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[Pages 218-220]

A Jewish Ghaffir (Watchman[1])

By Yoel Zeif

Translated by Judy Grossman

Sara Weiss (Slep): “The leader” – was what the young members of Hashomer Hatzair in Dusiat called Yoel, their counselor in the shtetl.

Rachel Slovo said to me: “You know, we were certain that when Yoel Zeif made aliya to Eretz Yisrael he would be among the top leaders of the country.”

I showed her the pictures and pointed out those that commemorate his activities in Eretz Yisrael:

Here he was as one of the members of the “Plugot Hapoel”[2]; as a Jewish ghaffir; at Tegart's Wall[3]; as a soldier in the British army, etc…

Then I asked her whether that wasn't the front row of those who did the work…


A Group at Hachshara in Lita [Lithuania]

Right to left: Sheinke Shumacher-Golani, (-), Lea Plotel-Assa, Yoel Zeif
Top: Arie Kushel (from Siauliai)

When I reached the age of twenty, I already wanted to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. My work in Hechalutz and in Hashomer Hatzair was taken into consideration, and after half a year in an agricultural hachshara, I received a certificate[4] to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael.

One day I was called to the post office in Dusiat, where there was a phone call for me. My father came with me, and what did he hear? “You are making aliya with Shoshana… she is your wife.”

My father turned to me in panic: “What's this, you got married without even asking me?” The truth is that no one asked me either. I calmed my father down, and explained to him that it was a fictitious marriage…

I arrived at the office of the rabbinate in Kovno [Kaunas] and asked for the marriage certificate. They asked me who had married us, who the rabbi was, and I didn't know the answer. “Was he tall or short?” And I answered “medium”… They apparently understood with whom they were dealing, and they most probably knew who the rabbi was that carried out the fictitious marriages.

Only when I got into the train did they introduce me to my “wife” Shoshana. Shoshana was from Hechalutz and I was from Hashomer Hatzair. We each had different machatonim (in-laws, in Yiddish-Hebrew) but only one certificate for the two of us. When there was an inspection on the ship we had to look for each other. When we reached Eretz Yisrael, Shoshana went her way and I went mine. When we met again it was in order to get a divorce…

One day Shoshana came to me and asked me to give her a divorce. We both sat in the rabbinate, and while other couples fought with each other, we sat and laughed. They pointed at us and said: “What a weird couple. They are getting divorced, and are laughing as though they were getting married.”

As soon as I landed in Eretz Yisrael I went to Kibbutz Hashomer Hatzair in Petach Tikva. This was “Kibbutz Lita” (members from Lithuania), which afterwards united with Kibbutz Beit Zera.

With great satisfaction I can state that I continued my activities in Eretz Yisrael too. I was an active member of Plugot Hapoel, and afterwards I was a Jewish ghaffir in the British police force. From the construction scaffold I was called to the north of the country to take part in the erection of the security fence: Tegart's Wall.

At the time they would put up a regular barbed-wire fence, and at night the Arabs would sneak in and destroy it, and this went on back and forth. Then the decision was made to set up a security fence and I went to be one of the people who erected it. I still have a photograph of a visit paid there by Prof. Chaim Weizmann and David Hacohen. After that (at the time of WWII) I volunteered for the British Army, and when I saw the stealing that went on there I used to say: “When a Jewish State is established, it will not have such thievery…”


House of the Zeif and Yoffe families, on the corner of Maskevitcher Gass

(Courtesy Sara Weiss-Slep, Dusiat, 1991)

My Parents Didn't Make Aliya

Immigrating to Eretz Yisrael didn't always seem possible. In order to receive a certificate you had to go through hachshara or pay in cash, and not everyone could do that. Immigration to Argentina, for example, was financed by the Joint[5], and many people went there. But immigration to Eretz Yisrael!

