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Zissu, Abraham Leib

(1888–1956), writer and journalist; Zionist political leader. Abraham Leib Zissu was born in Piatra Neamț, Moldavia, to a Hasidic family, and was familiar with traditional Talmudic and biblical literature. He made his debut as a journalist in the newspaper Egalitatea (Equality; 1914), and eventually edited, with M. Braunstein-Mebashan (Menaḥem Mendel Braunstein), the Hebrew review Ha-Mekits (1912). He contributed as well to the Yiddish language review Likht (1914) before turning to Romanian-language Jewish journalism.

After marrying the daughter of the industrialist Karl Zimmer, Zissu moved in 1914 to Bucharest and became a successful businessman. In 1919, he issued the newspaper Mântuirea in that city, using it as a forum to promote a radical program for a spiritual return to Judaism. He also developed a theory of “integral” Jewish nationalism, which was to emerge from a movement of “revival” and a return to authentic Judaism.

As a dominant figure in the Jewish press and public and cultural life, Zissu wrote fiction that was dedicated to Jewish thought and to illustrating dramatic moments from Jewish history, beginning with the play David Brandeis (1914) and followed by the story collections Spovedania unui candelabru (Confession of a Chandelier; 1926), Ereticul de la Mânăstirea Neamțu (The Heretic from the Neamțu Monastery; 1930) and the novels Marcu sin Marcu (Mark Son of Mark; 1934), Calea calvarului (The Calvary Path; 1935), and Samson şi noul Dagon (Samson and the New Dagon; 1940). Zissu’s passion for ideological debate on the status of the modern Jewish intellectual and on problems of identity led him to produce fiction that is highly rhetorical and excessively discursive. The same topics are addressed in many of his essays and polemical articles, some of which are collected in Noi . . . Breviar iudaic (Us . . . Judaic Breviary; 1932) and Nu există cult mozaic (There Is No Mosaic Cult; 1947).

For several decades, Zissu was the outstanding representative of Revisionist Zionism, expressing strong messianic tendencies. He accused the Union of Romanian Jews and its leader, Wilhelm Filderman, of promoting assimilation. Zissu instead emphasized developing Jewish values and traditions, aiming to preserve Jewish identity without compromise; to respect the environment of the majority but without what he regarded as harmful “interference” and attempts to integrate culturally into the Romanian environment.

Zissu was intransigent in insisting that the local Romanian native spirit was incompatible with the Jewish one; moreover, he acknowledged the Romanians’ right to protect themselves from mixing with the “Jewish spirit.” The Zionist group Renaşterea (The Revival; 1922) and the Jewish Party (1930) followed his doctrines. A significant number of young Jewish intellectuals and writers gathered around him, acknowledging Zissu’s decisive influence on their development and on their relation to Judaism. Among his followers were Felix Aderca, Beniamin Fundoianu, Ion Călugăru, and Isac Ludo.

Zissu’s involvement in fighting antisemitism began with an open letter addressed to Christian students in Cluj (published in Mântuirea; 10 December 1922) that led to the journal’s editing room being invaded and destroyed; the journal itself was then suspended by the government. As he attempted to explain antisemitism, Zissu pointed to a direct link between the ambiguous status of emancipated and assimilated Jews and the rising antisemitic violence triggered by nationalism. He pursued his fight during Ion Antonescu’s dictatorial regime, mainly as president of the Office for Emigration to Palestine.

During World War II, Zissu was imprisoned for two months in a camp for political prisoners at Târgu Jiu. After the war, he again set up the Jewish Party and became the leader of the Zionist movement for a short while; he was arrested in 1950 and given a life sentence for such activities. Zissu was released in 1956, when, very ill and severely harmed by the detention years, he was allowed to leave for Israel, where he died shortly afterward.

Suggested Reading

Ilie Radu-Nandra, “Zissu Abraham Leib,” in Dicționarul scriitorilor români, ed. Mircea Zaciu, Marian Papahagi, and Aurel Sasu, vol. 4, pp. 876–878 (Bucharest, 2002); ‘Ami’el Sheraga, He-‘Asui li-veli ḥat: Ḥayav u-fo‘olo shel Avraham Leb Zisu (Tel Aviv, 1964); Leon Volovici, “Hitmodedutam shel manhigim ve-intelektu’alim yehudim ‘im ha-antishemiut,” in Toldot ha-yehudim be-Romanyah, ed. Pa’ul Ts´ernovode’anu, vol. 3, pp. 109–134 (Tel Aviv, 1996); A. B. Yoffe, Be-Sadot zarim: Sofrim yehudim be-Romanyah, 1880–1940 (Tel Aviv, 1996), pp. 408–410; A. L. Zissu, Sionişti sub anchetă, ed. Mihai Pelin (Bucharest, 1993).



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea