The first time I traveled to Israel was when I was fourteen and then most recently…
Why did you swab for Gift of Life on your Birthright Israel trip?
Billy Richman: “I never questioned it. There are not many Jews in the world, and it can be very hard for a Jewish person to find another with matching DNA. Anything I can do to help others, Jewish or not, is a no-brainer. I was just telling my friend about my experience and that I matched. She’s getting a bone marrow transplant and is fortunate to have found a match. So I think of people like her, and it is one of those things you do because you know you have to be there for one another.”
Share more about your experience with Gift of Life since you discovered you were a match.
Billy Richman: “You swab your mouth on Birthright Israel, and no one really expects to get a call from Gift of Life. You never expect to get a call. So, when I got my call, it was a shock, but I was glad to help. Gift of Life explains everything to you, is super open about the process, and lets you know that if you are not comfortable, you do not have to proceed. I, of course, said yes and then had to do some blood tests to ensure I was healthy enough to be a donor. From then, five days before the recipient goes for the procedure, they start a severe form of chemo, and I do three injections a day to increase my body’s production of stem cells.”
Tell us why you wanted to go on a Birthright Israel trip.
Billy Richman: “I had been to Israel four times before my Birthright Israel trip. I went twice for my brothers’ Bar Mitzvahs, once with March of the Living and a BBYO teen tour. Any chance I could go to Israel for free, I went, so Birthright was a no-brainer. Each time I went, I had a new experience. I have a bunch of extended family in Israel, so my family trips were very much centered around being together. When I went on my BBYO Teen Tour, it was about embracing Jewish culture, and March of the Living was more about the Shoah and understanding the atrocities of the Holocaust. On Birthright, it was the first time I traveled with people I was already close with. I am a huge advocate for Israel. My friends call me the Israel kid because I always talk about Israel. I went on the trip with many friends who did not understand why I was so passionate about Israel. It was incredible to see them experience Israel for the first time and finally understand why I talk about Israel so much and why it is a passion of mine. We all formed this spiritual bond together and grew to know one other on a deeper level.”
What was the most significant difference between your Birthright Israel trips and your previous trips to Israel?
Billy Richman: “It was having the soldiers. I don’t think any other trip lets you bond with Israelis in the same way. I still talk to all of the soldiers from my group, and we are still super close!”
What would you say to them if you could meet the donor who made your trip possible?
Billy Richman: “I would say thank you. I could not be more thankful for this experience. The whole point of Birthright Israel is to give people a chance to see and understand why the land of Israel is so important to us as Jews. My friends who grew up Jewish but didn’t know much about their culture go from knowing nothing to being full pro-Israel advocates. In ten days, my peers left our trip wanting to raise their kids Jewish. It is crazy to witness just how life-changing this experience is.”