First Lady of Iceland
Dorrit Moussaieff, First Lady of Iceland
Dorrit Moussaieff (Hebrew: דורית מוסאיוף), (born January 12, 1950) is the Israeli-born British First Lady of Iceland, a jewellery designer, editor, businesswoman, and socialite.
Moussaieff was born in Jerusalem to a wealthy devout Sephardic-observant Bukharian Jewish family from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, part of the Emirate of Bukhara. The Moussaieff family is part of a long dynasty of jewellers. She is the great granddaughter of Shlomo Moussaieff, and her cousins are pianist James Raphael and author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Ancestors of hers are said to have woven the robe of Genghis Khan. Her great grandmother, Esther Gaonoff, was from Bukhara but had some Moroccan Jewish ancestry and was the descendant of Yosef Maimon. Her father, Shlomo Moussaieff, is a Bukharian Jew but her mother, Aliza, is an Austrian Jew of Ashkenazi heritage. Moussaieff says, “As far as I’m concerned, the difference between Ashkenazim and Sephardim is that at my first grandmother’s place there was good food and at my Ashkenazi grandmother’s place the food was bad.”
Moussaieff was born and raised in the Bukharian Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem but when she was thirteen, she and her family moved to London. She suffered from dyslexia and did not attend ordinary schools but was taught at home. In addition to English and Hebrew, she also speaks German, French, and Icelandic.
Moussaieff became interested in jewellery at a very early age. As a child, she spent a lot of time in her family’s jewellery store and developed a love for designing. She has become a very successful jewellery designer and it has made her wealthy. She said, “At the age of 14 I started to work in my parents’ jewellery shop at the Hilton Park Lane in London. . . . It was a hard time for me – all I did was sell jewelry. It’s in my blood, you know; some people are artists or writers, but I am a jewelry salesperson in the blood, that’s what I was born for.”
Moussaieff has been active in British and American cultural life. She is a contributing editor to British society magazine Tatler.
She participates in other business transactions as well, including funding construction of an office building at Canary Wharf, London and a tourism project in Turkish Cyprus.
Moussaieff married Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, president of Iceland, on his 60th birthday in 2003 and became the First Lady of Iceland. She is probably the most significant Jew in Icelandic history. She has helped present Icelandic culture abroad, helping to publicize Icelandic artists and with Ólafur, identifying foreign markets for Icelandic products. She has also worked to help disabled children.
In May 2006, while visiting Israel, Moussaieff was detained at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. According to reports, Moussaieff argued with security personnel who refused to acknowledge her British passport and told her that she was obliged by Israeli law to enter and exit the country using an Israeli passport or face prosecution. When Moussaieff could not produce an Israeli passport, it is alleged that staff became rude and aggressive, asking her suggestive, personal and racist questions. Moussaieff reportedly responded rudely herself, saying, “This is about to become a serious diplomatic incident. This is why everyone hates Jews.” Part of the incident was captured on film and shown on Israeli television. Since it involved the first lady of Iceland, the confrontation was a diplomatic incident. The Israeli Embassy in Norway, which handles diplomatic relations with Iceland, later expressed regret over the incident but restated the law that Israeli citizens must carry Israeli passports when in the country. Moussaieff has dual Israeli and British citizenship and acquired Icelandic citizenship on 31 July 2006.
Moussaieff was in third place on the Harper’s Magazine List of the Most Connected People in Britain. A local magazine in Reykjavik chose her as one of the best-dressed women in Iceland. Moussaieff was also named Woman of 2006 by the popular Icelandic glossy magazine Nýtt Líf.
Moussaieff has been married twice. Her first marriage, to a Jewish designer named Neil Zarak, ended in divorce. Moussaieff did not remarry for the next 22 years, when she married the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. She is linked by marriage to the famous Chocolate Moussaieffs of Russia.
Moussaieff says that she is “religious in the soul,” and she still performs some rituals of Judaism. For example, on the eve of Hanukkah, she remembered that she was supposed to light the first candle of the menorah. A menorah was found for her and after lighting the candle, she taught her husband about the holiday.