“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?” ~ Hillel
This sums up Golda Meir, the protagonist of A Woman Called Golda. Throughout her life, as portrayed in the novel, she struggled to find the balance between her own needs and the needs of the Jewish nation. More often than not, the Jewish nation won, to the neglect of her own family. Her husband didn’t share her level of enthusiasm and so their marriage failed. Her children were more of a distraction from the business at hand. Saving her Jewish brethren from unending war and hatred took center stage in Golda Meir’s life.
In 1982, Ingrid Bergman starred in a four-hour television mini-series entitled A Woman Called Golda. It followed the life of Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister and an influential mover in Israel’s birth as a nation. Although based on the mini-series, the book takes creative liberties of its own, introducing a character who wasn’t present in the film, let alone in the real Golda Meir’s life. This point particularly interested me since I found the character in question rather frustrating and even irritating, which I’ll get into more in a moment.
Overall, the book was a fairly easy read and clocked in at around 260 pages. The author condensed quite a bit from the 4-hour miniseries and left out quite a bit more. For example, Golda’s childhood is barely mentioned, save for an important incident, and the book focuses more on her adulthood and her involvement with Israel’s formation. Only major life events are noted in the novel but I wouldn’t call the book an accurate representation of Golda Meir’s life.
First off, it’s not a biography. The subtitle is “A Novel Based On The Inspiring Television Movie Starring Ingrid Bergman As Golda Meir”. So, for starters, it’s a novel based on a television mini-series about a real person. At this point, so much creative license had been taken, that I wondered how much was fact and how much was fiction. Even some of the dates were tampered with in order to keep a creative flow, according to the book’s introduction. The novel’s frame story takes place at an all-black middle school in Wisconsin in 1977 where an elderly Golda tells her life-story to the assembled students. In reality, Golda visited in the school in 1969 but the filmmakers and authors chose to alter the date for dramatic effect.
Creative license is all good and well but I do think it’s important to note that the novel probably isn’t good source material if you’re looking to read up on Golda Meir’s life. As a novel, it reads tolerably well but as a historic piece, it leaves a quite a bit to be desired.
With that in mind, I’ll come to the most frustrating bit for me: Efraim Ben Ariel. The author(s) created him for the novel as a conglomerate of various people Golda knew throughout her lifetime and who impacted her in significant ways. Once again, all good and well for the purposes of creative license. However, the author(s) turned Ariel into Golda’s love interest which would have been more than fine, save for one glaring problem: Golda was already married.
Golda married Morris Meyerson at a young-ish age (early to mid-twenties) and dragged him with her to a kibbutz (a small Jewish desert settlement) in Palestine so she could realize her dream of bringing peace to the Jewish nation. Morris didn’t want to go but he went for his wife and hated nearly every minute of it. Things eventually came to a head and Morris gave her an ultimatum: he was leaving the kibbutz. If Golda went with him, they would stay in the Palestine but move to a more civilized Jerusalem. If Golda didn’t go with him, he’d return to America. Golda softened and so they moved to Jerusalem but their marriage was never the same. She made significant decisions without consulting Morris and Morris, in turn, grew more and more passive and apathetic.
The problem, according to Golda, lay in the quotation I put at the top of this post: “if I am for myself only, what am I?” Golda had a passion for her Jewish brethren. Born in Kiev, Russia, she saw the maltreatment of Jews and wanted to do something about it. Even when her family moved to America while she was still a young girl, the driving passion to liberate her Jewish kinsman never left her. Morris, although Jewish himself, was American-born and couldn’t fully understand Golda’s self-imposed mission. As a result, Golda had little time for him. Their life-goals failed to align and Golda’s personality brooked no argument or resistance.
Ephraim ben Ariel saw Golda’s vision from the moment he saved her during a Arab air-raid on the kibbutz (which actually turned out to be a training session and not the real thing…). Ariel saw Golda and Golda saw Ariel and both imagined that they truly understood one another and the cause they fought for. Morris didn’t understand but Ariel just got it, somehow. And so, though nothing graphic or explicit is depicted in the novel, an affair ensues. Ariel and Golda developed feelings for one another and did precious little to hide them, neither one seeming to care that Golda was already married. Granted, their affair carried on through amorous looks and gestures and words and the narrator does most of the insinuating until Ariel finally proposes to Golda near the end of the book.
