Cue The Hava Nagila: Iceland's First Rabbi Has Arrived - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Cue The Hava Nagila: Iceland’s First Rabbi Has Arrived

Cue The Hava Nagila: Iceland’s First Rabbi Has Arrived

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photos by
Timothée Lambrecq

While Iceland has a population of more than two hundred Jews, the country has never had a dedicated Rabbi in residence until now. Just a few weeks ago, Rabbi Avi Feldman made his much anticipated move to Reykjavík along with his wife Mushky and their two children. The family is here to open up their very own Chabad House and Jewish Centre—the first in Iceland.

Sharing the faith

Rabbi Feldman grew up in Brooklyn, New York, while Mushky is from Sweden. The two have spent the past few years working with various Chabad causes worldwide, where they quickly developed a passion for working with Jews of different backgrounds.

“We knew this was what we wanted to dedicate our lives to. We are really excited to be here for the Jewish community.”

“We knew this was what we wanted to dedicate our lives to,” Rabbi Feldman says. “We are really excited to be here for the Jewish community, but it’s beyond the Jewish community. There are people who are interested in learning about Judaism and we are happy to share with whoever wants to learn.”

The couple are two of the warmest people you’ll ever meet. The Rabbi lights up the moment he begins to talk about the Icelandic Jewish community and Mushky, two months away from giving birth to the couple’s third child, happily interjects with stories of their move—from lively Shabbat dinners to how great the availability of kosher food is.

Crossing denominations

For non-Jews, the word Chabad (חב״ד) is probably quite foreign. The name—an acronym for ‘Chochmah, Binah, Da’at’ (‘חכמה, בינה, דעת’), which translates to ”Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge”—is one of the largest Jewish organisations worldwide, with institutions in over 100 countries. Chabad has become synonymous with being a uniting force of Judaism, that—while Hasidic—reaches out to Jews of all denominations.

“Chabad is about bringing Judaism to people and making it available to learn about in a very user friendly way,” Rabbi Feldman says. “We don’t look at or label Jews. We’re not interested in Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, we just see people as Jewish and everyone has their level and we do our best to make sure people feel comfortable and welcome.”

They are true lovers of the philosophy. Hanging behind them on their living room wall is a portrait of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Chabad leader who took the movement global. Rabbi Schneerson was known for his outreach to non-Orthodox Jews, which was atypical for Rabbis at the time.

More than holidays

While they have already started hosting events, the Feldmans’ focus right now is on getting to know Iceland’s Jewish community. “Judaism is about more than celebrating the holiday traditions,” Mushky says, smiling. “It’s also about having a Jewish social life.”

In the future, the Rabbi hopes to open a synagogue. “Not in the near future,” he clarifies, “but Iceland has never had a synagogue and there are people here who want it and they deserve it.”


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