- Born on July 3, 1891
- Made aliyah in 1908
- Arrived in Degnia in 1910
- Drowned in the Kinneret on July 30, 1919
Yosef was born in the small town of Lakovitch in Byelorus. His father died when Yosef was a young child. In his youth he studied in Yeshivot, mainly in the Slutsk Yeshiva, and he ate at the tables of charitable families, as was customary among poor yeshiva students at that time. He was a candidate to receive rabbinical ordination, which was his mother’s great dream, but he dedicated himself to the Zionist idea, to the study of the Hebrew language and to activity with the youth of the town – which in the Zionist youth movement was called “ HaTchiya” (the Revival).
In order to fulfill his dream of being a farmer in Eretz Yisrael he went out to the Jewish colonies and trained for agricultural work with a Jewish farmer in the Kherson region.
In 1908, in spite of his mother's opposition, Yosef and his Fiance'e, Chayuta, left the town and made their way to Israel Palestine via Odessa, on a ship with Russian pilgrims. His first place of work was in Petach Tikva. The farmers of the colony treated the workers with contempt and would examine their muscles. The insult was scathing. Yosef moved to Rechovot, where 'he conguered the spade' as he said. He met A.D Gordon, was impressed by him and influenced by his opinions. at the end of 1908 he went up to the Galilee and began to work on the Kinneret Farm. There he formed a connection with the members, among them members of the 'Romanian Commune' and they began to dream of a communea life.
The group left the farm, moved to Chedera for agricultural training and were called the 'Chederite Commune'.
In Chedera Yosef was outstanding in the strength of his leadership and in his great influence on the members and the workers of the colony.
At the end of 1910 the group took upon itself the working of the lands over the Jordan and they moved to Um Juni as a permanent group – that was Degania. It was Yosef who informed the Land of Israel office of the name Degania, “after the five grains of the valley.”
Yosef and Chayuta married in 1915 and in 1919 their daughter Hadassah was born. Yosef envisaged many aims for the group –- the forming of a modern farm without bosses, eguality among the members, communal education and the active participation of the female members in the farm and in society. In addition to his daily work he imposed upon himself the bookkeeping and the correspondence with the Land of Israel Office.
He wasn't content with the long day's work and also took upon himself public work in organizing the Galilee colonies, as well as writing and reporting for The Young Worker. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he cared for those who had been driven from thier homes and for the many orphans who arrived in the Galilee and in Tzemach after the explosion of the Jews from Yaffo and Tel-Aviv; he set up orphanages for them in Segera and Menachamia.
He battled for equality for the female members at work and on the farm and for distributing the burden of housework among the male members. He was among the first to struggle for the release of the mother from the care of her children. In that he laid down the basis for communal education.
On his return to Degania from Tiberias, after working for the farmers’ committee of the Lower Galilee, the boat transporting him capsized and he drowned in the Kinneret. He died at the age of 29.
“A man of will and awareness, his slender, soft-solid hands took hold of Degnaia and his soft, longing eyes of steel observed her ways – how did the dearest and most perfect of the men of our generation fall?” (from the words of Y. Ch. Brenner)
He left his wife Chayuta, his five month old daughter Hadassah, his sisters Sarah and Pessya and his mother, who made aliyah and settled in Tiberias.
May his memory be for a blessing.