect English, made her the obvious choice to raise money for Israel among American Jews.
In June 1948, Meir became the new state of Israel's ambassador to the U.S.S.R; in 1949 she was elected to the Israeli parliament and then appointed minister of labor. After seven years in that post, she served as Israel's Foreign Minister for a decade. It was in that post that she changed her name from Meyerson to Meir, to better represent her Hebrew-speaking nation. In 1969, she was elected Prime Minister of Israel.
To learn more about Golda Meir, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 903-909; New York Times, April 23, 1978.