“The shomer is the pioneer of the renaissance of his people, his language, and his homeland.” Hebrew poster. Poland. One of a series of posters on the “ten commandments” of the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir movement. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)

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Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir, Ha-

Zionist socialist youth movement. Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir (The Young Guard) educated and trained its members for immigration to a kibbutz in Palestine. The movement originated in Galicia—at that time a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire—a result of the merger of Tse‘ire Agudat Tsiyon, which was involved in the teaching of Hebrew, Judaism, and Jewish history, with Ha-Shomer, an amalgamation of scouting organizations that considered the distinct Palestine Ha-Shomer organization a worthy model to emulate. In 1916, at a meeting of Galician refugees from World War I in Vienna, the two groups officially united to form Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir.

Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir promoted itself as a youth movement for the middle class. Between 1916 and 1919, it defined its educational goals, basing them substantially on the experiences of the German youth movement Wandervogel. However, apart from a romantic attachment to Palestine, the movement’s ideology was not clearly outlined. Initially, activities concentrated on providing Hebrew education to Jewish youth within the framework of the kevutsah or ken (defined as cell or nest), and consolidating its members’ consciousness. Leaders hoped members would complete a year of labor in the Land of Israel, after which the youths would return to their hometowns to be involved in local Zionist activities. Prominent early members included Eli‘ezer Rieger (1896–1954), Me’ir Ya‘ari (1897–1987), and Yisakhar Reis (1900–1942). After members of Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir immigrated to Palestine en masse in 1920, following the organization’s Lwów conference, the Galician branch of the movement was plagued by frequent crises.

Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir certificate of membership in good standing for Yokheved Lipa, Chişinău (Kishinev), Romania (now in Moldova), 1922. She is wished a pleasant journey and that she would fulfill her obligations to the Jewish people (am ha-‘ivri). (YIVO)

The movement in Congress Poland arose after the Galician branch had been formed. In the case of Poland, the organization emerged from an assortment of Jewish scouting groups that had originally been affiliated with the Polish scouting movement, from which they had been expelled. Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir sought to remove young Jewish men and women from their closed Jewish environments, introducing them to wide-open expanses of nature, to sports, and to poetry. The Jewish nationalist idea took a longer time to penetrate the Polish section, but by the 1920s this branch had attracted a significant following, especially in the eastern territories. The composition gradually changed, and youths with no high school education from poor and impoverished families began to join. In 1928, there were 12,000 members, and on the eve of World War II that number had risen to 26,600 in about 300 branches.

During the 1920s, the movement’s Zionist and socialist ideas crystallized. The concept of self-realization assumed importance, and was taken to mean that each member would seek personally to immigrate to Palestine, volunteering to work at manual labor, preferably on a kibbutz. Meetings were conducted in Hebrew, thus distancing members from their native environment and causing them to believe that they were rejecting their elders’ lifestyle. From the latter half of the 1920s, the movement underwent a radical shift to the left. A number of factors account for this phenomenon, including the influence of the increasingly left-leaning Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir immigrants in Palestine and the organization’s rivalry with the Communist movement in Eastern Europe. One of the main leaders responsible for this leftward shift in Galicia was Mordekhai Orenstein (Oren).

Though Poland was the center of the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir movement, the organization spread in the early 1920s to other East European countries. In 1922, its first conference took place in the Soviet Union. Despite Soviet persecution, the movement managed to recruit approximately 20,000 members. During the 1920s, the Soviet branch opposed the leftward shift that was taking place in the Polish and Palestinian sections, and objected to the founding of Ha-Kibuts ha-Artsi (National Kibbutz Network) and to the politicization of Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir. As a result of these objections, the Russian branch broke with the movement in 1930 to form Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir Netsaḥ (i.e., the Eternal Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir; Netsaḥ being an acronym for No‘ar Tsofi Ḥalutsi, or Pioneering Youth Scouts). This Russian association was joined by the Latvian branch and by sections of the Lithuanian, Transylvanian, Yugoslavian, and Czechoslovakian branches.

After the outbreak of World War II, some members of the Polish Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir went to Vilna with escapees from Nazi-occupied Poland; others went to territories that were now occupied by the Soviets. Some even managed to continue their journey to Palestine. As was the case with leaders of other Jewish youth movements, some members decided to return to Nazi-occupied Poland, where they operated clandestinely, performing such tasks as assembling members, rehabilitating the movement’s cells, organizing a framework for study and education, and publishing an underground press. At the same time, they continued to organize ideological activities, seminars, and conferences. In Warsaw alone, the movement boasted a membership of approximately 800. It also managed to establish clandestine contacts with members dispersed among the ghettos. This was done via liaisons, mostly female, the most famous of whom was Ḥaykah Grossman, who later was an organizer in the Białystok ghetto. In addition to Grossman, Mordekhai Anielewicz served as commander of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and in Vilna, Abba Kovner was a leader first in the ghetto and later in the forests.

Members who survived the Holocaust organized postwar activities to pave the way for immigration to Palestine. They also played a pivotal role in organizing the mass exodus of East European Jewry in what was later referred to as ha-beriḥah (the escape), cooperating with other youth movements and Zionist parties to ensure that plans would succeed. Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir continued to operate legally in Poland until 1950.

Jewish youth movements that were established after Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir were influenced in one way or another by the organizational and educational model it had created. The core principle of this model was its reliance on close-knit educational groups in the ken, the term for a local branch of the movement that suggested the intimacy of a family. Each branch was divided into three age groups: Tse‘irim (Youngsters; age 11–14); Tsofim (Scouts; age 14–16); and an older group (age 17 and beyond), consisting of Bogrim (Graduates), Keshishim (seniors), and Magshimim (Fulfillers). In the first two age groups, scouting was accepted as an appropriate educational method, so long as it could be tailored to suit the Jewish environment and pioneering character of the movement. Most of the ideological activity was confined to the oldest group and its training farms (kibbutzim). A member who by age 21 had not joined a training kibbutz was forced to leave the movement.

Suggested Reading

Levi Deror and Yisra’el Rozentsvayg, eds., Sefer ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir, 3 vols. (Merhavyah, Isr., 1956–1964); Elkana Margalit, “Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir”: Me-‘adat ne‘urim le-marksizm mahapekhani, 1913–1936 (Tel Aviv, 1970/71); Matityahu Mintz, Ḥavle ne‘urim: Ha-Tenu‘ah ha-shomrit, 1911–1921 (Jerusalem 1994/95); David Zait, Ha-Utopyah ha-shomrit: Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir be-Polin, 1921–1931 (Kiryat Sedeh Boker, Isr., 2002).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler