Miriam Eshkol, Wife of Former Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Dies at 89

A veteran librarian at the Knesset, and more than 30 years younger than her husband, Israel's third prime minister, she dedicated her life to commemorating him.

Miriam Eshkol with her husband PM Eli Eshkol, in the 1960s.
Haim Tzach/GPO

Miriam Eshkol, the widow of Israel's third prime minister, Levi Eshkol, passed away on Saturday in Jerusalem at the age of 89. The couple had no children of their own. Miriam Eshkol will be buried alongside her husband in the “Great Leaders of the Nation” plot in the cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. No date has yet been set for her funeral.

Eshkol (née Zelikowitz) was born in Bacau, Romania. Her official identity card shows that she was born in 1929, but relatives say she was probably born two years earlier. She immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s with her parents, grew up in the Ramat Gan suburb of Tel Aviv, and later moved to that city, graduating from its Balfour High School.

In 1947 Zelikowitz joined the elite Palmach pre-state strike force, and accompanied the convoys making their way to besieged Jerusalem. During the War of Independence she served in the artillery corps of the nascent army.

Later she moved to Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University, and rented a room in the courtyard of the home of then-Finance Minister Levi Eshkol and his second wife Elisheva. She became close friends with the family, and helped tend to Elisheva during her long illness before her death in 1959.

Zelikowitz studied history and English literature at the university, and worked at the same time in its library. She was also employed as a research assistant for Joshua Prawer, a professor of history, and subsequently joined the staff of the Knesset library in 1956.

She married Levi Eshkol in early 1964 while he was still premier; she was 37 and he was 70. She helped her husband keep his personal diaries, and during the Six-Day War took the place of his personal secretary. She continued her work in the Knesset library until his death, while in office, in 1969.

Among other positions, Miriam Eshkol headed the public committee for the establishment of the Beit Halochem organization for disabled veterans and served for years as the president of the Jewish-Arab Friendship League. She was also the president of the Israeli Union of Women Academicians and president of the Association for Scientific Development and Promotion of Medical Research, as well as a member of the board of directors of the Israel Museum.

After her husband’s death, Eshkol took charge of his personal archive and initiated Yad Levi Eshkol, the official nongovernment organization promoting commemoration of his life; for nearly 40 years, from 1970 through 2008, she headed the NGO.

Next month, after decades in which she waged battles with the government to obtain necessary authorization, the Levi Eshkol house will be inaugurated in Jerusalem as the official institution commemorating the late prime minister.

Levi Eshkol had four daughters from his first two marriages, and his daughter Tama is married to former Finance Minister Avraham Shochat.