By Caleb Parke

I grew up in the heart of Ohio, went to college in Pennsylvania, worked in Washington, D.C. and now live and work in New York City — but one thing I’ve found, there’s no place like Israel.

Being in the Holy Land changed the life of this simple boy from the Heartland of America.

And my story isn’t unique.

Israel is a very special place to people from all walks of life – from devout Jews to Muslims and Christians and atheists – for a variety of reasons.

I got to walk in the steps of my Savior, get baptized in the same river, float in the Dead Sea, pray at the Western Wall, Shabbat in Jerusalem, segway in Tel Aviv, ride a boat in the Sea of Galilee…and watch the Bible come to life — something I never even dreamed of as a kid growing up surrounded by corn fields in rural Ohio.

I’ve been to Israel twice, my most recent trip courtesy of Israel Collective, and I can’t wait to go back again — next year in Jerusalem, am I right?

RELATED: Why Every Christian Should Go to Israel

The way Israelis celebrate life and family impacted me more than anything. One of my favorite memories was Saturday night in Jerusalem, as Shabbat was ending, families gathered in the streets as stores opened up again.

Teens were singing and dancing in the streets and my friends and I were watching with wide-eyed excitement. We were passing a group of teens with an Israeli flag, guitar, songbook (mostly in Hebrew, but some songs in English), and a lot of life. One of the boys made eye contact with me and immediately gestured for me and my friends to join in on the fun. So we did! We clapped, danced, and waved their flag, and they made us feel like we were family, like there was no difference between us.

That’s why I love Israel. They value life over everything else. It’s evident in the way the Israeli Defense Forces goes to extreme measures to protect civilians in warfare way above international laws, and how Israeli hospitals give treatment to citizens all over the world — including those that don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.

RELATED: Four Ways You Can Celebrate Israel’s Independence Day

You see, Israel may be in the headlines for whatever reason or a talking point on college campuses, but for millions, it is a way of life, a destination, and a symbol of hope.

So, I say happy birthday, Israel! Live long and prosper!


May 2, 2017