Born in Bobruisk, Belorussia (White Russia) Isaac Nissenbaum became an active Zionist at a very young age. While attending Volozhin he joined the yeshiva’s secret nationalistic association called ‘Netzach Yisrael’, set up when the government forced the closure of the yeshiva. The society demanded that all its members declare their allegiance to Eretz Yisrael. In 1889, he married and moved to Minskwhere he continued activities with ‘Netzach Yisrael’ in secret and became known in public as one of the great ‘darshanim’ of the time.
In 1893, Rabbi Nissenbaum was ordained and later in the year attended a secret Hovevei Zion meeting, headed by Rabbi Samuel Mohilever, where Mizrachi began as a religious section of Hibbat Zion. These two individuals developed a close working relationship and Nissenbaum moved to Bialystokin 1894 to become Mohilever’s secretary, a position he retained until Mohilever’s death. It was during this time that Nissenbaum became known as a central figure in the Zionist movement. He used his oratorical abilities, traveling through Russia, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, becoming known as the ‘traveling Zionist preacher. He had a great influence on Orthodox Jewry as he spoke in a medium that they understood, including in his speeches many allusions and explanations of Midrashic and Zohar texts.
With the advent of Herzl, Rabbi Nissenbaum became the basic link of communication between Herzl and the members of Hovevei Zion. He was also among those who attended the First Zionist Congress, and was elected afterwards as one of the World Zionist Organization’s representatives in Russia. For seven months he would reside in Bialystok and for five months he would travel from place to place in order to organize activities on behalf of the new yishuv in Eretz Yisrael. In Warsaw, where he settled in 1901, he continued with his Zionist activities, attending all Zionist functions.
When Mizrachi was founded in 1902, Rabbi Nissenbaum served as secretary to their first congress. In 1905, during the Sixth Zionist Congress which considered the Uganda proposal, he traveled to Eretz Yisrael to fight against it and those who supported it in Eretz Yisrael itself. He fought vehemently against the proposal. After the Uganda proposal failed, he returned to Poland and continued his Zionist activities, even though such activity was outlawed and brought with it great personal danger. He also continued to speak every Shabbat in the ‘Moriah’ Synagogue, a tradition he kept for over thirty years. There he spoke one Shabbat a month in Hebrew and thus became the first ‘darshan’ to speak in Hebrew in public.
At the Eleventh Zionist Congress, in 1913, Rabbi Nissenbaum once again began to take an active role in Mizrachi affairs. This coupled, with his being an executive of the Polish Zionist Organization and one of the leaders of the Jewish National Fund, caused him to become the backbone of the large Mizrachi following in Poland and the surrounding countries. Among the most notable pamphlets that he wrote was the first explanatory booklet of the ideals and goals of the Jewish National Fund (J.N.F.).
Following World War I, Rabbi Nissenbaum became editor of the weekly Mizrachi paper in Poland and in 1937 became head of the Mizrachi movement there. As World War II began to engulf Europe, Rabbi Nissenbaum refused to leave Poland and was murdered in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942. He left behind works on Zionism and copies of his speeches, including: Ha’dat Ve’ha’techiya H’leumit, Ha’yahadut Ha’leumit and Imrei Derush. Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak, established on January 26, 1943, was named in his memory.
|From His Writings:
The Goal of Mizrachi
“The objective of Mizrachi is the total revival of our nation in all its aspects; to revive Judaism in our hearts and to revive our hearts for Judaism; to revive the land for the nation and to revive the nation on the fatness of the land. The objective of Mizrachi is the total revival of Judaism in all its aspects through its depth, width and height. It is a Judaism whose legislators redeem, whose farmers are prophets, whose businessmen are sages. It is a Judaism which creates spiritual and physical values, synthesizing them into one unit, destroying the houses of bondage and building huts of freedom.
Mizrachi flies the flag of nationalistic Judaism, transforming a people into a holy nation, above all the nations of the world. We are a nation whose empty and sinful children are filled with mitzvot as a pomegranate is with seeds. The objective of Mizrachi is to revive life itself…Mizrachi asks of its members a total spiritual and ethical commitment to our renewal. To know the history of our religion and mend our lives to the spirit of the Torah; this goal can only be realized in its totality in Eretz Israel.
The basic ideas of our religion are not as those of other religions. The Torah is a Torah of life. In contradistinction to the basic religious goals in other religions, the basic religious idea in Judaism is part and parcel of the nationality of the Jewish nation in Eretz Israel and the whole religion is an intrinsic aspect of the Jewish State.”
|The Living Land: Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak
Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak, named in memory of Rav Nissenbaum, located on the coastal plain not far from Ben Gurion airport, has known destruction, uprooting and transplantation. The kibbutz was founded in January 1943 in the western Negev, by religious pioneering youth from Germany and Czechoslovakia. It was at the time the southern most Jewish settlement in Palestine. During the War of Independence of 1948, the kibbutz was destroyed by the Egyptian army with considerable loss of life to its defenders. In 1949 the members of Be’erot Yitzchak were temporarily located to Wilhemina, a German colony that had become a British internment camp for Axis nationals during the Second World War. In 1952 Be’erot Yitzchak was re-establsihed in its current location.
Today Be’erot Yitzchak is made up of 220 families, most of who are native-born Israelis and immigrants from North America, the United Kingdom and Europe. Younger children attend the regional grammar school, which is run jointly by Be’erot Yitzchak and three neighboring religious moshavim. The high school children attend the Religious Kibbutz Movement regional high school at Kvutsat Yavneh. Be’erot Yitzchak farms approximately 400 dunams (100 acres) of land, with the major crops being: cotton, corn, artichokes and citrus fruit. The kibbutz also has a dairy barn, chickens, turkeys, two metal factories, a catering plant, and a spices factory.