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GOLDA MEIR fascinated a world that for the most part believed that no woman in her seventies could effectively run the government of a major nation. But through her long and distinguished career, Meir proved the world wrong. When she died last week at the age of 80, still another courageous facet of her personality came to light: she had been receiving secret radiation therapy for lymphoma for the last 13 years.
Meir's life story is one of dedication to a cause and a refusal to abide by social stereotypes. She emigrated to the United States from Poland to marry and become a schoolteacher in Milwaukee, but promptly left both husband and job when she decided that her devotion to the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland overhelmed personal considerations. From the point of her immigration to Israel in the early '30s until her retirement as Prime Minister in 1974, Meir worked non-stop for the secure establishment of the state of Israel.
Like any high-ranking politician, Meir made mistakes. Her domestic policy was criticized for being too harsh on non-Jewish minorities, and she might have avoided the October 1973 war had she and her Labor government been more receptive to negotiating efforts.
But in the days following her death, it is difficult to find much room for criticism. Even those with no great love for her Zionist goals respect Meir as a human being of unusual strength, vitality and conviction, As an unassuming champion of women's rights, she led by example, not by rhetoric. Golda Meir will be greatly missed.
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