Levi Shkolnik was born in 1895 in the Ukrainian village of Oratovo (in the Kiev district) and later changed his name to Levi Eshkol. He had a traditional Jewish upbringing and education. At the age of 16 he entered a Jewish high school in Vilna and joined the "Tzeirei Zion" movement. In 1914, at the age of 19, he immigrated to Israel and worked as an agricultural laborer and political activist.
During World War I, he joined the Poalei Yehuda Federation on behalf of the "Hapoel Hatzair" party and fought for the economic welfare of farmers who suffered hardship as a result of the war and Ottoman rule. At the end of the war, he enlisted in the Jewish Legion of the British Army.
Eshkol was a member of the group which founded the settlement of Degania Beth in 1920. He participated in the establishment of the Histadrut, the National Federation of Jewish Laborers in Israel, and later joined its agricultural center. In 1930 he participated in the founding of Mapai. During the 30's he was sent on long missions to Nazi Germany and was active in the "Ha'avara" project which raised capital and equipment for Jewish settlement in the land of Israel. In 1937 he participated in the establishment of "Mekorot", the Jewish Community's water utility, and served as its chief executive until 1951.
At the end of 1944 he was elected Secretary of the Laborers Council in Tel Aviv, a post which he held until 1948. Simultaneously, he fulfilled many public and economic duties.
From 1921-1923, and 1940-1948 Eshkol was a member of the "Hagana" Command. He was mainly in charge of purchases, equipment and mobilization. With the establishment of the State he became the first Director General of the Ministry of Defense and in effect the supplier of the equipment which kept the Israeli army in the field. It was during this period that he changed his name to Eshkol. At the end of the year he was appointed Director of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency. He stayed in this role until 1963. He initiated the establishment of approximately 400 new settlements in the first 4 years of the State, and from 1949-1952 served as the Jewish Agency treasurer, confronting great financial difficulties caused by the massive immigration waves and the country's limited resources.
In 1951 Eshkol was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Development, and from 1952-1963 he served as Minister of Finance. His tenure was characterized by great economic growth, despite the need to finance the absorption of the waves of immigration, development projects, IDF armaments and the expense of the Sinai operation.
In 1963, following Ben-Gurion's retirement, Eshkol assumed the post of Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. He consolidated Israel's relations with the United States, and supplied the IDF with a large quantity of American weaponry. He also established full diplomatic relations with West Germany. Eshkol founded the Ma'arach, a merger between Mapai and Achdut Ha'avoda, and was head of the party in its 1965 election victory. The highlight of his premiership was the Six Day War of June 1967. On the eve of war, Eshkol established a National Unity Government, relinquishing the Defense portfolio to Moshe Dayan, Rafi's representative in the Cabinet. Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria and occupied the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights. Immediately after the war, Jerusalem was reunified and its boundaries were expanded. After the war, Eshkol worked for the establishment of the Israel Labor party.
Eshkol and his first wife, Rebecca Maharshek, separated in 1927. His second wife, Elisheva, died in 1959.
Levi Eshkol died in office on February 26, 1969, of a heart attack. He is survived by his third wife, Miriam, and four daughters - Noa, Dvora, Tama and Ofra