Feb 11, 2018
History: Chabad Opens in Iceland

For the first time, Chabad is establishing a permanent center in Reykjavik, Iceland: Rabbi Avi and Mushky Feldman (nee Namdar).

By Dovid Margolin, Chabad.org

Along with most of the 2 million tourists who visit Iceland each year, Rabbi Avi and Mushky Feldman will be flying to the island country's capital of Reykjavík later this year.

But unlike the others, they and their two young daughters, Chana and Batsheva, are flying one-way in order to establish the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center of Iceland.

Their appointment was announced at the Sunday-night gala banquet of the International Kinus Hashluchos in New York, which brought together 3,000 female Chabad representatives from 100 countries and their guests.

The Feldmans' arrival will herald a new era for Iceland's tiny Jewish community, and fulfill a number of firsts for Iceland's long but sparse Jewish history.

The Chabad Jewish Center will be Iceland's first institutional Jewish presence; Rabbi Feldman will be the country's first permanent rabbi; and aside from congregations formed by British and American troops during World War II, theirs will be the first synagogue in Iceland's 1,000-plus years of history.

Until now, Reykjavík also had the distinction of being the last major European capital without a synagogue or a rabbi.

All this is not to say Iceland did not have a Jewish community until now. It did, and does, run for decades by volunteer Mike Levin, a Chicagoan who has lived in Iceland since 1986. Gathering for years on Jewish holidays and for various programs, they kept the flame of Jewish life alive—a pilot light protected from the cold Nordic air.

"We have always had a small group of Jews here," Levin, who over the years has been identified by almost every news report on Jewish life in Iceland as the community's "unofficial spokesman," tells Chabad.org.

But running a Jewish community on a volunteer basis comes with difficulties. The United States military had a base in Iceland where Jewish personnel were serviced from time to time by Jewish chaplains, but it closed in 2006. Iceland’s Jews got a boost when Rabbi Berel Pewzner—then a rabbinical student and today co-director of Chabad of the Cayman Islands—initially reached out to Levin in 2011 and as part of Chabad’s Roving Rabbis program arranged the first public Passover seder there, drawing 50 people.

Pewzner arranged High Holiday services later that year, and in response to the warm reception they received from the community, rabbinical students have come a few times a year ever since. Over the years, through holiday programs and regular home visits, the Roving Rabbis managed to connect with many individual Jews living throughout Iceland.

Levin notes that "in the old days, we had a phone list, and we'd contact everyone who was interested in taking part and let them know. We did things for most major holidays, and at one point, we had a regular Shabbat service."

"By now, it's kind of necessary," says Levin of the Feldman's impending arrival. "If someone puts their full-time concentration on [Jewish life in Iceland], they can do a lot of things here."

While there are around 100 Jews who have participated in community functions in one way or another, the year-round Jewish population, including university students and staff, is likely closer to 250.

Along with the burgeoning tourist industry, which has exploded in the last decade and currently contributes to 10 percent of Iceland's GDP, Feldman sees a bright future in Reykjavík.

"We want to focus on the Jewish needs of everyone who lives, works or travels to Iceland," states the rabbi.

"Over the last decade we have been sending rabbinical students to Iceland as part of our effort to serve every Jew wherever they may be," says Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'lnyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad movement, and the person who oversees assistance for outlying Jewish communities.

"We felt that now is the right time, and the Feldmans are the right couple, to establish a permanent presence to serve the Jews living in and visiting Iceland. With G-d's help, this monumental step will give every Jew in Iceland the opportunity to connect to their heritage."

'It's a Special Place'

Not long after their marriage four years ago, the Feldmans began searching for a place to move as Chabad emissaries. Mushky was born and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden, where her parents, Rabbi Alexander and Leah Namdar, had been sent by the Rebbe in 1991, founding the first Chabad outpost in Scandinavia.

Motivated by the Rebbe's call to connect Jews to their heritage wherever they may be, and with Mushky familiar with the Scandinavian climate and mindset, Iceland was on the Feldman's radar.

Iceland is one of—if not the—fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world. Aside from regular flights from many North American and European cities, there are three direct flights a week from Israel.

Rabbi Feldman reached out to Pewzner’s younger brother, Rabbi Naftoli Hertz Pewzner, who had built on his brother’s work in Iceland and for the past five years was flying to the country to organize and run High Holiday services, Chanukah parties, and Passover seders, staying in touch with local Jews via phone, Skype, and email throughout the year.

