Working day and night

As a member of the Netanya city council, Monk takes great pride in his city – and his country.

Simon Monk_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Simon Monk_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Simon Monk, 46
From London to Netanya, 1994
Simon Monk is one of very few Anglo immigrants who have made it into local politics. As a member of the Netanya city council for the last two years, he finds himself in a rare place – a British immigrant rooting for his town and trying to make life easier in every way for his constituents. He thinks Netanya has had an undeserved bad rap, considers it a great place to live, especially for the many retired Anglos who have settled there and for the many young professional couples who are choosing it as their home, and is working hard, in his understated British way, to improve the quality of life even more.
Monk was born in London and earned a bachelor’s degree in management sciences at Manchester University and a master’s in marketing at the University of Westminster.
“I’m a lifelong Tory,” he says, having been born in Finchley and come of age in the glory days of Margaret Thatcher’s government. “I’ve always been very active in the communally and was the youngest member of the United Synagogue council.” A banker by profession, he made aliya in 1994 with his wife, Nicole, and their first child.
The Monks went straight to Ulpan Akiva in Netanya, and within a few weeks Simon was working in a job that had been prearranged.
“We’d heard horror stories about bureaucracy, but none of them turned out to be true. We had a smooth aliya,” he says.
He runs the representative office of a Swiss bank in Israel and commutes every day by train to the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv. His fellow travelers are lawyers, accountants, hitechies – all young professionals who have chosen Netanya as home. Nicole teaches English and was at one time news anchor for an English program on Channel 7.
Monk’s political activity began through his becoming involved in his children’s schooling, fighting for the establishment of a state religious school in their area. Before he could turn around, he was chairman of the parents’ committee. He joined the National Religious Party at the No. 4 spot and in the first elections, 2005, didn’t make it. Then in 2008, having been placed at No. 2, he was elected. In the two years he has been serving, he has gained a reputation for being the address to turn to for individual problem solving and troubleshooting, especially but not exclusively for Anglos.
He also became very active in the Civil Guard, which he considers important for keeping the peace locally rather than fighting off terrorism.
Monk has his own personal bugbear – litter. He has been known to come home from work and, still in his suit and tie, start picking up litter surrounding his house.
“I’ve personally moved discarded beds and television sets that have appeared a few hours before Shabbat, when there is no hope they will be collected, so at least they are out of the way and not a danger to children,” he says. He’s working on educating his constituents to use the bottle recycling and garbage units.
“You can’t walk 50 meters without finding somewhere to throw away garbage,” he says. “The bylaws are clear; it’s just that there isn’t enough enforcement.”
His work for the council – what he calls his night job – fills much of his time after work.
“I always return calls and answer emails,” he says. Since he began, he’s had 570 applications for help and attended 230 meetings. Every night there is council business and almost every Friday morning. Friends in England in similar positions can’t believe that he doesn’t even claim expenses.
“But I do get a free party badge,” he says with a grin.
Netanya, he feels, is having trouble shaking off its old and, he thinks, outdated image as a hub of crime.
“There are fast-growing new areas attracting young professionals and, of course, for the older people it’s a wonderful place to live,” he says. “They come here from England to retire, and they have the most wonderful quality of life. First of all the great weather, which means they can be outdoors, walking on the seafront or playing tennis and golf, not stuck indoors. They have their own synagogue with organized activities midweek. As for volunteering, I don’t think there is a charitable activity here that Anglos aren’t involved in. It’s wonderful to see.”
When he came here, Monk didn’t speak a word of Hebrew. Today, he speaks fluently, reads and writes.
“I work in a Hebrew-speaking environment, so obviously my business Hebrew is good. Another side benefit is that I always prayed in Hebrew, and it has opened up the prayer book for me in a way that was not possible before.”
He wants to carry on doing what he is doing. Any ambitions to go into national politics? He’s not sure if he can afford to do politics full time with five children and a mortgage. But of one thing he is sure – he’s become a more passionate Zionist and every year becomes more so and wants others to join him.
“The more Jews that are here, the better it will be,” he says.