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Shalom, Iceland: A Jewish Culture Guide

Although very small, the Jewish community in Iceland is not only uniting together, but also generating interest in Jewish culture outside the community.

By: Sarah Bauder
Published: November 26th, 2013 in Culture » Society » News
Reykjavik, Iceland

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Iceland

It is believed that the first Jews in Iceland were merchants and traders, mainly from Denmark, which was part of the Danish monarchy until 1944. The first recorded Jew was one Daniel Salomon, who arrived to the island in 1625. However, he was a Pole who had converted to Christianity whilst living in Denmark several years prior, even changing his name to Johannes Salomon.

At the beginning of the 18th century according to documentation, a Dutch Sephardic Jew named Jacob Franco who resided in Copenhagen was tasked with all preparation and exportation of tobacco to be sold in Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Six years later in 1710, two more Copenhagen Jews, Abraham Levin and Abraham Cantor, respectively, were likewise given similar jobs. By 1731, Cantor’s son had taken over his father’s responsibilities.

In 1815, the Ulricha, which was the “first Jewish ship”, arrived in Iceland. It belonged to a Danish merchant named Ruben Moses Henriques, who sold items such as fabric, paper and hats at a trading post in the Northern part of the island. In April 1850, Danish king Frederick VII issued a decree that allowed foreign Jews to settle in Denmark. However, three years later the Alþingi (Icelandic Parliament) rejected Frederick’s law, stating that it was incompatible for Iceland. Yet in 1855, the Alþingi reversed its decision, and announced to Frederick that all foreign Jews should be permitted to reside on the island. Despite the “open-door” policy, no permanent Jewish settlement occurred on Iceland.

Find out more about the Jewish history of Iceland and contemporary society on page 2!

Related articles: Shalom, Iceland, Jewish, Culture Guide, Vacation, Judaism, Travel, Tourism, Backpacking, Rabbi, Synagogue
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