Manchester's Zionist emissaries

Arutz Sheva speaks with Matan & Nini Milner, Bnei Akiva emissaries in the United Kingdom. 'The weather is cold but the people are warm.'

Hezki Baruch ,

Milner Family
Milner Family
Credit: Courtesy of family

Meet Matan and Nini Milner, Bnei Akiva emissaries of the Jewish Agency and the Zionist Federation of Manchester, England.

Matan teaches at the local Jewish elementary and high schools and develops the curriculum for Hebrew and Jewish studies. Nini coordinates the Bnei Akiva branches of northern Britain and runs "The Home" - a large house owned by the Bnei Akiva community, which serves as a Jewish and Zionist community center.

Shabbat prayers are held there and of course, the center is completely full on the high holidays and other Jewish holidays. "The Home" also provides classes and activities for the entire Jewish community - youth movements, Hebrew language studies, events, and volunteer coordination for families dealing with life-threatening illnesses.

How did it all begin?

"We went through a two-year emissary training program. When we were ready to look for a community, we debated where to go. We both were working at jobs we really loved. I worked at two high schools doing interesting projects and Nini as a bone marrow transplant nurse at Hadassah Hospital. We wanted to find a place that would meet our desire to 'build and to be built' - both for the Jewish people in Israel and for the Jewish people who don't live in Israel and of course also for our own home."

Why Manchester?

"We looked at a number of places around the world and we ended up in Manchester. We fell in love with the community. When we landed before the holidays there was a week with quite stormy weather, even by English standards. When we asked how we were adjusting, we answered that the weather is definitely cold and but the people and the community are warm."

What is special about the Jewish community?

"The Jewish community here is amazing - a community replete with warmth and kindness. It didn't matter how many times we called to ask basic questions - they always answered us with the utmost patience. They hosted us during the holidays and did everything they could to make our adjustment easier. The Religious Zionist community here is amazing (about 10,000 out of 40,000 Jews) - wonderful and intelligent people. They are people of kindness - they manage and take part in a variety of charity organizations, such as Camp Simcha - an organization that provides support for people with life-threatening illnesses and their families, organizations that support youth dropouts and sick people, and more. Some of the activities take place in 'The Home' as the local Jewish and Zionist community center."

Bnei Akiva in Manchester?

"Bnei Akiva here it is not just a branch or 'environment' as they call it here - it's a community. The Bnei Akiva community in Manchester is a special community. Much resources are invested in 'The Home' and we see the results."

"'The Home' is an important Jewish Zionist center in Manchester and the offices of Bnei Akiva are located in it, as well as Mizrahi, the Jewish Agency, the Aliyah Center, United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) and the Scouts. There are various events and clubs held there, a quorum on Saturdays and more. The community here is the largest in England. People care about Bnei Akiva because it is a very significant part of the community and it's a connection to the land of Israel and Judaism."

Jewish youth in Manchester?

"Many go to Jewish schools and high schools like Broughton Jewish, King David and Yavneh. There are some who don't go to Jewish schools and it's an important challenge for us to strengthen their Jewish identity. The next step for youth is usually a university and there they are more likely to encounter challenges related to Judaism."

"My and Nini's goal is to strengthen them and provide tools for them for later on in life - regarding who I am, where I came from and where I'm going. We started a new project just recently in which the emissaries train the future counselors as well as a leadership program."

Manchester for religious travelers?

"Manchester is a pleasant and comfortable place, especially for religious travelers - there are a variety of kosher stores here. Supermarkets, delicatessens, bakeries, kosher and dairy kosher restaurants, a pizzeria, a burger place and an Asian restaurant. There are kosher aisles even in the big non-Jewish supermarket. In short, there's no problem finding delicious and kosher food. There are a variety of synagogues. There are also Torah classes for different ages delivered by Bnei Akiva and Mizrahi emissaries and community members - in English as well as in Hebrew."

"Regarding outings, transportation is very easy to use. There are all types of stores in the city center with a pleasant shopping atmosphere and there are seasonal fairs, a Jewish film festival, ice skating, escape rooms and more. Even if you don't want to go downtown, there are amazing parks here, with lakes, lawns, plants and cool playgrounds. Right next to our house is one of the biggest parks in Europe - Heaton Park."

"If you want to get out of the city - about an hour's drive from here - there is the High Peak District - an amazing rural area and impressive views of villages, cliffs, mountains, streams and more. If you go a little further, you reach the UK's Lake District, also known as the Lakes National Park on the Scottish border. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017."

"Manchester can be a central point for trips both regarding conditions for religious Jews and regarding the wealth of possibilities for trips in Manchester and the surrounding areas. And this is even before we mention the classic attractions such as the famous football teams, the library (for Harry Potter lovers - the inspiration for Hogwarts), theaters, operas, museums and more."

Did you adjust to English culture? Driving on the other side of the road?

"The Israeli license is valid here (for a year) so you can drive here after getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road. The basic rule is that the driver should be in the middle of the road - not that that prevented us the first week from feeling like we were about to crash at every intersection but it definitely helps to retain the concept."

"Regarding the accent, Shachar our son - like us - is trying to adjust to the British accent. He came home one day from kindergarten saying - "Why did you say we live in Manchester? We live in Manchest-eh!"

Your motto in life:

"That we'll merit to find favor in the eyes of G-d and people."

El Al offers three flights to Manchester each week during the summer months and two flights to Manchester each week during the winter - a route that proves itself and provides service to both the Jewish community and for tourists who want to get to know a new destination.