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The painting by Serov V.A., The painting by Serov V.A., "Ida Rubinstein" 1910. Source: wikimedia.org

Our girls. Part 2

The top five outstanding Jewish women of the 20th century born in Ukraine


Golda Meir – the first and so far only woman to be Prime Minster of Israel (1969-1974), Interior Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, and the first Israeli ambassador to the USSR.


“The state of Israel! My eyes filled with tears, and my hands shook. We had done it. We had made the Jewish state a reality, and I, Golda Mabovich-Meerson, had lived to see this day. Whatever happened, whatever price we had to pay for this, we had recreated the Jewish Homeland. The long exile was over.”

Golda Mabovich was born on 3 May 1898 in Kiev. She came from a very poor Jewish family: her father Moishe-Itskhokh (Moisei) Mabovich was a carpenter, and her mother Blyuma Mabovich did odd jobs, including working as a wet nurse. Five of the eight children in their family died in infancy. As a child, Golda witnessed her father barricading the front door with boards to protect his family from a pogrom. 70 years later, when in a private audience Pope Paul VI criticized Israel for “ferocity”, Golda said: “Your Holiness, do you know what my earliest memory is? A pogrom in Kiev. When we [Jews] were kind, and when we did not have a homeland, and when we were weak, we were taken to the gas chambers”.

In 1906 the mother took her children and followed her husband to America, and the family settled in Milwaukee. In her fourth year at school, Golda and a friend raised money for textbooks for the needy. Her speech amazed the audience, the money was raised quickly, and a photo of the young Golda appeared in the local newspaper.

Golda was always independent and followed her convictions. At the age of 14, against her parents’ will, she left for Denver to live with her sister, in order to continue her studies. Jewish emigrants frequently visited her sister’s home, some of them Zionists. “The long nighttime arguments in Denver played a major role in forming my convictions, and in my acceptance or non-acceptance of various ideas,” Gold wrote. “But my time in Denver also had other consequences. Among the young people who often came to Sheina, one who spoke the least was the quiet and charming Moris Meerson.” Golda became a fervent believer in socialist-Zionist ideas, and Moris Meerson, who shared her views, proposed to her.

In 1921, the Meersons were repatriated to Mandatory Palestine. Golda had a long and difficult road from public to state figure. On 14 May 1948, she was among the 38 people who signed the Israeli declaration of independence. There were only two women among them: Golda and Rachel Coen-Kagan.

In 1956, now in state service, at the insistence of the Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, she changed her surname to Meir. Golda is remembered for her harsh policy towards Israel’s enemies, especially for the operation “Wrath of God” after the terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics.
Golda Meir died on 8 December 1978 in Jerusalem, and is buried on Mount Herzl.


Elina Bystritskaya – theater and film actress, people’s artist of the USSR

“I found out that I was a Jew at the time that anti-Semitism began in our country.”

Elina was born on 4 April 1928 in Kiev into the family of a military doctor, Abram (Avraam) Petrovich, and the hospital cook Esfira Isaakovna. Her parents did not particularly observe Jewish traditions, and like many people they sincerely believed in the ideas of the Bolsheviks. But they always kept close ties with their relatives, and at frequent family celebration, there were always freilekhs dances.

Bystritskaya went on to the stage professionally in 1948 – she danced at the Nezhinsky music and drama theater, in the production “Marusya Boguslavka”. She sought the role of Aksinya in “And Quiet Flows the Don” herself, but the director Sergei Gerasimov, who also auditioned Nona Mordyukova, initially told Bystritskaya that the role was not for her. But Elina dearly wanted to play the Cossack woman. After this role Bystritskaya became famous throughout the Soviet Union.

In 1999, the Russian newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” called her the most beautiful woman of the 20th century.


№ 3
Rachil Baymvol – writer, poet, translator

“The Bolsheviks saved me from death, and I was a fiery Bolshevik. I drew five and six-pointed stars, because the Bolsheviks loved the Jews and would give us a country which would be called Yidland. There was complete confusion in my head, which lasted for many years.”

Rachel was born in 1914 in Odessa into the family of the director and author of operettas in Yiddish and creator of the professional Jewish theater Yehudi Leib Boymvol. In 1920, the White Poles shot her father before her eyes…

In her youth, Rachel was a fervent Komsomol member. Her earliest poems were published in Paris and in the USSR in Komsomol youth magazines, when she was just nine years old, and at the age of 16 she published her first book.

