The Old City of Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Ben Winslow / FOX 13 News)
The Old City of Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Ben Winslow / FOX 13 News)

I had two days to prepare for a 7,000-mile trip to Israel with a delegation from Utah. 

When Heather May, director of the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, asked if I wanted to join a Utah delegation heading to Israel to talk about water, I was certainly interested, but not hopeful.

Then, this happened:

State officials had to OK me joining them. (They did.)

My boss at FOX 13 had to OK it. (She did.)

My boss’s bosses had to OK it. (They did.)

I expected to hear “no” at some point along the chain and that would be that. Imagine my shock when I found myself suddenly packing my bags. Utah Department of Natural Resources boss Joel Ferry wanted me along for the ride to show what really happens on these trade missions (long days and long hours, I can testify) and the lengths they’re going to to help save the Great Salt Lake.

The catch was I would have to wear FIVE hats: TV/radio/print reporter, photographer/videographer all in one Ben Winslow package. What I would shoot and write would be distributed to all outlets that are part of the Great Salt Lake Collaborative — other TV news operations, news radio stations and newspapers that reach tens of thousands of viewers, listeners and readers. Great! No pressure!

Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Israel with my five hats, a camera and other gear.

Israel was not what I expected. It’s geographically contrasted like Utah with deserts and mountains. Tel Aviv, where we were based, is a cosmopolitan city that is a mix of new and thousands of years old. I was relieved to learn English is a primary language there (I was desperately trying to commit some Hebrew phrases to memory on the way over) and everyone was gracious and accommodating.

Old Jaffa

Old Jaffa, a neighborhood in Tel Aviv, on March 25, 2023. (Ben Winslow / FOX 13 News)

I ended up absorbing some Hebrew. Limor Ashkanazi, who acted as our guide throughout our time in Israel, would repeatedly shout “Yalla!” (“let’s go”) when our group would be a little too slow as she was trying to keep us on schedule. Limor graciously gave me a little extra time when I needed it to snag a quick interview with an Israeli business or government official.

Every day was jam-packed with meetings with government officials and tech startup reps (I jokingly said I got a tour of Israel’s greatest conference rooms), then visits to farms and research institutions. There were a lot of debates about whether this Israeli tech or idea could even work in Utah as we faced our own problems with drought and the Great Salt Lake. It’s something I explore in the series of articles being published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative available now.

Even though it is a country that doesn’t seem to have as many problems with water as it used to, conservation continues to drive the culture in Israel. Dual-flush (small- and large-flush) toilets are everywhere; you still see signs reminding people to save water. In cafés, we had to ask for water to be brought to us.

I marveled at the innovation to grow delicious strawberries in the middle of the Negev Desert with drip irrigation, enjoyed lunch at a kibbutz as we discussed agriculture techniques and even begged for an irrigation company staffer’s recipe for a delicious cake made of dates and chia seeds. (Limor secured it for us.) 

Ben and Limor

FOX 13 News reporter Ben Winslow and Limor Ashkenazi of Israel Connect on March 30, 2023. (Ben Winslow / FOX 13 News)

We traveled all over the country; Israel is about the size of New Jersey. In the van, we’d get little lessons from Limor about the history of a particular location or Israeli culture. She would call up on her phone some Israeli pop songs to the delight of some and the despair of others (I’m telling you, Israel’s submission to Eurovision this year is a bop!) I would usually wind down a very long day by grabbing a quick bite to eat at a café and taking a short walk on the beach of the Mediterranean as the sun would set.

At one point, well, the trip became a bit of a “balagan” (“mess” or “chaos” depending on the context). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had proposed very controversial changes to their judicial branch of government. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest.

For the most part, our little delegation avoided the mass demonstrations. Because I was with a government delegation, we had security with us at all times. On street corners in Tel Aviv, you would certainly see groups of people out waving flags and protesting. As we dined in cafés, young people with Israeli flags draped over them would be walking somewhere to protest. 

Israel Street Protest

People protest on the street in Tel Aviv. (Ben Winslow / FOX 13 News)

Where it got serious for us was when people started striking and businesses and the airport closed. Suddenly, we wondered if we’d be able to get home anytime soon. I received panicked messages from people back home wondering if I was safe. As much as I’d like to say we live in a 24/7 information society, there are still delays from news hitting and reaching the other side of the globe. I was glued to local news sites (still your best source for information on the ground) for updates on what was closed and what political maneuvers were taking place in the Knesset. I watched on local TV as the streets were jam-packed with demonstrators outside government buildings I’d been by the day before.

“Welcome to Israel. At least the weather’s nice!” one person meeting with the delegation deadpanned, referencing the uneasy feeling that everyone had about whether the government would collapse.

Ultimately, Netanyahu agreed to delay his proposal. Ben Gurion Airport opened back up and we were all feeling OK — until the last night we were there. Our schedule gave us a little bit of time after meetings to change clothes and go out and grab a meal before heading to the airport. That respite ended abruptly as the protests picked up again. Highways were a frequent target for demonstrations and there was concern we wouldn’t be able to get to the airport to make our flight home.


Schlomi, our driver, navigated through the streets of Tel Aviv as Guy, our security, kept an eye on where demonstrations were taking place. We made it to the airport and boarded the plane home. I had mixed feelings about leaving, because whatever happens next they have to live with. But me, I was pretty much just a tourist heading home with his five hats.

Fox 13 Reporter
Ben Winslow is FOX 13's reporter on Capitol Hill covering a wide variety of topics including politics, polygamy, vice and courts. He has been in the news business in Utah for more than 20 years now, working in radio, newspaper, television and digital news. Winslow has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a national Edward R. Murrow award; the Religion Newswriters Association Local TV News Report of the Year; the Utah Broadcaster's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Readers of Salt Lake City Weekly and Q Salt Lake have named him their "Best TV news reporter" for many years now. He co-hosts "Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast," covering the state's often confusing and quirky liquor laws. Winslow is also known for his very active Twitter account keeping Utahns up-to-date on important news.

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