Shirley Milner 311.
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Every morning except Shabbat, Shirley Milner gets up when her alarm goes off at
5 a.m., dresses, does her hair and makeup and sets off on the journey from Haifa
to Kfar Saba, where she presides over Chocolata, a sweets and chocolate emporium
on the town’s main street. If her husband, Eric, has no project going in his own
leather furniture cleaning business, he joins her in the shop.
three buses to work and three to get home, arriving back at 10:30 in the
“That’s when we eat our supper,” says the smiling new immigrant,
who left Johannesburg two years ago with her extended family of nine to begin a
new life in Israel. The shop has been going for six months now and
Shirley, who runs it mainly with daughter Janine, sometimes with Eric and often
with one of her two sons, is getting used to it and doing her best to deal with
the customers in her less-than-perfect Hebrew.
There’s nothing like
safety in numbers, so everyone in the family had each other to lean on if they
encountered obstacles early in the aliya adventure. With Shirley and Eric came
Janine, her husband Robin and their three children, and the two sons, Craig and
“South Africa is not a good place to be anymore,” says Shirley,
explaining the family’s decision to move to Israel en masse. “You can be
murdered for a cell phone. People live behind high walls with electric barbed
wire on them. I can’t live like that, being caged in, even with the beautiful
gardens, the cars and the swimming pools.”
Still, the move to Israel did
not go at all smoothly in the beginning and, as Shirley tells it, the first six
months were very difficult.
“We were taken straight to Haifa from the
airport and dumped in two apartments which the Jewish Agency chose for us,” she
recalls. “In South Africa we’d been to an aliya exhibition and decided we wanted
to live in Modi’in, but we chose Haifa because the rents were
Studying in ulpan and living in an apartment where the toilets
were always getting blocked up was not a great beginning, and of all the
extended family, Shirley found it the hardest.
“I pined for my home and
couldn’t get a grip on myself,” she says. “We talked about going back, then said
we must get our priorities right and remind ourselves why we were here in the
Once the ulpan was over, Eric had no problem knowing what
he was going to do. He opened up the same business he had in South
Africa, called 4 Ever Leather, and Janine helped with the
“He’d done work for Nelson Mandela and that looked good on his
resumé,” says Janine with a smile.
Eric found the jobs rolling in. His
company cleaned all the seats in the Knesset as well as in several five-star
hotels in the center of the country, and as far as Eilat. In South Africa there
had been no shortage of workers; here the boys help him.
BUT WHAT were
Shirley and Janine going to do to make a living? They’d both had good jobs in
Johannesburg in established companies. Here, with their freshly learned Hebrew
and not much knowledge of the country, they had no idea.
They had both
spent a few morning hours helping out in Chocolata in Haifa, and when they heard
that the company was opening up in Kfar Saba they realized what a great
opportunity it would be for them. They decided to buy the franchise and go into
the candy business.
The store had been a computer shop and had to be
gutted. With only a year or so experience living in Israel, they had to deal
with architects and designers, glass fitters and carpenters, accountants and
municipal officials. Once the store was ready they were in constant contact with
chocolate importers and candy suppliers.
“We didn’t speak the language
well – still don’t – but we had to embrace the challenges,” says
Fortunately business is good and the attractive displays of
goodies ensure a steady stream of people coming in to buy their beautifully
presented gift packages as well as favorite things for personal
“Before Rosh Hashana you couldn’t move in the shop,” says
Shirley with obvious satisfaction.
They have become quite expert at
giftwrapping and are amused to discover that the average Israeli loves miles of
garish sparkly ribbon on presents, in colors that the mother-daughter team would
once never have considered using. Most of the customers are pleasant and more
than tolerant of the shaky Hebrew, and many use the opportunity to practice
The shop also sells some novelty kitchenware, which can be
filled with chocolate as a gift. And soft music plays in the background –
usually “golden oldies,” which are Shirley’s choice.
What about the
problem of getting fat from sampling the stock all day? Shirley says it’s
“Once you work with things, you don’t want to eat them,” she