If Golda Meir was alive today, would this be the conversation we have?
By Rolene Marks
Dearest Golda, we haven’t had a chat for a while and the last time we spoke, we certainly had a lot to talk about. This time it is no different. Golda, you continue to inspire so many around the world, not just because you blazed a trail in many arenas, including becoming Israel’s first female Prime Minister; but because in times of strife and hardship, we still continue to seek your wise council. It is your words of wisdom that are as relevant today as they were when you led our country through war, insurmountable tragedy and also great triumph.
I write this, wondering what you would say to the world or offer as we watch with horror and broken hearts as yet another war ravages lives.
Dear Golda, I cannot imagine what you must be thinking as you watch on from high. You were born in Kyiv, Ukraine, during a dark time in our people’s history. You have often recalled that your early memories were of your father having to board up the front door because of an imminent pogrom. Even though you would move from Ukraine to the USA and finally come home to what was then British Mandate Palestine in 1921, you never forgot your roots. You were imbued with the fire of Zionism and longed to see our hope of 2000 years realised.
As the years progressed, you would see many pioneers arrive from the Pale of Settlement and then you would watch with sorrow and frustration as our people endured the darkest time in our history. The soil at Babyn Yar on the outskirts of Kyiv still cries with the voice of our ancestors.
Our memories of Ukraine are painful but over the decades something extraordinary happened. The once decimated Jewish communities started to grow again. Jewish life was once more present in Kyiv and in Kharkiv, in Dnipro, Odessa, Lviv and more. The image of Tevye leaving Anatevka, bowed, broken and with his fellow villagers was replaced with the Chabad synagogue giving spiritual strength and shelter to many. To top it all, a Jewish President had been elected, who is proud of his roots and family history – and who is very much the man of the moment for his outstanding leadership. Volodymyr Zelensky’s unshaven face in his combat green, leading from amongst his people is in stark contrast to the anemic, bloated looking Putin, dressed in a suit and seated at a bizarrely long table.
As I write this, Ukraine enters the fourth week of a brutal war with Russia, who invaded under many pretenses, one of which was intention to “denazify” the country. Most countries have appalling elements within society; but the accusation of “denazification” is particularly painful given the dark past and resurgence of Jewish life in Ukraine.
Dear Golda, millions have fled, becoming refugees – but many have stayed to fight. Dearest Golda, it is your example that many cite as their inspiration. They quote you by comparing the will of the Ukrainian people to live to a famous saying about the enemy laying down its weapons and brave soldiers like Aleksander Gorgan, who made sure you are with him when he went into battle by taking a copy of your autobiography in his combat backpack.
None of us can watch what is happening in Ukraine without feeling a profound sense of sorrow. We all want to help as much as we can.
Dear Golda, you were one of the founders of the modern state of Israel, your signature is on our founding documents; and you had a clear vision of how our tiny country could live up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). We have always said NEVER AGAIN after the Holocaust and try wherever we can to help and Ukraine is no different.
As you know, Israel’s position is very precarious. We face an ever growing threat from Iran and the presence of Russian troops on our borders who control the airspace over Syria means that we are able to strike when our security is threatened. We have to carefully coordinate this with Russia. We have good bilateral ties with both countries and are now faced with the role of mediator, however delicate it may be. President Zelenesky thinks Jerusalem, our capital could be a venue for mediation but we have endured many wars and realise how cautious we have to proceed with negotiations but it is our moral duty to do what we can for the sake of saving lives.
While some have derided Israel for not sending military aid (other countries could also do more but singling out Israel is preposterous!) and Iron Domes (which are not effective against the kind of Russian military strikes being used), it must be understood that we have to protect our citizens against opportunistic attacks that could come from Iran and proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.
It is not just in mediation where Israel is playing a vital role. We have endured several wars throughout our existence and this has given us an ability to mobilise help quickly. As I am writing, the Israel Population and Immigration Authority report that 13,500 Ukrainian refugees have entered Israel with 5,000 making Aliyah under the country’s Law of Return.
Dear Golda, today those same Olim who come from what was the Pale of Settlement come into Israel as refugees with one major difference – they are home. As soon as the Russian tanks rolled in, we mobilised our diplomats from Ukraine, Romania, Poland and Slovakia along the border to evacuate Israelis.
Israelis aren’t the only ones they are helping – they have evacuated civilians from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Gaza and the Palestinian Authority who were stranded by their leadership. I cannot keep up with all the aid Israel and Jewish organisations are sending but a basic account says four armoured ambulances from Magen David Adom, United Hatzolah and IsraAid medical care in Moldova and Romania, including safe spaces for moms and babies; Ukrainian and Russian speaking police from Israel’s Police Force to help refugees find out where to go; Jewish Agency emissaries along 14 points on the border; 100 tons of humanitarian aid from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; aid packages from Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer club in partnership with organisations; ZAKA rescue; 6 large generators for hospitals in Lviv and countless others.
The real shining star is the field hospital, organised by Israel’s Ministry of Health and Sheba Medical Centre. Operation “Shining Star” has commenced with over 17 tons of medical aid and over 50 medical personnel. So far, it is the only field hospital on the Ukrainian side of the border. It will have wards and state-of- the-art equipment and provide sanctuary and medical care for civilians and soldier.
Dear Golda, the hospital is named “Kochav Meir”. Yes, Golda, it is named in your honour.
Dearest Golda, all these decades later, through tragedy and triumph, war and peace, the building and rebuilding of countries and communities, you continue to inspire and empower. I hope the next time we chat, it will be a conversation about peace in both the country you were born in and the one that you helped build.
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