Author:Wexler, Ellen

GOLDA MEIR (1898-1978)

Meir was born in Kiev and moved with her family to Milwaukee in 1906, where she was exposed to socialism and Zionism. She persuaded her husband to move to Palestine in 1921, and after a brief stint on a kibbutz, she began her career in Israeli public life. She served as minister of labor and national insurance from 1949 to 1956, minister of foreign affairs from 1956 to 1966 and became the modern world's third female prime minister in 1969. David Ben-Gurion once called her "the only man in the cabinet." Popular until the 1973 Yom Kippur War, she resigned her position in 1974.

BEBA IDELSON (1895-1975)

Idelson grew up in Ukraine, where she became an activist in the Youth of Zion movement. In 1923, she and her husband were arrested and exiled to Siberia. Deported in 1924, the couple and their daughter arrived in Palestine in 1926, and Idelson served in various political positions. She was a member of the pre-State Provisional Council and a member of the first five Knessets, becoming the first woman to serve as deputy speaker. While she was in office, she laid much of the legal groundwork for women's rights in Israel, fought the religious monopoly on marriage and divorce and tried to define women's equality in terms of human rights.


Born in eastern Galicia, Sanhadray-Goldreich moved to Palestine alone in 1934. The following year she helped found the women workers' organization of HaPoel HaMizrachi, a religious socialist-Zionist organization. Before the 1949 Knesset elections, HaPoel HaMizrachi joined an alliance of four religious parties, which would not allow women on its list. In protest, Sanhadray-Goldreich formed the Religious Women Worker Party, although she did not win a seat until 1959. During her 15 years in office, she pushed for a number of conservative policies, including curtailing abortion rights and the rights of common-law spouses. In 1961, she helped draft legislation supporting equal pay for men and women.

ZVIA VILDSTEIN (1906-2001)

Vildstein managed an orphans' home in Lithuania's Vilna Ghetto during the Holocaust. When the ghetto was liquidated, she, like most of the Jews, was shot, but she survived and lived out the war under a false Polish identity. After the war, she returned to Vilna, where she established a school for orphans. Because of her Zionist activities, she was accused of treason, arrested and sentenced to eight years in the Gulag. She was allowed to...

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