My favourite Birthright Israel moment…the true meaning of paying it forward

This post was written by guest blogger, Stephanie Rishikof, who was a Taglit-Birthright Israel participant in 2007.
In July 2007, I went on Birthright Israel and had an incredible experience, as any alumni can attest to. Recently, I was asked by Team BIEC what the highlight of my trip was. Six years ago, I would probably have said floating in the Dead Sea, riding a camel, rafting on the Jordan River, or the Mega Event. Years later, the highlight of my trip has changed.
Steph and fellow Birthright Israel participants rafting on the Jordan River

While on Birthright Israel, a representative from the Gift of Life came to speak to our group. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, it is a non-profit organization that helps children and adults suffering from various diseases find suitable donors for bone marrow transplants. Following an explanation of the donation process and eligibility guidelines, we were asked if we would like to become part of the donor registry. I agreed with little hesitation; the possibility of saving another person’s life, even that of a stranger, seemed incredible. Beyond that, I recognized that it could be someone I know in need; a family member, a friend, someone in my community.  With a quick swab of the cheek, I was added to a database of potential donors.

In 2008, I was contacted by the Gift of Life as a potential match for a man with leukemia. After further testing, I was told that a more suitable match had been found. From that point on, I felt very connected to this man, a man I had never met. I wondered about him, his recovery, and his family. Something told me that my journey with the Gift of Life was not going to end there. Then, it happened.  In August 2011, I was contacted as a potential donor for a 48 year old woman with leukemia. After further testing, I was found to be a suitable match and was flown to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston for a full health workup, and was cleared for donation. At that point it all became very real. I was filled with so many emotions. I was excited, nervous and unsure of what to expect. Family and friends were generally very supportive but undergoing a “medical procedure” as a healthy young adult did raise some concern. Nonetheless, my decision had been made. This was something I felt I needed to do.

On October 9th, I flew to Boston again, this time for the donation. I was given medication daily to prepare my body for the donation process and finally, on October 13th, the big day came. With the support of my sister-in-law, who came to Boston to be with me, I donated my stem cells. Though the procedure took close to 11 hours, it was a relatively painless process. Either way, my own discomfort felt negligible compared to what my recipient was enduring.

If it wasn’t for my Birthright Israel trip, there is a good chance I would never have become part of the Gift of Life registry. Birthright Israel gave me the opportunity to make new friends, learn about Israel, connect to my community…and potentially save a life. What more could someone ask for? I am happy to report that I received my first update from the Gift of Life about a month ago and everything seems to be going well on my recipient’s end.  I would urge everyone to do their research, and learn more about the Gift of Life and their mission. The opportunity to save another person’s life will forever change me. For those of you that have gone on Birthright Israel, what was the highlight of your trip? For those of you who have not, what are you waiting for?

Registration for Taglit-Birthright Israel summer trips opens tomorrow, February 15th, at 10am.  Visit to register.  Don’t miss out on your free trip to Israel!


Posted on February 14, 2012, in Birthright, Community, Feel-good, Israel, Team BIEC, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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