A small room in Kibbutz Merhavia, which until recently served as a beauty clinic for kibbutz women, was once home to Israel's first woman prime minister, Golda Meir. Not long ago, cosmeticians conceded the room to historians who renovated and refurbished it in the style of the 1920s when Golda lived there. It will soon be opened to visitors seeking to learn a little about that period and the severe austerity that prevailed in the Meir household.
"Visitors will learn the story of Golda Meir's life in Merhavia," explains Dr. Doron Mor, director of the kibbutz visitors center, "and will see how the woman who became prime minister lived. It was a very modest life, in a room measuring six square meters (65 square feet) with a bed, wall hooks for hanging clothes, a table, chair, small desk lamp, and gramophone."
The gramophone, it turns out, was the Meir family's entry ticket into the kibbutz.
Golda and Morris Meyerson arrived in Israel in September 1921 and applied to join Kibbutz Merhavia. At the first meeting convened to debate their application, kibbutz members found the Meyersons unsuitable for two reasons: first, there was a principle decision not to accept families, as the kibbutz did not have any facilities for raising children, and second, members saw the Meyersons as "spoiled Americans," who would not be able to cope with the hard work awaiting them.
Then the Meyersons pulled out their "ace in the hole": a manually operated gramophone and a collection of copper records. Faced with such a "cultural treasure," the young pioneers could not refuse, and the family was immediately accepted into the kibbutz.
Still, Merhavia's members tried to prove to Golda that she could not endure the hardships of kibbutz life, and she was assigned the most physically demanding jobs: harvesting almonds, clearing rock-strewn fields and planting trees. When the members saw that "the American" was not breaking, they sent her to work in the kitchen, a job despised by kibbutz women in those days, because they sought to prove they were equal to the men by undertaking the most physically demanding jobs. Mor relates that in the kitchen, too, Golda proved herself, managing to improve the simple menu despite her meager budget; she ultimately earned the kibbutz members' appreciation.
After a while, Golda was sent to learn chicken farming, and she quickly became an expert; even members from other kibbutzim came to watch and learn from her work. Kibbutz members elected Golda to one of its prestigious committees and even sent her as a delegate to the Kibbutz Movement's conference at Degania in 1922.
Golda's husband, Morris, however, had great difficulty adjusting to kibbutz life, and the Meyersons moved to Tel Aviv in 1923. A few years later, Golda returned to live in Merhavia for another two years with her son, Menachem, who slept in the adjacent communal children's room.
The reconstructed room is in one of the kibbutz's old stone residential buildings. The exhibits were designed by Ronit Lombrozo, with graphic work by Ze'ev Harari, and include a gramophone similar to the one the Meyersons brought over years ago. A bulletin board outside the room displays photos and texts about Golda's connection to Merhavia.