Rachel studied at Moscow State University at the Jewish department of the literature faculty. After the war, when the anti-Semitic campaign began in the Soviet Union, she had to seriously re-examine her views of Bolshevism. The study of Yiddish, Jewish theaters and literature were banned, and the poetess switched to poems and translations. Trying to protect herself and her readers from the monstrous reality, she wrote fairytales for children and adults. In the 1970s, when it was learned that she and her husband Zinovy Telesin had submitted documents for repatriation to Israel, Rachel’s works were banned in the USSR, and all her published works were removed from circulation.

In the promised land, the family found shelter, and their work found recognition. When she moved to Israel, Rachel continued to write in Yiddish, and not in Hebrew, which did not stop her from gaining a wide readership. She died on 16 July 2000, and to this day her books are still published in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian.


Alla Balter – theater and film actress

“All the unusual and mysterious things probably happen to us in our youth, when we don’t realize it”


 Alla Balter was born on 23 August 1939 in Kiev, and died on 14 July 2000. She graduated from the Drama Studio at the Ivan Franko theater in Kiev (course of M.M. Krushelnitsky). From 1961 to 1965 she was an actress at the Lesya Ukrainka theater in Kiev, and then moved to the Leninsky Komsomol theater in Leningrad. In the last years of her life she worked at the Mayakovsky Theater in Moscow.

She was an incredibly beautiful woman, but did not appear in many films, performing her main roles on the theater stage. One of a kind, always gracious and incredibly elegant, viewers remembered her most of all for being Emmanuil Vitorgan’s wife.

The Vitorgan-Balter family radiated prosperity, even when they did not have it: when they could not lend money to friends, they borrowed themselves, so that they could help out others. They kept up an image, or as Vitorgan laughingly said, “the reputation of millionaires”, while they lived for a long time in one room in a dormitory with their young son Maxim. The family did not receive a separate apartment until Emmanuil turned 40. But in these modest circumstances, Allochka, as Vitorgan lovingly called her, always looked incomparable, was never disheveled or unkempt, and never wore dressing gowns in her husband’s presence.

They were considered to be a dazzling couple, and compared with Romy Schneider and Alain Delon – and they repeated the love story of the famous French couple. The meeting between Balter and Vitorgan broke up their two previous families. All their lives they thought that they would have to pay for this. Whether or not they did is hard to say. Alla Balter helped her husband to overcome lung cancer, but several years later she died of cancer herself.


Ida Rubinstein – dancer, actress, rich heiress of the founder of the banking house “Roman Rubinstein and Sons”

“I can’t go along with anyone. I can only go alone.”

Ida was born on 21 September (new style) 1883 in Kharkov. When she told her family that she intended to be an actress, the Rubinsteins panicked: at that time society did not see much difference between the concepts of “actress” and “courtesan”. Initially her parents even sent her to a home for the mentally ill, but when she got out she firmly resolved to escape from her family’s shackles. The only way out for an Orthodox Jewish woman was marriage. After the honeymoon, the young couple separated, and Ida became a rich divorced woman. Finally she could do what she wanted.

“Antigone”, which she staged with the assistance of the artist and designer Lev Bakst, went unnoticed by the public, but pushed Ida to search for a theater. She found herself with Vera Komissarzhevskaya (and previously rejected Konstantin Stanislavsky, considering his school to be outdated), where she played a role in “Salome”. The first performance of the “dance of the seven veils”, the key moment of the production, took place on 20 December 1908 at the Petersburg conservatory. Moving across the stage and graciously throwing off one veil after another, in the finale Rubinstein appeared in front of the audience in a costume… of large pearls around her neck. The spectators applauded.

The came Sergei Diaghilev’s “Russian Seasons” in Paris, where Ida performed with Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Fokin. She never returned to Russia: she organized her own troupe, and had success, scandalous affairs, fans, detractors, and everything that comes with recognition.
Not beautiful by the standards of the late 19th – early 20th century, an actress without acting gifts and proper training, a ballerina without choreographic education, Ida Rubinstein became one of the greatest cultural phenomena of her time. Her exotic facial features, her angular figure, her passionate body movements and incredible charisma of stubbornness – this is what made her a revelation. She died on 20 September 1960 in the French town of Vence, in her last years only communicating with her secretary.



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