Two shining lights in Iceland
October 26, 2018
Earlier this month my wife and I flew to Iceland to chase and hopefully observe the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, a spectacular colorful light show appearing in the night sky above the arctic circle, and in some instances even at lower latitudes.
This heavenly event is caused when intense solar activity increases the solar wind and spews out highly charged particles strong enough to break out of the sun’s gravitational pull, which then travel to the outer limits of the solar system.
As this solar wind passes through Earth’s magnetic field these particles are captured and interact with the atmospheric gases to create this spectacular night event.
Scientists who study the sun and solar activity cycles are able to predict to some level of probability up to 30 days in advance, when these solar events will result in a stronger display as the Northern Lights.
Armed with this scientific prediction, cameras and very warm clothing, we decided to fulfill this item on our bucket list with a week’s sojourn in Reykjavic, Iceland’s capital city.
We could not wait to join our tour a few days later that would take us up to the Blue Mountains, a one hour drive away from the city lights to an unobstructed view of the sky and hopefully, to a dry and cloudless location.
We were not disappointed. Although the swirls of light appeared to us more milky white rather than made up of vivid colors (because of the human eye’s inability to see the full color spectrum in the darkness), the camera lens caught the lights in their full glorious color arrays.
While we were in Iceland we also discovered another shining light, the new Jewish Center of Iceland. This newest of world-wide Chabad Houses is led by 27-year-old Rabbi Avraham Feldman and his charming wife Mushky, who arrived in May of this year with their young family. Although there is no official count of the Jewish population in Iceland, it is estimated to be in the neighborhood of 350 consisting of long-time local Jewish residents and expatriates doing business in Iceland. Many are in interfaith marriages. There are also increasing numbers of Jewish and Israeli tourists coming to see Iceland’s natural wonders.
Rabbi Avi, as he likes to be called, has moved quickly to establish and sustain this nascent organized Jewish community, the first ever according to historians. As a result of his efforts, the Icelandic government has recognized and registered Judaism as a legitimate religion under Icelandic law, and as an eligible recipient of a proportional part of the religious income tax revenue imposed on all Icelanders.
His first organized Shabbat dinner and service drew more people than his large apartment could handle. Subsequent and regular Shabbat services and dinners are now held each week at hotels.
He indicated in our meeting that a Hebrew school is being started and is enthusiastically being received by the tiny Jewish community, who for the first time see an opportunity to educate their children in the faith, heritage and sense of peoplehood that make up Judaism.
While their initial reception and first efforts were successful, many problems remain to be solved to insure the continuity of Chabad’s efforts in Iceland. Slaughtering animals according to Jewish law is not permitted since the country adopted the process of stunning as the only humane method of animal slaughter. Non-medical circumcision is frowned upon and is threatened by pending, but not yet passed legislation.
On a positive note, because the nation has to import a substantial amount of its food, many kosher-labeled products can be found from overseas on supermarket shelves around the country.
The efforts in establishing an organized Jewish community by this enthusiastic, optimistic and hard working couple in a country with a sparse Jewish population, strengthens and inspires the Jewish people everywhere; and truly brings a shining light to all Icelanders who in winter experience 18-hour days in darkness.
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Mel Pearlman holds both a B.S. and M.S in physics as well as a J.D. degree and came to Florida initially to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs as a young physicist. He has been practicing law in Central Florida for the past 45 years. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; on the District VII Mental Health Board, as Special Prosecutor for the City of Winter Park, Florida; and on the Board of Directors of the Central Florida Research and Development Authority. He was a charter member of the Board of Directors and served as the first Vice President of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as its first pro-bono legal counsel.