Bostonia: Alum Jill Shames (SSW’83) Provides Frontline Emergency Services to Ukrainian Refugees Near Site Where Her Ancestors Fled Anti-Semetism 140 Years Ago

Photo: UN Women/Aurel Obreja | License details

BU School of Social Work alum and social worker Jill Shames (COM’82, SSW’83) is providing on-the-ground emergency services for Ukrainian refugees just across the Ukraine border in Moldova, where she’s volunteering with the non-profit group United Hatzalah of Israel. 

As an aid worker in the group’s Advanced Psychotrauma Unit, Shames says she is “summoned to the scenes of accidents, heart attacks, sudden deaths, terrorist incidents, suicides … to offer psychological first aid and PTSD prevention interventions to family members, witnesses of traumatic events, and my fellow first responders.”

Shames provides a firsthand account of her experiences in a Q&A with Bostonia.

Excerpted from “For This BU Alum, Helping Those Fleeing Ukraine is Personal” (March 14, 2022) by Rich Barlow:

quotation markThe people we are helping arrive with harrowing stories of loss, death, and destruction. They have fled their homes, their belongings, their beloved pets, and family members who were unable or unwilling to join them. They are beset with uncertainty, survivor guilt, and a sense of powerlessness. The difference between the haunted, frightened expressions they have when they first arrive and how they look even 24 hours later, when they have eaten, slept, socialized, and are sure they are in a safe, supportive place is astounding!

Shames’s experiences working with Ukrainian refugees in Moldova are shaped by her family history. In her talk with reporter Rich Barlow, she looks back at her great-grandparents’ immigration story – born and raised in Odessa, Ukraine, they fled their hometown and sailed to Ellis Island in the late 19th century under the threat of anti-Semitic violence in the Russian Army. Shames says:

quotation markAs I meet each of these Ukrainian refugees I cannot help but think of my great-grandparents and their flight from the Russians. They saved themselves and their descendants from pogroms, from Hitler, and from today’s crisis. I, a child of their children’s children, have the honor to take part in doing what couldn’t be done 122 years ago or even 70 years ago—to represent the thriving State of Israel and all of humanity in easing their suffering and laying a path to safety.

Shames moved from the United States to Israel in 1996. She specializes in therapeutic martial arts and empowerment self-defense, and is the former head of training for Kids Kicking Cancer Israel.

Shames was recently interviewed for The New York Times article “Once Victims in Southeast Europe, Jews Come to Aid Fleeing Ukrainians” about her experience providing psychological support for Ukrainian refugees.

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