Esther Barsel was the only child of Joseph and Sonya (nee Garren-Bloom) Luriane/Levin. The Levins lived in Middelburg in the Transvaal until they moved to Johannesburg in 1932 to 26 Rocky Street where they ran a shop. Esther went to the Jewish Government School (now I.H. Harris) and her home life was an orthodox one. She was a lonely only child. She was introduced to socialism by her good friend Katie Rom’s parents. Esther joined the Young Communist League at the age of 14. She became a bookkeeper after school. Her first job was at the Friends of the Soviet Union, where she met Hymie Barsel. Esther Levin and Hymie Barsel married on December 4th 1945, in a Doornfontein Shul by Rabbi Aloy. They had three daughters – Sonia, Linda and Merle.
Both Esther and Hymie were secretly heavily involved in The Struggle. Esther was a commissar – a communication link between those ANC members who were deeply underground and those who were more visible.
In 1964, both Hymie and Esther were members of an underground communist cell. On the 3rd of July in that year, Pieter Byleveld (a member of the Communist Party) turned traitor and approximately 40 white communists were swooped on in a pre-dawn raid. Esther and Hymie were detained. Pieter could place Esther and ±5 others at the same communist meeting. Esther wasn’t as yet banned, but she was labelled a communist and sent to the Women’s Jail at The Fort (Constitution Hill today) from approximately October 1964 – April 1965. She was then sentenced to 3 years in Barberton Prison in the Bram Fischer Treason Trial. In 1968 she was released but was banned and under house arrest for 5 years. By 1973, she was “kind of free” (Merle Ruff – her youngest daughter) but did no political work because of having been banned.