Aliya Stories: From the big city to pastoral quiet

A wedding, a child, and aliya – a whirlwind ride to immigration.

November 17, 2016 18:59
Elana Joffe Cohen

Elana Joffe Cohen. (photo credit: MICHAEL COHEN)

The way her husband describes it, Elana Joffe Cohen moved in January 2014 “from the bright lights and star-studded hustle and bustle of Broadway in New York City, to the star-filled, history-laden, silent foothills of Judea – Moshav Aderet.”

And yet, even after living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for two decades, Joffe Cohen says she had no trouble trading the hustle and bustle for the “amazing quiet” of Aderet and its verdant viewpoints overlooking the Western Judean mountains – Gush Etzion, Hebron and Bethlehem.

“It looks like the Galilee here, and in fact we thought about living in the north, but my mother and brother live in Beit Shemesh and we wanted to be near them,” she explains. “Initially we found a house to rent in Aderet and we liked it and decided to stay. It feels just the right kind of remote while still being only half an hour from Jerusalem.”

Joffe Cohen, who grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biopsychology and counseling at the University of Pennsylvania before moving to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood known for its Orthodox singles scene.

While building a career in educational media distribution, she volunteered for institutions including the local Congregation Ohab Zedek and the Young Leadership Committee for Migdal Ohr, an organization in the Galilee devoted to providing education and social guidance to Israeli children from underprivileged and troubled homes.

She was introduced to Michael Cohen of Kfar Haroeh – whose family had made aliya in 1973 – through the dating website SawYouAtSinai, and took advantage of her frequent trips to Israel to get to know him in person. “We had a lot of the same goals and beliefs, and we were similar religiously, politically and Zionistically,” she says.

They married on Mount Scopus on Jerusalem Day in May 2011, and went to live in New York for what they thought would be a few years.

“My father passed away in March 2013, while I was pregnant. At the shiva, surrounded by family and friends, we looked at each other and asked, ‘Why are we waiting to move back?’ Our son, Natan, was born on the day after Yom Yerushalayim [Jerusalem Day] in May 2013 and in January we were here, after I got things in order with my employers.”

Her professional status allowed her to continue working for the company that had bought out her firm two months before the family left for Israel. Last April she switched to a competitor, also based in New York.

“My work involves researching videos for distribution to the higher education market and negotiating deals to license the products,” she explains.

“I work mostly daytime hours but take care of work calls in the evenings. Since I switched jobs I have more flexibility, and I’ve become a volunteer matchmaker on SawYouAtSinai. My first couple just got married,” she reports, “and at least one other couple looks promising.”

Aside from a frustrating experience with an Interior Ministry official at the airport upon arrival, which got straightened out with the help of her husband and a volunteer from the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, Joffe Cohen feels she had a relatively soft landing, and credits that to having a significant amount of family on both sides in Israel.

“We lived with my mom in Beit Shemesh for four months when we first arrived. When we moved to Aderet, which I had never even heard of before, we found connections to a number of people in the community. There were a lot of ‘small world’ stories in such a tiny place – very Israeli!” Still, she admits, “My life went through so many changes in such a short time, having my son in May and moving here eight months later. Working in a home office is a big change, and living in a place where in order to get somewhere else you have to get in a car is a big change – but I much prefer it. I don’t miss the city itself, but I miss my friends there. I was in New York for 20 years and your friends become like family.”

Mastering Hebrew presents a challenge as well.

“My Hebrew needs work,” Joffe Cohen says. “My understanding is ahead of my spoken skills, and because I work at home and in English it’s taking longer.

I’m trying to read more in Hebrew and I’m making an effort to speak in Hebrew with the Israelis in our community.

Getting used to making mistakes in a new language is difficult when you’ve been perfectly fluent in your native language all your life.”

In fact, one of the reasons she chose Aderet was its mix of Israelis and English- speakers. “I wanted a place that had some Anglos but not a place that was overwhelmingly Anglo,” she explains, noting that Natan speaks Hebrew in preschool and English at home.

“I completely understand people who go to all-Anglo neighborhoods but I wanted to struggle through it.”

Otherwise, Joffe Cohen is content with the rhythm and pace of life in Israel.

“The holidays here feel more like they’re supposed to because the whole country is celebrating in one way or another,” she says. “There are frustrations but it feels right to be here. If you can figure out all the practicalities, life is good here, and it’s worth it.”

If those frustrations ever get her down, all she has to do is think about the difference between her move across the ocean to Israel, and her grandparents’ move across the ocean to the US before World War II.

“I had a choice to come here. They were running from something, while I was running to something. When I’m having a bad day, my husband reminds me to think what our grandparents would have been willing to sacrifice to stand for even one minute looking at our view of the valley where a young David hid from Saul and right over the hill from where he defeated Goliath. From our backyard you can actually see what King David saw when he wrote in Psalms ‘esa enai el haharim,’ l lift my eyes to the hills.”

Husband Michael teaches Zionism to non-Jews. He is assisting Jerusalem Nano Bible innovator Ami Bentov in developing global markets for “the world’s smallest printed Bible.” Created by Bentov with TowerJazz Semiconductor, Nano Bible consists of the entire canon on a tiny silicon chip, mounted by artists and jewelers onto precious metals and other high-end surfaces for presentation to world leaders by Israel’s president and ambassadors.

Joffe Cohen swims and works out regularly, and would like to get back into hobbies she used to enjoy on leisurely Sundays in the States, such as snow and water skiing. She says that having traveled in Europe and across much of the US, she now hopes to turn her attention to exploring Israel more fully.

“Someday I might like to do the tour guide course just to learn more about the land, to actually walk it,” she says.

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