My parents weren't against the pioneering idea, but also didn't push me in that direction. For our parents, Eretz Yisrael was like a fairy tale. Their thought process went like this: here we were born and raised, here we have lived for generations, and here we will remain…

My brother Daniel and sister Zipora were already in Eretz Yisrael. My brother Moshe made aliya thanks to our drisha [request] that we had sent for him from Eretz Yisrael, that he wanted to study at the Hebrew University. Several factory owners signed this request as guarantors. In conversations with my brother Daniel, I more than once brought up the idea of requesting our parents and bringing them here, but the concern about how they would manage and what they would do here always came up. You must remember the difficult conditions prevailing in Eretz Yisrael at that time. We also had no money. My mother wrote us at that time: “I pray that I will be privileged to see you together.” My sister Iska yearned to come to Eretz Yisrael. “Who knows whether I will still manage to see you,” she wrote. That was her last letter.

I kept the photo album presented to me by the members of the Trumpeldoria group when I made aliya to Eretz Yisrael. On it is a dedication in Chava Shub's beautiful handwriting:

Much you have done
And we thank you for that - - -
When you in Eretz Yisrael
Do not forget our group
We will be there too.
Shalom, shalom,
There in Eretz we will meet again.
“Chazak V'Ematz”
“Trumpeldoria Group”

Dusiat, June 20, 1934


Iska Zeif

On the back: “Elinka, parting is hard. My heart is sad, but full of hope that if we see each other we will rejoice together. The question is, who knows when? May 3, 1937”


Moshe Zeif

March 26, 1930

“A memento to my dear friend Reuven Milun before his immigration to South Africa. From your friend who remains in Lithuania.

See you soon in our Holy Land on the ruins of our Temple.

Have good luck in your business and make your living easily. Moshe Zeif.” Rasya Tal (Kagan): Moishele studied at the Panevezys Yeshive, and used to call us the members of Hashomer Hatzair - shkotzim (non-Jews) …

In Eretz Yisrael he became a member of Kibbutz Masada – a kibbutz of Hashomer Hatzair…

A letter from Yoel Zeif to Rasya Kagan:

Faradia – Nov. 4, 1938

Dear Rasya,

I enlisted (or more correctly was drafted) to be a ghaffir in Faradia. It is a village on the Akko-Sefad road. They are building a large police station there. Solel Boneh[6] received the contract and they need 45 ghaffirs to keep guard. Consequently they drafted people from Tel Aviv, and also a few from Haifa.

Our life here is, of course, a military one. The place is nice, one of the pretty spots in the Galilee. We set up our camp on a high mountain, but there are higher ones surrounding us. Below is the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The air is pure and cold. If our situation were different, without tension, and our lives were secure, how nice it would be to live here and to hike and climb the mountains of the Galilee. But at a time when you are reminded that one step outside the camp your life is in danger, all this beauty and all the scenic spots and their charms turn into a gloomy black cloud above your head. And you can think about only one thing: to guard the lives of the laborers working here.

There are 105 of us in the tent camp: 45 ghaffirs and 60 laborers.

Our posts have no roofs. We also have no winter clothes, and we have to keep guard, and we have to stand in the pouring rain. Our clothes get wet and we have nothing to change into, and there is no way to dry them…

We had a “reception” from the gangs three days after our arrival, but we repelled them. A week later they attacked us again, at which time one laborer was wounded. After a half hour attack they retreated. Shots can be heard almost every night. The gangs are in our area. My address is: Haifa, Labor Kitchen, Faradia Ghaffir's Camp.



  1. During the British Mandate, the Jewish Settlement Police was established to protect the Jewish settlements. A volunteer member serving as a watchman or guard was given the title ghaffir (from the Arabic word meaning “watchman”). Return
  2. Labor Troop - members of the Histadrut who trained to protect their people and factories. Training was done without firearms but rather with the use of batons and stone throwing. Tactics were concentrated on keeping order. Return
  3. Sir Charles Tegart (1881-1946), British expert on security, served in high positions in various Police Departments in India, was sent to Palestine at the time of the British Mandate to find a way of securing the northern border. Return
  4. British permits for immigration to Palestine. Return
  5. United States Joint Distribution Committee. Return
  6. The Histadrut construction company. Return

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