The maker of good coffee, and a nation's future

Updated: May 12, 2019, 08:07 IST | Prutha Bhosle

A Mumbai-based Marathi writer's new book traces the political journey of Israel's only female Prime Minister, Golda Meir, who pushed India towards victory in the 1971 war

The maker of good coffee, and a nation's future
Vasai-based author Veena Gavankar had watched movies on Golda Meir before she got a chance to write a book on her life. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Israel's Consul General in Mumbai Yaakov Finkelstein was in kindergarten when the news of his country's fourth Prime Minister Golda Meir's death broke. Finkelstein, now 45, carries vivid memories of that day.

"It was December 8, 1978. All the kids were taken to the next-door kindergarten that had a TV set only to show Mrs Meir's final journey. Pictures of the gigantic sea of umbrellas during her rain-drenched funeral have stayed with me," he recalls. It was years later that he learned the reasons why she was called Israeli politics' Iron Lady. "Her relentless contribution to the betterment of the people and her support for the Zionist Movement are unforgettable."

Golda Meir. Credit/Brauner Teddy

Born in Kiev, Ukraine on May 3, 1898, Meir moved to the United States with her family when she was eight. In 1906, the family relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Meir helped out at the family grocery store. Eventually, she began working for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, joining the Labour Zionist Organisation. In 1921, she immigrated to Palestine with her husband, where her political career grew. It's this journey from ordinary teacher to the Ambassador to Moscow, the Labour Minister, Foreign Minister, and Israel's Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974 that now has been traced in a Marathi book by Veena Gavankar.

Vasai-based Gavankar was excited when she got the opportunity from Indus Source in November 2017 to work on a book on Meir. "When Golda Meir became the PM, I was 30. But, I had seen movies made on her, and was aware of her work. Who wouldn't want to write about the world's third female Prime Minister and Israel's first and only female Prime Minister?" the 77-year-old writer says about Golda: Ek Ashant Vadal.

Yaakov Finkelstein
Yaakov Finkelstein

For the first time, Meir gained nationwide attention in 1948 when she raised $50 million to purchase the means for Israel to defend itself and survive. "Raised in America, she knew how to speak to the American Jews and convince them to give her the money. Everyone else in Israel either spoke in Yiddish or Hebrew. These funds were eventually used to purchase arms for the young country, and her efforts have gone down in the history books," Gavankar adds.

But of all her major works, Meir is fondly remembered today for her unique initiative, The Kitchen Cabinet. Finkelstein says, "In Meir's kitchen, the smells of freshly brewed coffee and delicious Jewish dinner mingled with political talk. As part of the famous Kitchenette, she invited over dignitaries, cooked for them from an ordinary kitchen and discussed the country's security assessment and policies. It was considered an honour to be invited to these meetings."

Not many know, Gavankar shares, that Meir was solely responsible for laying the groundwork for strong ties between Israel and India. "In 1971 when India needed urgent military equipment, Meir's foresight on the potential of diplomatic ties allowed Israel to come to India's aid, albeit secretly. This intervention helped India liberate Bangladesh from the clutches of Pakistan," Gavankar informs.

However, it was only in 1992, during the tenure of former PM Narasimha Rao, when India officially established diplomatic relations with Israel. Finkelstein says,
"A diplomatic relation started by two iconic female leaders, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Mrs Golda Meir, has today resulted in strong political, military and cultural cooperation between the two nations. It is heartwarming to see how this relation has evolved today. And I am glad that Indian readers now have the chance to trace the journey of this connection."

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