Tuesday 23 January 2018


YITSKHOK NISENBOYM (YITZCHAK NISSENBAUM) (October 11, 1868-October 6, 1942)
            He was born in Bobruisk, Byelorussia.  He attended the Volozhin yeshiva, where he led a secret Zionist circle to which also belonged the friend of his youth, Ḥaim Nachman Bialik.  He established the yeshiva organization “Netsaḥ Yisrael” (Glory of Israel), served as secretary to Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, and was a member of the Land of Israel Committee of Odessa.  As a writer and preacher, he called upon Polish Jewry for national revival and return to Israel.  He was rabbi in the Warsaw Moriya school, published texts on Torah in the spirit of “Ḥibat Tsiyon” (Love of Zion), participated in Zionist conferences and congresses, and was one of the founders of Mizrachi.  He mediated a peace in the Zionist camp at the time of the first elections to the Polish Sejm and to the Jewish community council of Warsaw.  He never sought to profit personally from his Zionist activities.  In 1935 he was elected president of the Polish Mizrachi and strove to create a united front of all Jewish parties.  He became quite ill in 1939, though he did not cease guiding his community activities.  In 1910 he contributed to Nokhum Sokolov’s Hatsfira (The siren), and when it later was published as a Mizrachi weekly, he served as its editor.  He also wrote for Hamelits (The advocate), Hatsofe (The spectator), Moment (Moment), and other newspapers and periodicals.  In 1920 there was published in Warsaw an 8-page speech of his entitled Erets yisroel arbayt (The land of Israel works), published by Mizrachi also in Polish; a pamphlet A vort tsum religyezn yudntum vegn geules-yisroel un geules erets-yisroel (A word to religious Jewry concerning the redemption of Israel and the redemption of the land of Israel) (Warsaw, 1935), 31 pp.; and he adapted a work by Moyshe Klaynman, Rabeynu shmuel mohilever, zayn lebn, shtrebn un virkn (Our Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, his life, aspirations, and impact) (Berdichev, 1898), 20 pp.  In 1939 the public library Yavneh in Warsaw published a 31-page monograph in honor of Nisenboym’s seventieth birthday.  After his death, there was published in Jerusalem a collection of his letters, entitled Igrot harav nisenboym (The letter of Rabbi Nisenboym), compiled and edited by Yisrael Shapiro, with a preface by Eliyahu-Moshe Genaḥovski (1955/1956), 416 pp.  Nisenboym was also the author of a series of religious texts, among them: Ale ḥeldi (Pages of my world), an autobiography (Jerusalem, 1968/1969), 379 pp.; Hayahadut haleumit (National Judaism) (Warsaw, 1920), 256 pp.; Masoret veḥerut (Tradition and freedom) (Warsaw, 1939), 201 pp.; and Derashot lekhol shabtot hashana vehamoadim (Sermons for all the Sabbaths of the year and holidays) (Warsaw, 1922/1923), 263 pp.  During the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, he on no account sought to leave the city, only wishing to share the fate of Warsaw Jewry.  One theory has it that he was taken to Treblinka on September 10, 1942; a second report has this taking place on February 19, 1943; and as transmitted by Moyshe Floymenboym, the German shot him on January 1, 1943, when he refused to stand in the wagons transporting the Warsaw Jews to Treblinka.  We now know that he died in the Warsaw Ghetto.  He is said, before his death, to have yelled out to other Jews: “Do not go to Treblinka!”  As Arn Tsaytlin would later write:

Igrot harav nisenboym, the collection of letters, which comprises a large chunk of Jewish life, written from the beginning of the 1890s until the period of horrors in the Warsaw Ghetto, was compiled by a relative and student [Yisrael Shapiro] of Rabbi Nisenboym—this volume is, first and foremost, history.  It is a treasure trove for historians of the Zionist movement in Russia and Poland.  You will find here, in addition, valuable materials on the history of the Hebrew press and journalism.  Especially interesting are the letters that the young Nisenboym wrote to his friend, the young Bialik.  Bialik had no desire to hitch his wagon to doggerel propaganda.  Nisenboym, on the other hand, believed that a poet ought serve the movement.  He himself—from his earliest years—served it faithfully.  He was also a speaker, a preacher, an agitator….  The letter collection can serve as a complement to Nisenboym’s autobiographical work, Ale ḥeldi.  Rabbi Nisenboym dedicated his autobiography to his close friend, Dr. Yitskhok Rivkind, many of whose (Nisenboym’s) letters to him may be found in the Jerusalem volume.  Also in Ale ḥeldi there is a great deal of material on Jewish life in Russia and Poland, on Zionism, on the Hebrew press—and on Warsaw of more than one-half century ago.

Sources: Hadoar (New York) (February 26, 1943); Eliyahu-Moshe Genaḥovski, in Bemishor (Jerusalem) (December 2, 1943); Yidishe shriftn (Lodz) (1946); Moyshe Floymenboym, in Unzer veg (Paris) 2 (1946); Floymenboym, in Di tsukunft (New York) (November 1946); Y. Tsineman, in Der mizrakhi-veg (New York) (April 8, 1948); Arn Tsaytlin, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (August 1957); M. Shtrigler, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (August 1957); Y. Grinboym, Fun mayn dor (From my generation) (Tel Aviv, 1959); Grinboym, Pene hador (The face of the generation) (Tel Aviv, 1959); A. Rimba, in the collection Haḥinukh vehatarbut haivrit beeropa (Hebrew education and culture in Europe) (New York, 1957); Rav Tsair, in Bitsaron (New York) (Nisan-Iyar [= March-May] 1956).
Yankev Kahan

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