Miriam Eshkol had worked tirelessly to establish a visitor’s center in memory of her husband, former Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and was scheduled to dedicate it. Unfortunately, she passed away last week at age eighty-seven, a few days prior to the ceremony.
Her passing is a great loss to Israel, its culture and its heritage. Mrs. Eshkol was a leading figure in creating and heading countless cultural and social institutions. In addition, since her husband’s passing in February 1969, she oversaw the initial efforts to create an archive of his personal papers. When Yad Levi Eshkol was established, she served as its chairwoman until 2008 and then as its honorary president.
During Eshkol’s tenure as prime minister, Miriam maintained her daily work as the Knesset librarian while taking an active role in assisting him in all affairs, political and foreign, and serving as his personal secretary.
She was also involved in the public committee for the establishment of Beit HaLohem (Fighter’s Home), a center to assist disabled military veterans, and lent a hand in running it. She also took a keen interest in scientific and medical research, showing no signs of aging in her later years.
A few years ago this wonder woman was elected to serve in two presidential positions simultaneously – as head of the Israeli Union of Women Academicians and as president of the Association for Scientific Development and Promotion of Medical Research.
Miriam Eshkol was born Miriam Zelikowitz in Bacău, Romania, in 1929. She was still an infant when her parents made aliyah to Palestine under the British mandate. The family settled in Ramat Gan, later moving to Tel Aviv.
In 1947, when the War of Independence broke out, eighteen-year-old Miriam joined the Palmach and undertook the dangerous action of accompanying brigades en route to Jerusalem besieged by five Arab armies. After the war, Miriam remained in the IDF, holding the rank of sergeant at the time of her discharge.
After her army service, she enrolled at Hebrew University in Jerusalem with a double major: English literature and general history. After receiving her B.A., she continued her studies in history, researching and receiving an M.A. in Medieval History and the Crusades.
In 1956, Miriam Zelikowitz became the Knesset librarian. During her first years studying in Jerusalem, she rented a room situated in the yard of the governmental residence of Finance Minister Levi Eshkol and his wife Elisheva. Miriam became friendly with the Eshkol family, often assisting Elisheva Eshkol during her years of ill health.
In March 1964, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol proposed to Miriam and they were married in a ceremony conducted by the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.
Miriam Zelikowitz became the third wife of the third prime minister of Israel, a position that allowed her to exercise her extraordinary capabilities, becoming a most extraordinary First Lady of Israel.