Vietnam has two Chabad Houses, one in Hanoi and one in Ho Chi Minh City. Kyrgyzstan has one, in the city of Bishkek, and so does Mauritius, home to an estimated 150 Jews. Montenegro, New Zealand, and Martinique all have Chabad Houses. Every year, options are dwindling for shluchim (emissaries) looking for an exotic locale to start a Jewish community center. Unless you’re willing to go to Reykjavík.
Of course, Rabbi Avi and Mushky Feldman don’t see it that way—Iceland’s first ever Chabad shluchim, who are preparing to set up shop this spring, are delighted at the chance to create an institutional Jewish presence in Iceland. According to Chabad, “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.”
“It’s really exciting for us,” said Rabbi Feldman in an interview with Tablet. “We feel like, together wth the local Jewish community, we will be making history.”
“We’re so lucky to be a part of this,” said Mushky Feldman.
The Feldmans will be arriving from Brooklyn in the world’s northernmost capital and the last European capital without a Chabad House after Passover. Coming along with them will be their two young daughters, Batsheva, eight months, and Chana, 2, who’s in the process of learning how to pronounce “Reykjavík.” Though many of the city’s residents speak English, Rabbi Feldman hopes to start learning Icelandic sooner rather than later; Mushky, born in Sweden, finds that the language’s purported similarity to Swedish is thus far yet to reveal itself.
The island nation has by no means been devoid of Jewish life—a community of around 250, led by a Chicago transplant named Mike Levin, has gathered for years on holidays—but it’s only in the last few years that the desire for any sort institutional presence has become really acute. Rabbi Berel Pewzner and a few other rabbinical students have been visiting the community since 2011, and hosted the first ever public seder there.
After they were married four years ago, the Feldmans began to search for place to set up a Chabad House, and Mushky’s familiarity with Scandinavia drew them to Iceland. “It was always on my radar,” she says. But it wasn’t “ripe enough” at the time, Rabbi Feldman told Chabad.com.
But as Iceland increasingly became a hot tourist destination, the Feldmans decided to visit Reykjavík for Hanukkah, and were blown away by the beauty of the city. But everywhere they looked, they saw needs: Readily available kosher food, a preschool, services for Jewish tourists. In problems, they saw opportunities. And now, they prepare to head to the country where Shabbat can start as early as 3:15 and as late as 11:30, depending on the season. They’re not too worried about it.
“We really feel like we’re going with a blessing,” says Mushky.