She is sometimes called “The Mother of Israel” and sometimes the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics.
Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth Prime Minister and only female head of state, is experiencing a resurgence of fame in 2023, more than 44 years after her death.
In Ukraine, soldiers carry translations of her biography in their backpacks, a reminder that Meir was born in Ukraine when it was under Russian rule and Jews were targeted by pogroms. She has been quoted by Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky: “We intend to remain alive. Our neighbors want to see us dead. This is not a question that leaves much room for compromise.”
And at the Berlin International Film Festival, a new film, Golda, made its premiere in February starring Helen Mirren as Golda navigating high stakes decisions during the Yom Kippur War and Liev Schreiber as the American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
It seemed fitting, then, that during his trip to Denver for the JEWISHcolorado Signature Event, Schreiber made a pilgrimage to the Golda Meir House. Greeted by Executive Director Lena Fishman, Schreiber spent nearly an hour viewing the collection and asking questions about Golda and her years in Denver, the years she describes by saying “It was in Denver that my real education began.”
Golda Meir House Museum
In the shadow of an outsize sculpture of Meir, Fishman explained the photos and artifacts that make up the museum’s collection to Schreiber. They tell the story of a 14-year-old girl who ran away from her parents in Milwaukee and took a train to Denver so she could avoid an arranged marriage and continue her education.
In Denver, Golda lived with her sister Shayna and Shayna’s husband Sam Korngold in a modest brick duplex at 1606-1608 Julian Street. (It was later moved to its current location on the Auraria Campus, steps away from St. Cajetan Catholic Church.) Schreiber was amused to see Meir’s report card from North High School—all A’s except in the subject of Art.
In the home’s kitchen, Fishman related the story of how Meir received her early political education. The Korngolds offered a social and political salon for Jewish immigrants, many of whom had come to Colorado seeking a cure for tuberculosis at National Jewish Hospital for Treatment of Consumptives. They would gather in the kitchen and debate political issues of the time. Young Golda would watch and listen, trading her labor as a dishwasher for a chance to hear what was being discussed. “I don’t see Golda doing dishes!” Schreiber said with a smile.
Schreiber was intrigued by a case filled with artifacts from the original home, including a mezuzah. Therein lies a story, Fishman said, because “It was an Irish Catholic who saved those artifacts.”
The Korngold house was due for demolition when Colorado State Senator Dennis Gallagher crawled under a construction fence to play amateur archaeologist. Later, Gallagher would write about how he found a “right-slanting ripple on the front door sill and scraped under decades of paint to find the original mezuzah.” The mezuzah contained a small Hebrew handwritten parchment scroll from the skin of a Kosher animal. The story was picked up by the Denver Post, sparking a movement to save the house led by Senator Pat Schroeder.
Even when his tour ended, Schreiber spent more time at the museum. He was intrigued about the history of what is now National Jewish Health and its early days as a hospital that took any patient regardless of their ability to pay.
“This is what strikes me about that,” Schreiber said. “Jews have always been there for people who are in a tough place. Jews got on the bus with the Freedom Riders during segregation. Jews show up, and I am so proud of that. We show up not just for each other but for everyone else in need.”