The Lioness in a 10-gallon hat
Norman Provizer discusses ‘Jews of the Wild West’ and Kyiv-born Golda Meir’s Colorado-forged legacy.
In the acclaimed feature-length documentary “Jews of the Wild West,” director Amanda Kinsey charts historical Jewish figures of the West. That story wouldn’t be complete without Golda Meir, said Norman Provizer, Ph.D., emeritus professor of Political Science at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“It’s remarkable,” Provizer said. “She wasn’t (in Denver) for an enormous amount of time — just over a year and a half — but this place had a significant impact on the leader she’d come to be.”
Meir was the fourth prime minister of Israel, serving from 1969-74, a tumultuous time in the nation’s history defined by the Yom Kippur War. Provizer discusses the polarizing leader’s conflicted legacy in the film, which premiered at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in February. Meir appears alongside Levi Strauss and other well-known characters such as Wyatt Earp, Black Jack Ketchum and Pancho Villa.
Meir was born in Kyiv, then part of the Russian Empire, in 1898. Her family later immigrated to Wisconsin in 1906. As an adolescent, Meir defied her mother’s wish to drop out of school and marry, opting to buy a train ticket to Denver to live with her sister instead.
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Though comparatively short in duration, Meir’s formative years in the Rocky Mountains were inspired by geography and the atmosphere of the early 20th-century West, imbuing her with an enterprising spirit and sense of individualism, Provizer said.
“That expansiveness, the freedom to think about things and imagine possibilities even in the face of the impossible, are traits she encountered here in Denver and really stuck with her,” he added.
Being headstrong became a defining personality characteristic. Meir was dubbed “the Lioness,” the name of a forthcoming miniseries produced by Barbra Streisand and starring Shira Haas. Helen Mirren is also slated to star in separate biopic, “Golda.” Other high-profile depictions of the Israeli leader include Ingmar Bergman in the made-for-TV-movie “A Woman Called Golda,” and Anne Bancroft in the one-woman Broadway play, “Golda’s Balcony.”
“(Meir’s) positive qualities were actually the same as her negative qualities,” Provizer said. “When the Yom Kippur War broke out, she listened to the experts around her who said there would never be that scale of conflict. Their assessments were wrong, but Meir recognized that and pivoted to really take charge. In retrospect, even her political enemies acknowledged that she corrected course after that initial stumble.”
Provizer sees parallels with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“Simply put, the situation is a matter of survival,” Provizer said. “And though there are obvious differences, it’s possible to draw the connection, both here and in other conflicts around the world.”
Another commonality: commitment to empowering the people.
“(Meir) was an outspoken fan of American democracy. … And even though she couldn’t speak Hebrew that great, she could inspire and touch people in a way that truly motivated them,” Provizer said, noting that Israel founder David Ben-Gurion went as far as to attribute the survival of the state to her work.
Provizer was instrumental in the preservation of the Israeli leader’s former Auraria Campus residence as a historic archival location, the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership. Meir also served as inspiration for a song composed by the late Ron Miles, jazz luminary and MSU Denver musician-in-residence. Provizer described Miles’ Meir-inspired track, “The Illuminator,” as “open and very Western-influenced, almost a cowboy feel.”
Miles’ passing on March 8 left a similarly oversized legacy on the University, Provizer mused.
“Not only was Ron an amazing musician, one of the best, but he was an amazingly kind human being,” he said. “His spirit and heart were just incredible.”
“Jews of the Wild West” premieres locally May 5 in person at the Denver Jewish Community Center.
Listen to Ron Miles’ “The Illuminator” live from Denver Open Media.