First responder at Chernobyl nuclear disaster to speak at Jewish Book Festival

by | Oct 12, 2022 | What’s Happening

Community conversation:

Monday, November 7, 12 pm
Sandler Family Campus

Russian speakers conversation:
Monday, November 7, 2 pm
Sandler Family Campus


While the world watches, fighting has continued around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine since March. One of the world’s biggest atomic power stations, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency have repeatedly called for the creation of a demilitarized zone around the plant.

Alla Shapiro, MD, someone with first-hand experience of nuclear power plant issues, will speak next month at United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and Simon Family JCC’s Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival

In her book, Doctor On Call: Chernobyl Responder, Jewish Refugee, Radiation Expert, Shapiro introduces the day that will forever be etched into her mind: April 26, 1986: the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine.

Shapiro was dispatched to the disaster as a pediatrician and hematologist and was one of the first medical responders on the scene. When asked, “What were medical first responders least prepared for at Chernobyl?” her answer never changes: “Everything.”

In the book, Shapiro describes her experience responding to the disaster, as well as recounts what was taking place behind the scenes. “We first-responder physicians not only worked ‘in the dark,’” she writes, “but, contrary to our principles, we were ordered to participate in the deception of the public.”

Forced to participate in this government-perpetrated misinformation campaign and after enduring years of antisemitism in her workplace, Shapiro and her family left the Soviet Union. Her memoir continues as four generations of her family become refugees, fleeing the Soviet Union by way of Austria and then Italy, before arriving in the United States.

After repeating medical school in the U.S. and becoming a doctor for the second time, Shapiro is now one of the world’s leading experts in the development of medical countermeasures against radiation exposure.

For more information or to register for the noon event, visit For additional questions or to RSVP for the 2 pm event, contact Hunter Thomas, director of Arts + Ideas, at

The Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival is held in coordination with the Jewish Book Council, the longest-running organization devoted exclusively to the support and celebration of Jewish literature.

Hunter Thomas