The Past is an Open Book

If I doubted the veracity of Michelle Novak’s Venice, I have absolutely no doubts as to the believability of the book I’ve finished today.  The seventeen page index that I only noticed when I was a third of the way in and wanting to know how much more there was to go may have something to do with that, but most of the difference is subject matter and author.

Today I finished My Life by Golda Meir.  As you might have guessed, I rarely touch biographies and autobiographies.  Nonfiction in general is not my first, second, third, fourth or fifth choice of reading material.  But when I was at the Newberry Library’s annual book sale this summer, I felt that spending $3 on a large hardcover wasn’t a bad choice.  After all, I knew who Golda Meir was, and while I don’t often dwell on the thought of personal heroes, I have long admired the woman.

Fun fact, almost all of the items I bought that day were related to Judaism in some way.  But, that’s what happens when the thing opens to members on Thursday, the public on Friday, and I can’t get there until Saturday – all the good sci-fi/fantasy and kids books are long gone by Saturday.

My education about Meir has always been haphazard.  I never wrote a paper on her or even did research for the fun of it, so what I knew I picked up here and there.  Sunday school, regular school, mentions in books and documentaries, etc.  Then there came a real turning point: the one-woman play Golda’s Balcony came to Chicago in 2006, and my parents got tickets for the four of us.

Sadly, I don’t remember a lot of the experience (considering that it was ten years ago), but I remember how much I enjoyed it and how much I learned.  Reading this autobiography has brought back a number of memories from that night, of “ah, yes, that part was in the play” and such.  I wish that I could see it again.

When Meir titles her book My Life, she is not at all kidding.  She discusses all of it, though condensing some years and decades and touching on the highlights and important events.  From her birth in Kiev all the way through to resigning as Prime Minister, I feel I have a much better understanding of who she was as a person, and of the Israel she helped create, whose echoes I can see in the modern state today.

My Life was a dense read, especially in comparison to what I’ve been reading most recently, but I have no regrets whatsoever.  I always knew Golda Meir was an inspiring and powerful woman, but being able to read her own words has magnified my respect exponentially.  The book also hammers home the words I always say when discussing Israel in today’s world with people: I may not always agree with their choices, I certainly don’t always understand those choices, but nothing can change what Israel and its existence means to me as a Jew.  It is a land that is greatly beloved by its people, who take care to nurture and protect it, and who are dedicated and determined in their tasks.  Yes, the Middle East is a mess and not always safe to visit, but I have been to Israel twice during armed conflicts, one of which broke out into actual war, and have never felt unsafe.

This book will always be linked in my head to the modern day Israel I’ve visited, as I mentally change spellings to the transliterations I am most familiar with, mentally place things on maps, and recall sites I’ve personally visited.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad, or simply a fact.

I found Golda Meir’s autobiography to be a fascinating and gripping read.  Yes it’s history, but through her eyes, I found myself on the edge of my seat as as World War II came to a close and yet Israel’s existence was still to come (May 14, 1948).  It’s always interesting to see other sides of the story – the Israeli view on Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and others.  Meir emphasized that while history paints Richard Nixon in an unflattering light, he kept every promise he made to Israel.

My Life will become a permanent part of my personal library, and I’m proud to own it.  It doesn’t matter that I picked it up for a measly $3, I feel that this book is well worth the $20+ price a hardcover merits, and I’ll recommend it to anyone I feel would find it as engrossing as I did.

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