Memories of serving in the Mishmar Ezrachi

Yehudit Collins and her husband Chaim joined the Civil Guard in 1979.

Chaim and Yehudit Collins on duty with the Mishmar Ezrachi in 2003 (photo credit: LIAT COLLINS)
Chaim and Yehudit Collins on duty with the Mishmar Ezrachi in 2003
(photo credit: LIAT COLLINS)
My late husband and I started service in Mishmar Ezrachi (Civil Guard) in 1979 only a few short weeks after we had arrived at the absorption center in Kiryat Yam. Somebody came around recruiting and eagerly we signed.
We had to report for shooting instruction on a Friday afternoon. As I am observant, I was anxious to be back before Shabbat. Although religious, I do wear trousers and even though married did not cover my hair. I was warned, however, that unless I was wearing a skirt and head covering no one would believe I was religious, so dutifully I dressed the part. We volunteers assembled at the meeting place and some minutes after the appointed time a very battered old police van arrived to take us to the shooting range. The van was so old and decrepit that the doors were held closed by pieces of string.
At the shooting range we were taught basic safety regulations, how to load our guns, which looked like relics of World War I, and then were ready to shoot at targets. We were to shoot 10 rounds standing, 10 rounds from a kneeling position, then 10 rounds lying on our stomachs, making me wish I had worn trousers.
On the journey back the van broke down. I think it just gave up in shame. This became a problem, as Shabbat was rapidly approaching. I needn’t have worried. Our commander, who my husband and I had dubbed Mon Capitaine, flagged down a passing police car, explained our predicament and we traveled back to the absorption center in style. How or when the others returned I never found out.

OUR FIRST duty was guarding the synagogue during the High Holy Day services. Apparently the previous year they had had a man stationed in the ezrat nashim (ladies’ gallery) and the women had objected, so I was considered an asset. At intervals my husband and I would patrol round outside to take turns in carrying the one gun that had been assigned between the two of us. Someone had forgotten to program the light switches to allow for the extra time services would take beyond a normal Shabbat service and it was my misfortune to be the one in charge of the gun when the lights went out.
More excitement followed at Simhat Torah. We were to patrol the square where festivities were taking place. We were told we were to look out for anything unusual or anyone who appeared not to fit in. On our rounds I noticed what appeared to be a large man dressed as a woman and what is more carrying a large bag with what appeared to have wires sticking out of it. Our son, at that time 17, who was not allowed to carry a gun but had volunteered to act as runner was dispatched to find Mon Capitaine.
He duly arrived with the very nervous young woman he had been patrolling with, in fact too nervous to be assigned as anyone else’s partner, as I soon found out. This was men’s work. So off went Mon Capitaine with my husband and son, leaving me with a nearly hysterical woman to deal with. Even worse, she had brought her seven-year-old child along, now also in floods of tears. My son and husband returned laughing. It was indeed a woman with an unfortunate hormonal problem and the wire sticking out from her bag was her knitting. Everyone thought it hilarious and although Mon Capitaine commended me and said I’d done the right thing, I deeply regretted having embarrassed the poor soul.

A FEW years after we moved to Jerusalem, a friend recruited us into Mishmar Ezrachi there. At 70 he felt it was time to leave, so we were to be his replacement. Once again we had to go to the shooting range but this time on a Friday morning and by private cars. I have to admit to not being Annie Oakley and kept missing the target. Fortunately the instructor realized what was wrong. My left eye is my stronger eye but to sight with the left eye means holding the gun differently. He showed me how to do this and I put one through the heart. Even so, when we went out on patrol it was my husband who carried the gun whilst I toted the walkie-talkie.
At first we patrolled with another volunteer driving their own car. But after experiencing some really awful driving, we decided we’d be safer on foot. It was at a time of increasing terrorist attacks and people would look out of their windows and offer us hot drinks and encouragement. One warm summer night we were warned to look out for a Western-looking couple pushing a stroller. The “baby” was actually a bomb disguised as a lifelike doll. A great many babies in strollers were dutifully admired that night, but thankfully all were genuine.
Another night, while patrolling past Café Hillel on Emek Refaim Street we were suddenly surrounded by very large American men. It turned out they were all policemen on their last evening in Israel after a course. They all wanted to take photos with us. Although they promised they would send us copies by email, sadly none did. We were supposed to have been on duty the night of the Café Hillel bombing, but as my husband had just returned from Canada that day and was somewhat jet-lagged, we swapped duties.
Another night also in Emek Refaim we found a car completely blocking the sidewalk and the entrance to a private car park. It had a broken rear light, which was a sign that it could have been stolen. It was very suspicious and people nearby were extremely nervous. We immediately directed people passing to the other side of the street while we called it in. It was not stolen and when the owner returned, he was quite abusive, calling us an interfering pair of old farts. So I demanded his ID and car papers. I don’t know if he ever got a report, but if not he must have spent a few uncomfortable weeks waiting for his fine to arrive.
One evening we were followed around by some American youths calling us a sweet old couple. I don’t know which adjective was most annoying, sweet or old. They kept pestering us asking if the gun was real until I told them I was far from sweet and yes the gun was real and unless they beat it I’d be happy to demonstrate.
We decided we would keep on patrolling until I reached my 70th birthday or we had to renew our gun licenses, whichever came first. By chance both happened in the same week and shortly after Mishmar Ezrachi stopped taking recruits over the age of 70. Did we do any good? Hard to know. I doubt we stopped any terrorist attacks, but I think by our presence we did indeed prevent some vandalism and petty crime.
I think it’s time to bring back Mishmar Ezrachi. I, for one, would feel safer walking at night if I saw a couple patrolling my neighborhood.