Originally published in the Deseret News.
Editor’s Note: Natalie Gochnour traveled recently on a trade mission to Jordan and Israel led by the World Trade Center Utah. The Deseret News asked Gochnour to write about her experiences. In this, her final dispatch, Gochnour shares the highlights of the trip through a few stories and quotes.
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I kept Twain’s quote in mind as the Utah delegation immersed itself in business and political diplomacy. I return to Salt Lake City with a treasure trove of broad, wholesome and charitable views. Here are a few takeaways:
- Rabbi Benny Zippel of the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue in Salt Lake City surprised the Utah delegation by explaining over dinner that the word “Utah” is mentioned in Jewish scripture. As we gathered in the legendary King David Jerusalem Hotel, Rabbi Zippel quoted the Hebrew version of Joshua 15:55, where it lists four territories, including Juttah, which he translated to be the same as “Utah.”
The next day, Gov. Gary Herbert told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Utah was in the Hebrew Bible. Surprised, the prime minister had a staff member leave the room, look it up and confirm it to him.
- In the same meeting, Netanyahu told Herbert twice, with conviction and enthusiasm, “Israel has no better friend than Utah.”
- Jerusalem felt like a tinderbox of passion, religious zeal and conflict. Visiting Bethlehem brought this home for me. I expected a rural area and quaint village and, instead, got the West Bank with its 26-foot wall, political graffiti and security checkpoints. I learned Bethlehem is best experienced in your heart.
- Salt Lake City’s restaurant scene has a fan in Tel Aviv. An Israeli business leader who acquired a Utah company told us, “The best Italian restaurant in the U.S. is in Salt Lake City.” I’ll let the reader decide which restaurant he was talking about, but his statement reminds us how familiar Salt Lake City is to many Israeli business leaders.
- Several of us from the delegation shared a Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family. The home was in a densely populated Jewish neighborhood with narrow walking streets and few cars. As we walked to the home, young Jewish girls serenaded us with Hebrew songs while standing outside a bomb shelter turned synagogue. Inside the home, we were met with candles, challah bread, matzo ball soup, hummus and other traditional foods, sans the alcohol in the grape juice.
The rabbi said something powerful to us that night: “Six days a week are for doing; one day a week is for being. Too often we forget what we are actually living for.” I will treasure this counsel and experience for a long time.
- U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman hosted the delegation for dinner at his residence. Friedman joked that he wanted to serve Herbert’s favorite meal of hamburgers and milkshakes but couldn’t because of the kosher rule not to mix meat and dairy. After a short laugh, the ambassador complimented Herbert for creating one of the “pillars of state economies in the U.S.” and served us a great kosher meal.
- Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and I had a conversation about how a survival mentality propels Israel forward. Israelis have few natural resources and live in a dangerous, unstable and uncertain area. They have to “stay hungry” to prosper. Niederhauser said, “We get too comfortable in Utah, while innovation is a necessity for them.” Utah would do well to follow Israel’s example and avoid uncritical satisfaction.
- Rabbi Zippel gave Herbert a blessing at the Western Wall. I was on the women’s side and did not observe it, but I later asked Herbert about it and received his permission to share highlights. The rabbi blessed him and the people of Utah. He asked for God’s blessings for the first lady and the governor’s family. He prayed for the success of the people of Utah and quoted from Psalms. And he asked God to continue to extend his favor and blessings on the close relationship shared between Utah and Israel. Herbert told me it was a touching moment he will long remember.
I return to Salt Lake City with a greater understanding of these two remarkable countries and our relationship with them. I gained increased appreciation for state leaders who serve as ambassadors for Utah on the international stage. And I learned that Utah’s relationship with Israel and Jordan will continue to broaden and deepen for the betterment of our state.