Magazine article USA TODAY

1917 How One Year Changed the World

Magazine article USA TODAY

1917 How One Year Changed the World

Article excerpt

THE EXHIBITION "1917: How One Year Changed the World" will look back 100 years to explore how the dramatic events of a single year brought about fundamental changes in American politics and culture that reverberated throughout the world and still impact us today.

This will be the first exhibit to demonstrate how three key events of that year--the U.S. entry into The Great War (later known as World War I), the Bolshevik Revolution, and the issuing of the Balfour Declaration--brought about political, cultural, and social changes that dramatically reshaped the U.S.'s role in the world and directly affected everyday Americans.

The exhibition will feature approximately 130 artifacts, including an original draft of the Balfour Declaration, to be exhibited in the U.S. for the first time; composer Irving Berlin's draft registration card; a decoded copy of the Zimmermann Telegram; and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis' judicial robes. Through uniforms, letters, photographs, and posters, as well as films, music, and interactive media, "1917" will take visitors on a journey into the trenches of WWI, revolutionary Russia, and debates over the future of Britain's colonial empire in the Middle East.

"The conflicts and consequences of 1917 are often overshadowed by later events, but they determined so much about the American and Jewish experiences thereafter," says Josh Perelman, the National Museum of American Jewish History's chief curator and director of Exhibitions & Collections. "While the exhibition is anchored in the past, it has powerful relevance to contemporary issues we are facing today, as a nation and as individuals."

The exhibit is unique in its presentation of this consequential year through the eyes of American Jews, eyewitnesses who understood and reacted to those events both as Americans and as part of an international diaspora community. American Jews found themselves facing the challenge of articulating identities as Americans and as Jews during a period characterized by nativism and xenophobia. Still, by the end of 1917, the financial and cultural leadership of Jewish life had shifted from Europe to the U.S. and, in comparative terms, American Jews had become one of the most secure Jewish communities in the world.

Before the U.S. entered World War I on April 6, 1917, Jews debated whether the U.S. should join the conflict. They anguished over the security of European Jewish communities while also coping with growing intolerance of ethnic minorities at home. Nearly 250,000 Jews served in the armed forces during WWI, including Berlin, Cpl. Eva Davidson, and recent posthumous Medal of Honor recipient William Shemin. While many immigrant communities expressed their patriotism in the armed forces and on the home front, they still faced a political climate of increasing prejudice and suspicion.

The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 actually was the second uprising to strike Russia that year. The first saw Tsar Nicholas II abdicate but, a few months later, the newly-installed provincial government was overthrown by the Vladimir Lenin-led Bolsheviks. The revolts not only made the utopian ideal of a global revolution appear possible, but held out a brief hope that antisemitic regimes like that of the Russian Tsar would be swept away and a new world order might take root. Some American Jews and non-Jews saw this as an exhilarating opportunity, while others viewed it as a terrifying danger. …

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