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The Charedi Mother of 7 Who Moved to Israel on a Whim

“I feel like HaShem just picked us up and brought us here,” Judy Cohen said. “There was no reason to move apart from the fact that we felt it was the right thing to do.”
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October 2, 2020

At Pesach, Yisroel Yitzchok Cohen was praying in the backyard of his home in Gateshead-Upon-Tyne in the U.K. because the unfolding pandemic meant the synagogues were shut. He gestured to the blue skies — a rarity in northeastern England’s brisk spring climate — and said to his wife, Judy, “Imagine we lived in Eretz Yisrael; every day would be like this.” Their eavesdropping children exclaimed, “Yes, let’s move to Israel!” It wasn’t an idea the couple had seriously entertained. They were just about to buy a house. 

Four months later, the family made aliyah to the Jerusalem satellite town of Ramat Beit Shemesh. “I feel like HaShem just picked us up and brought us here,” Judy Cohen said. “There was no reason to move apart from the fact that we felt it was the right thing to do.”

After Pesach, Cohen injured her back and was bedridden for 10 days. With nothing else to do, she began researching moving to Israel — just to pass the time more than anything else, she said. They were very happy in Gateshead, she stressed. But she added that the local school wasn’t the right fit for all of her children. 

Gateshead’s 8,000-strong Charedi community is clustered in a tiny area of less than a dozen streets, which also houses several large seminaries and yeshivot. At 18, Cohen had moved to Gateshead from London to join one of the seminaries. In Gateshead, the only child met her future husband, who had 18 siblings. (For their own family, the couple have settled on a happy medium of seven children — so far.)

 “Had it not been for corona, we would not have had the time and space to ask these questions about where we’re at.”

Cohen took care to play devil’s advocate with each of her children, whose ages range between 10 months and 16 years, about the potential move. She cast Israel in a harsh light to see how they would respond. But her words did little to diminish their excitement. 

She credits the coronavirus pandemic with playing a large part in the family’s decision to move. “Had it not been for corona, we would not have had the time and space to ask these questions about where we’re at,” she said. “And to realize that we have no control, that it’s all an illusion — only He (God) is in control.” 

In addition, Cohen believes the virus marks the birth pains of the Messiah’s imminent arrival. “We want to be [in Israel] when He gets there,” she said, “so we figured let’s get ahead of the curve.”

Charedi families are the rarest of animals in the aliyah industry. According to Cohen, many are nervous about having to go into the army or being able to support their families in Israel. Fortunately for the Cohens, Yisroel Yitzchok was able to keep his U.K.-based businesses running by working remotely for a couple of hours a day. He spends the rest of the day learning Torah. 

“That’s the most important thing to me,” Cohen said. “And I don’t take any of it for granted. I realize we’re very, very lucky to be able to do this.”

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