Kol Rinah exhibit, talks examine ‘World War I and Jewish Identities’

Ilene Wittels and Alan Gerstein check out a new exhibit at Kol Rinah on World War I. Photo: Kristi Foster 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“World War I and Jewish Identities” is the theme of an exhibit and series of ongoing programs sponsored and hosted by Kol Rinah’s Adult Education Committee.  The exhibit and programs were conceived and organized by Kol Rinah member Henry Berger, professor emeritus of history at Washington University.  The exhibit is on  display in the foyer of the synagogue at 829 N.  Hanley Road, and the five programs will run through Dec. 7.

More than 100 people attended the opening presentation Sunday, during which Berger spoke about How and Why Did the Great War Happen?§ He gave an overview of the complex series of events that led to World War I, starting with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914. Berger distributed a handout with a detailed reading list, maps and a timeline detailing the major events leading up to World War I.

He explained that the programs will deal with how the Great War profoundly challenged Jewish identities and loyalties worldwide and produced traumatic, lasting experiences for Jews living and fighting in the war zones on both sides of the conflict. 

The war also unveiled new political and social realities for Jews,§ Berger said. All were consequences of the bloody conflict.” 


To organize the exhibit, Berger solicited memorabilia relating to World War I from the Jewish community.  He also consulted with Jack Lite of a local chapter of the Jewish War Veterans, who lent him additional material. 

Among the items on display are a uniform, cap, helmet, gas mask, army knapsack and ammunition belt all belonging to the late William Shemin, who served with great valor during World War I. Shemin is the father of St. Louisan Elsie Shemin Roth.    

Also included are a captured German helmet and a journal, letters, postcards and photos belonging to Marion Zuckerman Cohen’s father, Hyman (Chaim) Zuckerman, who served in the Jewish Legion in Palestine in 1918. He received a 1981 letter of commendation from the State of Israel and medals for his volunteer service.

There is also a cloth banner honoring members of B’nai El Congregation who served in World War I; a broadside with the names of 26 St. Louis Jews who died in the war, and a letter from the draft board to Leopold Isserman, which was provided for the display by his son, Philip Isserman.  Leopold Isserman was the brother of the late Ferdinand Isserman of Temple Israel. 

Rounding out the exhibit are some action photos of the war on various fronts and a front page from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat announcing the outbreak of the war in August 1914.

The series of programs at Kol Rinah synagogue, 829 N. Hanley Road, includes:

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 (Selichot): The Last Ottomans: The Jews of Salonika, 1912-1923,§ a talk by scholar-in-residence Devin Naar, the Marsha and Jay Glaser Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle.

各  2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9: The film “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930), introduced by Berger.

2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16: “The First World War and a Jewish Homeland, 1914-1921,§ a talk by Hillel Kieval, Washington Universitys Gloria Goldstein Professor of Jewish History and Thought and chairman of the Department of Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.

2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7: “The First World War, David R. Francis and Russian Jewry,” a talk by Berger, from the last chapter of his book, “St. Louis and Empire: 250 Years of Imperial Quest and Urban Crisis,” which will be published by Southern Illinois University Press on April 1.

All programs and the exhibit are free and open to the public.  For additional information, call Kol Rinah synagogue at 314-727-1747.