"It's a magical place," says Mushky Feldman. Having grown up in a region so similar (she says that although she speaks Swedish, and Icelandic is said to be Old Swedish, she still can't make much out language-wise), Reykjavík reminded her of home.

Situated just below the Nordic circle, sunrise and sunset vary in the extremes, meaning Shabbat can begin as early as 3:15 p.m. or as late as 11:30 p.m., and in the summer end at 1:30 a.m. (Sunday morning). Gothenburg, while lower, is not that much different in that respect.

"Reykjavík is small, but it feels grand," she adds. "It's a capital city—you see that, and it's very alive. You go to the center of town and there are people out enjoying themselves at all hours."

"It's helpful for them that Mushky is from Sweden," says Sigal Har-Meshi, a native of Ashkelon, Israel, who first visited Iceland in 1986 ("I got here by mistake; I was looking for something different"), and has lived there for the last 14 years. "Scandinavians are very nice people, but it's good that she understands them so well."

Much has changed since Har-Meshi arrived, mostly driven by the tourism industry, which has spurred the opening of new restaurants and nightlife, and the construction of hotels. The uptick in activity doesn't bother her.

"For me, it's never too many tourists," she says with a laugh. "There are more things to do; it's more alive now." As the number of travelers has grown, so has the commensurate number of Jews visiting. When they look for Jewish accommodations or kosher food, notes Har-Meshi, until now "we didn't have a good answer."

Many items must be imported to Iceland—contributing to the country's high cost of living —and Rabbi Feldman has already started looking at various options for importing kosher staples from the United States or the United Kingdom.

In addition to the tourism, the local Jewish community has also grown over the years, if only slightly, and while her children are by now a bit older, Har-Meshi says she sees younger Jewish families who would benefit from having programs geared for their children. On their end, the Feldmans say they hope to start with regular Shabbat and holiday events, classes and a Hebrew school, and envision a Jewish preschool in the near future as well.

"A preschool is definitely something we hear a lot of young parents discussing and are excited about," Mushky tells Chabad.org.

To donate to the new Shlichus, visit JewishIceland.com


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Opinions and Comments
1
Yes!
I've long wanted to move to Iceland. perhaps it may now become a real possibility.

Having said that, I hope they are aware of a recent study that shows that 100% of Icelanders under the age of 25 are athiests.
(2/11/2018 6:06:18 PM)
2
Amazing couple!
Go Avi and mushky! Iceland is so lucky to have you!
(2/11/2018 6:16:14 PM)
3
Awesome!!
Mit mazel Feldman's!! Good luck.
And #1, let's check on that statistic in a few years... See what happens...
(2/11/2018 6:26:32 PM)
4
Inspired!
You are an inspiration for everyone!
(2/11/2018 8:39:18 PM)
5
Much Hatzlocha !!!!
Moshiach Now !
(2/11/2018 8:51:26 PM)
6
Looks like if they have a boy
They'll have to fly him somewhere for a bris, because Iceland is on the verge of banning it.
(2/11/2018 11:07:29 PM)
7
To #1
A Jew is a believer by nature.
The Feldman Shluchim of the Rebbe will help them reveal their potential
(2/12/2018 3:09:43 AM)
8
To #1
All the more reason for Shluchim to move there!
(2/12/2018 6:24:27 AM)
9
Ya'asher koach!
Wow, what a brave young couple! Iceland is an amazing place and I am sure they will have some meaningful years there and the greater as well as tiny Jewish community there will benefit from their guiding light.
(2/12/2018 9:50:58 AM)
10
Good luck Feldmans!!
Best of luck! Iceland has become a popular tourist destination. You'll have the chance to inspire and "warm" many Jews coming through there. Not to mention the community that lives there now. Mazel tov on your shlichus and have much hatzlacha!!
(2/12/2018 10:25:35 AM)
11
Go Rabbi Avi& Mushky!!!!
You guys are the best!!!!!
Much Hatzlacha in your shlichus!!!
Please donate to this worthy cause it is really expensive to go out there!!
(2/12/2018 11:56:24 AM)
12
Chana Sharfstein- daughter of First Shliach to Scandinavia
It was indeed very disappointing for me to read in this article that the namdar family are the first shluchim in Scandinavia. My Father, Harav Yacov Yisoel Zuber, a brilliany Talmud Chochom, a dedicated Chossid, was sent there in 1932 by the Frierdike Rebbe from Riga Latvia to become the Rav of the Orthodox largest kehilla in Sweden, in Stockholm. He was the Rav at Adas Yisroel and performed all the essential many-faceted taske of a Shliach. He travelled to all the Scandinavian countries to perform a bris, that is until the Nazis invaded Norway and Denmark, and Finland was fighting against Russia. He was the Rebbe for the young men in Sweden who no longer could attend European
yeshivas during the war years. He was known for his wonderful speeches, his beatiful davening and Torah reading, and served as a shochet as well.
When the Holocaust survivors came to Sweden straight from the camps, he became highly involved with the plight of the agunot who requested a divoce, a Get, to be able to remarry and start life anew. During the war years his home was constantly filled with travellers momentarily stopping in Sweden on their way to a safe haven. Sweden was a neutral country and thus the role of my parents, Harav Zuber and my mother Rebbetzin Zlata Zuber was a 24/7 task. The Frierdike Rebbe in his great foresight and wisdom placed my father here to give critical life-saving help to all European jewry. Our home was the Chabad House, always filled with the Jewish youth of all parts of the city On every Shabbos and Yom Tov all the youth gathered here to spend time with my brothers Menachem Mendel, Sholom Behr, my sister Leya(Edelman) and me. Our home was the lighthouse in the spiritual wilderness of Scandinavia. Who knows how many people were effected by the presence of our family there. The 17 years my Father spent here was the Longest time period he spent anywhere in his married life. Unfortunately this remarkable Shliach was niftar in Boston at age 55 as a result of a street mugging in 1953. It gives me deep heartache to see tha Shluchim of today forget THE FOUNDATION OF CHABAD AND DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THE ACTIVITIES OF THE FRIERDIKE REBBE ABD THE OTHER gREAT REBBES OF cHABAD WHO devoted their lives for Yiddishkeit..
(2/13/2018 7:17:33 AM)
13
My letter to rabbi namdar - in response to the incorrect information supplied above
Dear rabbi Namdar,

