Eric Milner 370.
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Eric Milner left South Africa in 2009, bringing his entire family with him – his
wife Shirley, daughter Janine with son-in-law Robin, two sons, Greg and Craig,
and three grandchildren.
He also brought his entire leather cleaning
business with him and was soon busy cleaning the leather seats of the Knesset –
“you can’t imagine the amount of dirt that came out of them,” he says – and
settled down in Haifa to what he hoped would be a good aliya.
Janine went into the chocolate business, buying a franchise and opening a shop
in Kfar-Saba – but before long the sweetness turned sour. They felt they had
been misled by the contract they signed, and not being able to read Hebrew
proved a serious disadvantage.
“We felt very bitter about the whole thing
and wanted to go back to Johannesburg,” they say, “but the grandchildren are
very happy here and they are the reason we are still here.”
still amazed that the children, 11, nine and six, have settled in so well and
that the older ones take buses alone, something they would never have done in
For the moment, until Shirley can find another job, Eric’s
business is the sole earner in the extended family, (except for Robin who works
as an electrician) but he feels with his nearly 30 years’ experience of cleaning
leather furniture he has something to offer, especially since he strongly feels
the local practitioners of the craft don’t share his knowledge and
“My company was the only one in South Africa and we worked
for all the top business companies. We even cleaned the furniture of the prime
minister’s residence and got to meet Nelson Mandela,” he says.
in the business because of his love of vintage cars, of which he owned seven
when they lived in South Africa. They all dated from the ‘Fifties, and his
favorite was a 1957 Mercedes Benz 220S, which came first in national
competitions on two separate occasions.
“I was the vice-president of the
Mercedes- Benz club for southern Africa,” he recalls.
Thanks to his
passion for old cars, he researched in depth until he found the best material
and method for cleaning the leather seats – and the results were so good he
decided to make a business out of his new-found knowledge. The result was “Plush
Auto Leather Cleaners” which, when they came to Israel, was renamed “4Ever
Ironically for a man whose love is old cars, in Israel he won’t
even drive and goes everywhere by bus.
“I’m a wreck when I see how people
drive here,” he says. “We prefer to be passengers.”
After they arrived in
Israel the entire family moved straightaway to Haifa, because they had heard
back home that one could get the cheapest rental and best quality in the
northern city. And they love Haifa. “We are beach people, and every
Shabbat we are there, at the beach,” they say.
leather-cleaning business took a lot of hard work, with Janine acting as
secretary, contacting many different hotels through persistent e-mails, offering
free demonstrations of their work until they were booked by several prestigious
hotel chains to clean their furniture as an on-going process.
into the Knesset was hard going, and they had to work very hard to persuade the
maintenance manager that the job needed doing at all and that they could make a
difference. It was also difficult in the literal sense as their arrival,
together with all the necessary equipment, engendered great suspicion on the
part of the security people. But they did eventually get in, spent the whole day
working solidly on the golden-brown leather chairs and left the place
They got such a shine on the prime minister’s chair that the
television crew which was also there at the time complained that it would not
look good on screen and asked them to reduce the shine a little.
work we don’t talk to each other, and we don’t stop to eat,” says Eric. “It took
us from 9:30 a.m. until about 3:30 p.m. to do the job.”
carries a portfolio of recommendations from several five-star hotels as well as
from the Knesset, in which the strong work ethic of the family is mentioned, as
well as the excellent results. Eric emphasizes that when leather is too far gone
and damaged they can’t work miracles on it, but can still make it
“It’s nice for us to work with a good product,” he says, “but if
it’s very old and in a bad state we don’t get the result we would
One of the things he misses from South Africa is his rifle
collection, which he was not allowed to bring.
“In the end I failed even
trying to bring in my special hunting rifle,” he laments. “I like to hunt and I
planned to go to France and hunt for wild boar there but couldn’t get permission
from the government after trying for months.”
It’s not been the smoothest
of paths for the Milners, but they are determined to make a go of it. Janine now
calls herself Jenni – since she discovered that her name sounds exactly like a
certain West Bank town. It’s just one of many adjustments they have had to make
in their new life.