In the gracious welcome he extended to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence from the Knesset podium on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu marveled at the fact that there are a number of towns in the United States called “Jerusalem,” 11 of them, to be precise: “Jerusalem, Utah. Jerusalem, Vermont. Jerusalem, Michigan,” he recited, listing just a few of them. “And they’re all inspired by this shining city on the hill, Jerusalem,” he said.
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The map of the Holy Land indeed inspired the naming of many places in the Americas, and across the United States there are hundreds of towns and villages that bear names from the Hebrew Bible: Bethlehem, Bethel, Galilee, Hebron and yes, Jerusalem too. There are also several U.S. towns named Palestine, but of course Netanyahu did not dwell on those.
Additionally, whoever in the prime minister's bureau searched for "Jerusalems" in the United States ahead of Netanyahu's speech must have done a rush job, as some of the towns the Israeli leader mentioned are mere dots on a map, with no signs they exist as actual villages or cities named after the biblical location.
Ohio has a Jerusalem township, as does North Carolina. And when the town of Courtland, Virginia, was founded, in 1791, it was called Jerusalem. Courtland’s claim to fame is that it’s where the rebel slave leader Nat Turner was tried and executed in 1831, when it was still called Jerusalem.
Netanyahu could also have mentioned Jerusalem, Rhode Island, a little fishing village set on a spit of land called Point Judith, in the town of Narragansett, and situated across the harbor from another village called Galilee. Part of Rhode Island’s Jerusalem is a private gated community, which makes it a lot like Jerusalem, Israel, with its large number of luxury residences for absentee billionaire owners, and its growing number of Jews-only settlement buildings in the heart of Arab neighborhoods.
Yates County in New York State does have a living, breathing town of 4,000-plus residents that is named for David’s city, too. All of which makes it all the odder that Netanyahu chose to mention Utah, Vermont and Michigan by name, since a quick check suggests that none of them contain a burg called Jerusalem.
Looking up place names on Google can be tricky, and one should devote a little time to clicking on some of the links that come up before, for example, choosing to settle in a town – or mention it in a speech – just because it appears at the top of a Google search.
Take Jerusalem, Michigan, for example. If you type that phrase into Google, it will yield more than 18 million hits. And the name does seem to be associated with Washtenaw County, which is where university town Ann Arbor is located. But aside from a spot showing up on the map of Washtenaw marked “Jerusalem,” there is no evidence there is even a neighborhood bearing that name. (Maybe Netanyahu was thinking of Jerusalem Pizza, a kosher restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, some 80 kilometers to the east of this point. The restaurant is said to offer a tasty falafel pizza.)
Same with Vermont. The town of Starksboro, established in the late 18th century, has a Jerusalem Country Store and a historical one-room building called the Jerusalem Schoolhouse, which the local historical society is raising funds to restore. But there’s no town with that moniker.
You can’t blame Netanyahu if he assumed that Utah would have a town called Jerusalem. After all, the tradition of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the formal name of the Mormon Church, revolves around the creation of a New Zion and a New Jerusalem in America. And when Joseph Smith first traveled to Missouri in 1831, it was with the hope that this would prove to be the location of his followers’ “New Jerusalem.” But the Mormons were driven from the state in 1838.
The closest that the contemporary state of Utah has to a town called Jerusalem is the movie set created by the Church of Latter-day Saints some 56 miles south of Salt Lake City in the Utah desert. According to an LDS website, the three-acre replica of ancient Jerusalem was created in 2011 to serve as the backdrop for film shorts the church was planning about the life of Jesus.