The gala celebration of Hadassah’s 100th birthday in Atlanta featured at least one surprise: the start of the Israeli answer to the U.S. National Cancer Moonshot to cure cancer.

The American initiative, announced by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address in January and led by Vice President Joe Biden, is a multipronged effort to make a decade’s worth of advances in five years, beginning with a down payment of $1 billion in public money.

The response from the Start-Up Nation: a two-year campaign to raise $5.8 million in private money to build a Hadassah cancer research complex in Jerusalem, focused on advancing the immunology protocol developed by Hadassah oncologist Michal Lotem.

The effort was announced by a surprise speaker at the Hadassah gala: Stewart Greenberg, a Florida man diagnosed with metastatic melanoma five years ago. As he recounted to the crowd Sunday night, Oct. 30, at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead, the top American experts in skin cancer told him nothing could be done and he had only months to live.

He joined a mission to Israel, thinking it would be his last chance to see the Holy Land, and while he was there, he got an appointment to see Lotem, who had the lifesaving treatment.

Two decades ago, she developed a way to use tumor cells to create a vaccine that spurs the patient’s immune system to destroy the malignant cells.

That Greenberg is alive to lead the Hadassah fundraising drive to expand Lotem’s work is proof that her immunotherapy worked for him, with the help of booster shots to recharge his immune response every nine months.

“I feel the civil war going on in my body” after each booster, Greenberg said.

Unlike chemotherapy or radiation, immunotherapy doesn’t kill healthy cells. Greenberg also differentiated Lotem’s vaccine approach from the focus on drugs in American immunotherapy.

By moving the research from Lotem’s closet-size lab to a new building with five cutting-edge labs, cold rooms and other necessities, he said, Hadassah will be able to execute a plan to destroy other cancers and eventually to prevent them through the same immunization approach that all but eradicated polio and other diseases.

“How wonderful would it be for us not to worry about cancer striking our loved ones?” Greenberg asked before giving the more than 400 people at the gala the chance to make the first donations to the cause.