Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel

The Sisterhood of Har Zion Temple and the Jane Fishman Grinberg Religious School present Open A Book…Open Your Mind

The remarkable Francine Klagsbrun brings us this definitive biography of Israel’s first female Prime Minister, Golda Meir, entitled, Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel. Ms. Klagsbrun was the editor of the best-selling Free to Be . . . You and Me and is a regular columnist for The Jewish Week, a contributing editor to Lilithand on the editorial board of Hadassah magazine. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Newsweek and Ms. Magazine.

Society Hill Playhouse Features “Golda Meir”: Interview

Golda Meir: A Life of Purpose

Written, conceived and performed by Rene Goodwin.

Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m. at the Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. 8th Street, Philadelphia.

For Tickets, call (215) 923-0210. For information on Goodwin’s shows contact [email protected].

The Society Hill Playhouse will feature the theatrical monologue, “Golda Meir: A Life of Purpose” this Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m.  

The play will be performed by Rene Goodwin. In addition to being an actress, Goodwin is a singer and vocal coach. She trained in London, and has performed in Japan and throughout the Eastern U.S.

Before her one-woman show on Golda, Goodwin has researched, written and performed shows on women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Parker and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. But as she said in the interview, Golda is dear to her heart.  

Interview after the jump.


Rene Goodwin as Golda Meir.

Q: Are you from Philadelphia?

RG: I am from around the corner from my house here in South Philly. My grandparents got off the boat from Poland and, as I laughingly tell people, they thought it was California. They found that it was not, but they stayed anyway.  

I was about 13 when I started doing real performances. I had known from an early age that I wanted to perform. I seized every opportunity I could to study and train. I still teach voice.  

We all want to feel that we have a purpose. I believe strongly in what Jonah Salk said: “Our biggest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”  

Q: How did you come to develop this arsenal of iconic women you portray? What led you to this work?

RG: Over the years as a professional actress I was cast in roles of strong women, like Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead. I began to look at these women as pieces of a puzzle to put together: What makes a woman of such a caliber that people look at her and say that she is a strong woman? In men, people do not give it a second thought. They do not say, “he’s a strong man.”

Q: They assume it.

RG: That is exactly right. With that thought, consciously and subconsciously, I began to do a little reading and research. I had always been interested in Eleanor Roosevelt and I decided I wanted to write a piece about her. I had done some work with the American Historical Theatre, and their focus was on historical characters. I asked them if they would put a piece in their repertoire and that is how it started.

Q: Playing these roles, can you describe psychologically, physically, emotionally, what happens to you? Do you feel like these women inhabit you? Does your husband have to call you “Golda”? Did it make you stronger to inhabit these women?

RG:I love all of the people I do, but Golda in particular: I just fell in love with her. Golda’s story is amazing.

I started studying Golda because when I was doing a performance of Eleanor Roosevelt, a man at the performance said at the end of a show, “you should do Golda.” I thought, “nobody does Golda.” This was before William Gibson’s “Golda’s Balcony.”  

I started to think about it and play around with it in my mind. I started to do some casual investigation, and that is how it all started.

Golda epitomizes the resilience and adaptability of what we consider a strong woman. Because one of the universal truths about her story is that we experience what is it like for a family to emigrate to America, which so many of us have experienced in recent generations. Not only did she have to overcome obstacles as a woman, but she had to overcome obstacles as a non-American.

Q: And then moving to Israel too. When did she move?

RG: In 1921.  

Q: Why did she go? Can you tell me about Golda’s background?  

RG: When I start a piece, I am not sure what period of time I will cover. For this piece on Golda, I only knew Golda the prime minister. I have learned that she had become aware of herself politically as a child.  

In one scene in the show, Golda and her sisters are living in Pinsk; their dad has already come to the U.S. She has an older sister, Shana, and a younger sister, Clara. They are living in two rooms near a police station. Golda liked to sit on a warming shelf near the stove — that was her “little place.”

One day she was up there, and her sister Shana came in with some friends who were politically aware and unhappy with what was going on with the Czar in Russia. And the sister does not know that Golda is in the room, and they are whispering, and she hears them talking about this place where children like her, Golda, are being thrown out of windows, and women are being slaughtered. They seem to have committed no crime but that they are Jewish, and she does not understand, she is a child. Not that anyone could understand at any age.  

The sister realizes that Golda is there, and she tries to comfort her, because she feels that she has created fear in her, and she says, “We’re trying to change things.” Golda asks, “Well, how are you going to do that?” The sister answers, “If we can overthrow the Czar, then we can have a country like America” and Golda said that sounds like a good idea. Her sister said, “But it’s not a new idea, Golda. you yourself said it last Passover.” Golda asks, “I did?” The sister reples, “Yes. L’shana ha’baah b’Yerushalayim. Next year in Jerusalem.”

That was the start of it for Golda. By the time she was a teenager she was speaking on street corners in Milwaukee.    

Q: Some people might have said “Golda’s been done,'” and I am thinking about Gibson’s play, “Golda’s Balcony,” that Tovah Feldshuh performed on Broadway.  

RG: “Golda’s Balcony” covered such an expansive period of time, that it was almost overwhelming. Mine is a different approach, I call it a “theatrical monologue.”

The setting for my Golda show is this: On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted that there should be a Jewish state. But the Declaration wasn’t signed until May 1948. The Jews knew from the minute that vote was taken that they were going to be attacked. So what did they have?  

Golda was sent in early 1948 to raise money from American Jews because they knew once the declaration was signed, what was going to happen. So the setting for my piece is much narrower in my treatment of Golda. Golda is in America to ask for help, support and money form American Jews. She raised $50 million.

Q: Talk about the audience, and live theater, and what it means to you.

RG: Radio had a power that television does not have. Because the writers and actors and sound effects people would create something that required your imagination. Television and the movies so over-give it to you, you could be numb.

If these studies of iconic women I created were going to have any value to the audience, it would be a learning experience, of women in particular. I asked myself: what could I do to ensure it has the most impact?  

I had to figure out a way of drawing in the person so they have to invest: They have to invest what they know of that character; they have to invest their curiosity of what they did not know. They have to find something in which they connect with that character, and maybe something they do not understand. They have to invest themselves. This is not passive. I demand that they be there. I will give you my heart, and my soul, and my sweat, and my blood, but I want yours back; it is not an option.