Thank you for all you are doing to bring yidden closer to hashem in the country of Sweden.

I need to express myself due to a recent article on collive stating that your family is the first shlichom an the area. Unfortunately this is untrue and it is a personal offense to my family if this incorrect information was to be perpetuated intentionally (which I’m sure it is not!) please be carefull to be historically accurate and to have others who report about you to be as well.

I invite you to research the life story of my great grandfather Harav Yaakov Yisroel Zuber who was sent to Stockholm Sweden by the previous Lubavitcher rebbe over half a century ago.

Thank you for your time.
With love,
Chaim Maline
(2/13/2018 10:41:16 AM)
14
Mazal tov and Hatzolaha!!!!
Sic nice pictures! I hope to visit you one day :) thank for holding it down in Iceland [3
(2/13/2018 10:44:52 AM)
15
Inaccurate Information
At the risk of sounding redundant and repetitive, I would just like to clarify that my grandfather HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Zuber was sent by the Frierdike Rebbe to be a Rabbi in Stockholm. This was long before erecting Chabad Houses became fashionable and exponentially plentiful.
He was a Shaliach of the Frierdike Rebbe long before the term Shaliach became commonplace and overused. It is far more difficult to be an authentic Shaliach without a support system then it is to be a Shaliach today, when there is much more support.
The true Shluchim who paved the way for Shlichos to become a household word should not be forgotten!! Historical accuracy is more important than self aggrandizement.

Sterna Sarah (Maline) bas Chanah Sharfstein (Zuber)
(2/13/2018 11:09:01 AM)
16
Wow amazing 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
What a selfless act. Hashem Shomer all the best. May G-d bless you with all great ways and things in this journey. 🙏🏻
(2/14/2018 5:57:11 AM)
17
To comment 12 and 13
While the basis of what you are saying is true, the malicious intent attributed to the author seems to be uncalled for at best.
The article was written by a great author at Chabad.org, and not by anyone else with an agenda as you might seem to suggest (the author of the article has not hidden his name..).
I also doubt it that this information was perpetuated by anyone other than someone who wrote the article assuming it to be true.
I hope this point is taken as politely and not attacking as possible, just trying to put things in context.
Thank you.
#ShevesAchimGamYochad

A keen observer
(2/15/2018 8:45:26 AM)
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