For Dobrin, the central question about Golda Meir is not “What did this woman accomplish over the course of her illustrious life and career?” but “What in this woman’s character made it possible for her to accomplish so much?” The emphasis is not on the events themselves, although they are related fully and in glowing terms, but on the internal and interpersonal conflicts that had to be resolved in order for her to fulfill her heroic destiny.
Many of these conflicts involved those people closest to her, and Dobrin highlights and individualizes these conflicts by presenting fictionalized representative scenes. In a conversation with her parents, young Golda explains her desire to continue her education beyond high school and to become a teacher. Her parents scold her and make it clear that they believe a woman’s goal should be marriage, not education. By presenting the scene as a series of direct quotations instead of as reported and explained speech, Dobrin puts the emphasis on the conflict between these particular people, instead of presenting it as a clash of Old World versus New World values, or between parents and children.
This focus on Meir’s own situation, avoiding any hint that her conflicts might be typical, is used throughout the book. For example, Dobrin presents a scene between Golda and Morris at the Merhavia kibbutz after a long day’s work. Golda is exhausted, too tired to gather with the others for supper. Morris...
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A Life for Israel was important at the time of its publication, largely for being the first biography of Golda Meir for this age group. The book appeared shortly after Meir’s retirement in 1974, when the world’s attention was focused on her and when the United States was coming to respect the contributions women have made to national and international history. The book became immediately popular as a tool for helping explain to young people the incendiary politics of the Middle East and for celebrating the contributions of intelligent and strong women. More than two decades later, as schools acted on a new call for multicultural studies, a book such as this one that offers Jewish history and culture and a strong female central character found renewed demand.
Although A Life for Israel is no longer in print, it remains on the shelves of many public and school libraries. Its approach seems old-fashioned to some, but Arnold Dobrin’s scholarship remains unquestionable. Although A Life for Israel may have been replaced in some classrooms by the more objectively toned (and somewhat easier to read) Our Golda: The Story of Golda Meir (1984), by David A. Adler, the passion of this work, the index and bibliography, and the irreplaceable photographs make it invaluable for students and teachers alike who seek a jumping-off place for further study.