posted 21 Jun 2017, 12:42 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin


Where in the world is Rabbi Eli?


As much of a misnomer as Greenland, both lands would be far more accurately titled were they to trade names with each other.

Always a personal favourite, Iceland has most anything a nature lover can long for; magnificent lava fields, hot geysers (the phenomenon gets its name from a local village), imposing ice formations and shining glaciers, mystical green lights dancing in the sky on a crisp winter night, black sand beaches, bubbling geothermal year-round warm springs, powerful volcanoes, and the best super-jeep terrains on the planet.

One should be just a grateful for what is not here: Mosquitoes do not exist in Iceland, nor does McDonald's.

Iceland boasted total literacy and democratic government for over 1,000 years.
They wrote the best and wittiest sagas ever (even though beer remained illegal here until1989. There is not a single forest on the entire island, and anyone who wants to name their baby something not previously used in Iceland must have it approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee. (Mind you, there are no last names here, only first and patronymic. Which means that if your name is Chayim - assuming the committee approved it - and your father is Moyshe, you'll appear in all your papers, as well as the phone book, as Chayim Moysheson. And yes, your sister Sarah would be Sara Moyshesdottir.)

Now that you think you know everything there is to know about Iceland, I'll tell you about Iceland Jews; surprisingly, they are not among those entities that Iceland is most famous for.

While Jews as such (Gyðingar, lit. "God's people") were known in Iceland for many centuries - Gyðinga Saga, retelling the First Book of Maccabees, was written in 1260s - the first Jew didn't actually come here till 1625, and even he was a Polish convert to Christianity.

Whatever Jews, practising or not, came to dwell here in the 300 years that followed, it practically was always from, or at least by way of, Denmark - under whose rule Iceland remained till 1944.

In the 1940's and early 50's, there were hundreds of Jewish soldiers and officers manning the naval air station in Keflavik. A Rabbi chaplain was present at the base at all times, and the High Holy Day services saw 450 to 650 in attendance.

Since then, the staff of the base was decimated, and most of the Jews left the country.
There are 50-100 estimated Jews here, and the first Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in half a century were run by a Chabad Rabbi from the US 4 years ago.

The Jewish community in Reykjavik hasn't even gotten around to claiming official recognition (which would guarantee them a subsidized Shul and governmental grants). However, they do meet occasionally to discuss it.

Nu, so are we Jewish or what?

Meanwhile, the famous Halgrim church is probably the closest thing to a synagogue you will find in all of Iceland.
Iceland today has a mixed record when it comes to its history with Jews on Israel. In the last decade, anti-Israeli calls peaked in a 2015 call by the Reykjavik City Council to boycott Israeli products (a decision that was retracted a week later). At the same time, open racism of any kind is rare in Iceland, and anti-Semitism is as little known here as the Jews themselves are.
Even for a tiny island state with a smaller population than that of Markham, fewer than 100 Jews are a drop in the bucket.

Let me know if you want to be the Shofar blower in Reykjavik for this year's Rosh HaShanah. They just may have a vacancy.

Trivia tidbits:
2 rather well-known Jews "of Iceland".
The famous pianist Vladimir Ashkenazi lived here between 1968 and 1978. When registering his children with his last name, he had to seek permission of the Naming Committee. So now when choosing a name for your Icelandic baby you can choose between Thor, Sigurd, Ari, Ashkenazi, and other traditional Viking forenames.

The last First Lady of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff, is an Israeli citizen, and a great-granddaughter of the great Bukharan Rabbi Shlomo Mousaief, one of the founders of the Bukharim quarter in Jerusalem. In 2003 she married the president of Iceland Olafur Ragnar Grimsson on his birthday (May 14), which happens to be the Independence Day of Israel (Gregorian date). However, the couple has no children, so the name Moussaief is not on the menu for your Icelandic baby. You may want to try Ashkenazi instead.
Regards from Geysir,