The Greater Baltimore chapter of the women’s Zionist organization will hold a gala to celebrate Israel’s medical first-responders and disaster relief efforts around the world.

Hadassah Greater Baltimore is taking off a year. A year off, that is, from dedicating proceeds from its annual fund-raising gala toward stem cell research.

Instead, the 5,000-member local branch of the women’s Zionist organization this year is dedicating its efforts toward emergency and trauma care for international disaster relief.

On Saturday evening, March 10, at Pikesville’s Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Hadassah Greater Baltimore will host “Keys for Relief,” a gala featuring entertainment by the Baltimore-based Cutting Edge Dueling Pianos, a buffet by Celebrations Kosher Catering, and an auction with sports and music memorabilia, restaurant meal opportunities, jewelry and Judaica items.

Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, physician-in-chief of the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center, will deliver the event’s keynote speech. Scalea is known internationally for his leadership in advancing the field of trauma care.

Hadassah is a volunteer organization that works to fund services at two major hospitals in Jerusalem operated through the Hadassah Medical Organization. It supports medical, nursing and ophthalmology schools and research in Israel.

Hadassah’s medical professionals frequently travel around the world to come to the aid of disaster victims.

The volunteer-led, staff-supported Hadassah organization has 330,000 members around the world.

The organization dates back to 1912 after Baltimore native and Zionist leader Henrietta Szold traveled to pre-state Israel and saw Jews living in camps without proper plumbing or sanitation while suffering from starvation and disease. She took action and founded Hadassah to raise money to meet the health care needs of people in Palestine.

Barbara Fink, president of Hadassah Greater Baltimore, said she got involved with the organization when a friend asked her to co-chair the annual gala a few years ago. She was installed as president last November over the Greater Baltimore region, which covers eight Hadassah chapters.

“I was impressed when I read about the medical research,” said Fink, who lives in Pikesville with her husband, Jon. “A lot of it is brought to the United States and no one even knows it comes from Hadassah Hospital. Hadassah saves lives.”

Fink said she volunteers more hours for Hadassah than working a full-time job, leading a local office with a paid administrative assistant and part-time development director, as well as volunteers in the hundreds. She plans events, writes and designs a newsletter and creates advertisements. She also leads partnerships with other organizations in the community, including the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, the Baltimore Zionist District and the Baltimore Israel Coalition.

Fink said she is working hard to combat the misperception that Hadassah is a group primarily for older women.

“I love it,” she said of Hadassah. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love the organization and love what we do. Saving lives is a big deal.”

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Linda L. Esterson is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.