The author(s) created a character only to make that character the focal point for an adulterous relationship. I was vastly irritated with Golda for most of the novel, though I could also understand her passion for Jewish freedom and her own irritation when those around her didn’t seem to share the same zeal. None of us likes to be misunderstood or, worse still, to be belittled or have our passions belittled. However, the Golda of the novel took her zeal too far. She neglected her husband, neglected her children, and all for The Cause. The author(s) painted her as some sort of saint and applauded her one-track-mindedness and her intense loyalty to the Jews and Israel, whatever the cost to her own family life. But I found it all rather sad and pathetic even.
Golda and Morris lived separate lives after Golda began her involvement in Israel’s formation. They lived in different cities but never divorced and when Golda got wind of Morris’ death, she rushed to his funeral only to arrive late. As she and her now-adult children (whom she also seldom saw) stood around Morris’ grave, the narrator uttered the most heart-wrenching words in the entire novel (at least to me anyway haha):
“Death had brought together the people that life could not.”
How incredibly heart-breaking! But isn’t that just the way of the world? We find all the lovely things to say about people at their funerals but lose our words when they’re alive to actually hear them. So it was with Golda Meir and her husband, Morris. The novel portrays their marriage as something that worked out in the beginning when the sparks of romance flew high but dissolved when both parties were longer “feeling it”. It’s a shoddy representation of something the Most High takes rather seriously.
One final thing I’d like to bring out is the sorry plight of the Jewish people represented in the novel. One of the things the author(s) portrayed brilliantly was the Jewish struggle for acceptance and peace. Personally, I hadn’t really known anything about the formation of Israel prior to reading A Woman Called Golda. Even though I do believe not everything in the novel is accurate, I did learn many things I hadn’t known before. Such as America’s early involvement in Israel’s early fight for freedom. I hadn’t known about Golda Meir’s trip to America to raise funds for the Jewish cause and the astonishing results (she was able to raise much more than she or Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, had anticipated).
Throughout the novel, you, as the reader, really get a sense of how desperate the Jewish-Israeli plight was and still is. Arabs hated them and not many would stand with them in their fight against their enemies. Like with all cases of prejudice and ethnic-wars, it’s chilling to see how wickedly we can behave toward our fellow humans. We’re all made in the image of the Most High but we can stoop to the lowest of lows in how we treat one another.
However, something hit me as I finished the novel. For all the resilient hope which flamed in the collective Jewish heart and the belief that peace would one day reach their homeland, there was a bitter note of despair. They still believed that their Messiah had not yet come, that they were still waiting on their saviour. In fact, they still believe that to this day. What shattered my soul as I closed the final pages was that their Saviour had indeed come, Hope arrived in Palestine but they killed Him, thinking in arrogance that He was an imposter. Please understand me: I don’t say this out of malice or ill-will toward Jews or the Jewish religion, but simply out of Biblical fact. To me, this is one of the saddest things in the world: they clung on to hope, they prayed and longed for a deliverer, the promised Messiah, but when He landed, they were too blind to see Him.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ weeps over Jerusalem, pleads with His Jewish brethren, with the humans He created, tells them in plain terms that He is the promised Messiah, He has come from the Father that they may be saved. They thought the prophecies meant He would save them from Roman rule, perhaps they still think that, but He meant to save them from something more deadly: sin. Sin which resides in each of our hearts. He had come to bring them out of spiritual darkness and into the Sun but like the dwarves in CS Lewis’ The Last Battle, they were so afraid of being taken in by deceit and trickery, that they missed the Truth when it did arrive. They murdered the One Who was the answer to their deepest longing.
It’s incredibly heart-breaking and it led me to thankfulness as I finished the novel. Thankfulness that though His own did not receive Him, He deigned to come to the Gentiles as well; to those of non-Jewish blood and to make them Sons and Daughters of the King. It’s humbling for those of us Gentile-Christians! All praise to His Name indeed!
So, I don’t necessarily recommend A Woman Called Golda though it was interesting. It does also have a smattering of language. Nothing super explicit and harsh but it’s there. But overall, it’s not a book I would read again.
My Favourite Quotations From the Novel |
“Death had brought together the people life could not.”
“It was a poignant moment between three people, once united, now living widely different lives.”
“People in the same boat tend to get along. That is not only the way of Palestine, it is the way of the world.”
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read A Woman Called Golda and what your thoughts were!! I’m curious 🙂
| We’re in a War, my friends, and we all need Courage on the Front Lines ❤ |