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How my Birthright Israel trip helped me save a life

May 12, 2020 at 8:00 am
by Benjamin Kanas • Bexley, OH 2017 Birthright Israel Alumnus
Ben donating stem cells for Gift of Life

More than two years ago, when I signed up for a Birthright Israel trip with fellow students from The Ohio State University’s Hillel, I never thought I’d end up saving a life. You might ask how one could even have such an opportunity on a free trip to Israel, but it’s possible. Birthright Israel has a partnership with the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, a nonprofit that aims to cure blood cancer and inherited immune disorders through bone marrow donation.  

So, in 2017, during an evening program on my Birthright Israel trip in the basement of a hotel in Jerusalem, we heard from a volunteer for Gift of Life. He spoke to us about the battles people with blood cancer face. He explained the need for donors because there is a lack of diversity amongst donors, and it is crucial for people of similar backgrounds to become donors. What inspired me most this evening was the story about Jay Feinberg, Gift of Life’s founder.  

Jay is Jewish, like me, and was told he would never find a matching donor to help cure his leukemia because the worldwide registry was not diverse enough or representative of people with similar ethnic backgrounds. He was also told a person’s best chance of finding a genetic match lies with those of a similar ethnic background. The registry, at the time, did not have an extensive enough makeup of people with Jewish backgrounds.  

When the volunteer from Gift of Life told my Birthright Israel group all it took was a cheek swab to get registered in their donor system, I was in.  

“This opportunity would not have been feasible if not for the generous contributions from the Adelson Family to both Gift of Life and Birthright Israel Foundation.”

Little did I know that two years later, in January 2020, I would get a call from Gift of Life. When I picked up the phone, they told me I was a potential match for a 59-year-old woman suffering from Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The next steps then were to get preliminary testing done to find out if I was an exact match. It turns out I was a match. On April 27th of this year, I had a procedure to donate my blood stem cells to this woman.  

Ben donating stem cells for Gift of Life

The feeling is overwhelming and humbling to know you are saving someone’s life with such a simple action. At the same time, I am overcome with love and a greater appreciation for those I have in my own life. This opportunity would not have been feasible if not for the generous contributions from the Adelson Family to both Gift of Life and Birthright Israel Foundation.

As past president of BUCKiPAC, the top achieving on-campus student affiliative of AIPAC, and a founding member of Jews 4 Joe, a student lead organization supporting Joe Biden for President, I firmly believe Birthright Israel is crucial to a young Jews college experience. The program allows each participant to create their own Israel story through firsthand experience. And for those of us who have been on college campuses battling BDS and advocating for Israel, Birthright Israel plays a vital role in strengthening the conversations we can have about Israel.   

I am grateful for the gift of Birthright Israel and to the generous donors who made it possible. Through your generous actions and contributions, you are impacting thousands of young Jews, and saving lives at the same time. Although the trip was not my first time in Israel, it pushed me to get more involved on my campus and allowed me to make a difference in someone’s life through the Gift of Life. I cannot thank Birthright Israel Foundation’s donors enough for making this all possible. 

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Ben donating stem cells for Gift of Life
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