Windows to the soul

Hadassah Ein Kerem’s Chagall windows are a Jerusalem treasure

Brazen beauty: Assistant Charles Marq’s new method for applying color to glass allowed Marc Chagall to use up to three colors on a single pane. (photo credit: ARIEL DOMINIQUE HENDELMAN)
Brazen beauty: Assistant Charles Marq’s new method for applying color to glass allowed Marc Chagall to use up to three colors on a single pane.
The Hadassah University Medical Center – Ein Kerem is Israel’s leading university hospital. An internationally recognized teaching hospital and research center, Hadassah also boasts a perhaps lesser-known accolade, a unique collection of one-ofa- kind windows made by Jewish artist Marc Chagall.
Chagall gave the collection of 12 windows to the hospital in 1962 and even came to Jerusalem for the inauguration, held during the Women’s Zionist Organization of America’s Golden Anniversary Celebration.
Before the windows found their permanent home at Hadassah, they were displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris and in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Five years after the Jerusalem inauguration, the Six Day War engulfed the region, and five of the windows were severely damaged. It took Chagall two years to repair and in some cases completely redo the damaged windows.
Chagall and his assistant, Charles Marq, worked on the windows project for approximately two years. It was in this process that Marq developed a new method for applying color to the glass that allowed Chagall to use up to three colors on a single pane. This revolutionary technique, along with Chagall’s vision and incredible artistic skill, gives a depth and vividness to each of the 12 windows.
The Chagall windows are not prominently displayed in the hospital. In fact, if you didn’t know to look for them, you might not even find them. Tucked away inside the Fanny and Maxwell Abbell Synagogue, the 12 windows, displayed in groups of three, featuring each of the sons of Jacob, soak in the sunlight and refract it onto wooden seating in shades of azure, indigo, emerald and flax. The synagogue’s simple and minimalist design is the perfect complement to the windows’ brazen beauty.
The synagogue is open daily for shaharit (morning prayers) and special occasions as well.
“There are daily tours, many of which I give,” says Jeanne Vachon, visits and events coordinator at Hadassah Ein Kerem.
“My favorite window is the one for Levi. I love the colors, and because the Levites used to sing in the Temple, I can really see that in the design. They say that people who are deaf can connect to music through art.
I don’t know if that’s what he meant, but that’s my interpretation.”
Vachon takes a plethora of visitors to see the windows every day. She is at once knowledgeable, personable and passionate. Each window includes the name of the son that it honors, as well as design hints regarding his story and the blessings given to him from his father, Jacob.
Reuben’s window is all hues of green and blue. The color palette and the symbol of a fish signify the instability alluded to in Jacob’s blessings when he calls Reuben “unstable as water.” There is a circle at the top, reminiscent of a royal seal, meant to signify the sunrise and the fact that Reuben was the firstborn.
Simeon’s window is similar in color to that of Reuben, but with accents of green. The various animals on the window do not face each other, which Chagall used to represent tension, as Simeon, along with Levi, was a leader in the scheme to betray their brother Joseph. Simeon is known for his zealous anger, as when he takes revenge for his sister Dinah’s rape on the inhabitants of the city of Shechem. Also depicted on the window are a sun and moon.
“The window for Simeon represents creation,” Vachon explains. “There is the separation of the water, and the sun and the moon, which represent family. The sun being the masculine and the moon being the feminine.”
Levi’s window is golden; signifying all the gold that was used in the Temple and the garments of the priests, which were adorned with gold. Animals dance across the left and right panels in mid-air, alluding to the Temple sacrifices.
Then there is Judah’s window, which features a lion, a crown and other symbols of leadership. The red background is reminiscent of the wine from Jacob’s blessing to him, “His robe in the blood of grapes.”
There are two hands toward the top of the window, each consisting of four fingers, so as not to have ahuman likeness in a synagogue. “The lion is hard to see; I always point it out on the tours,” Vachon adds. “But the crown is there more visibly because kings come from Judah.”
Dan’s window alludes to judgment and justice, from Jacob’s blessing, “Dan shall govern his people.” There is a candelabra prominently featured that is strikingly reminiscent of weighted scales. In Naphtali’s window, a golden background gives way to a reclining deer. The image was taken from Jacob’s blessing, “Naphtali is a hind let loose, which yields lovely fawns.” There is also an image of a bird towards the top, signifying freedom and poetry. The prophetess Deborah, who composed the Song of Deborah, is thought to be of the tribe of Naphtali.
Gad’s window stands in stark contrast to all of the others, with its images of weapons and war. It is chaotic and impactful, whereas Asher’s window is all hues of green, signifying the lush, fertile land of Israel’s North, where his tribe was settled.
Issachar’s window is paired next to Zebulon’s, signifying their arrangement for Issachar to study Torah while Zebulon provided for him monetarily through trade ships. Issachar’s window was one of the five severely damaged in the Six Day War by Jordanian shelling. There is a white spot on the image of a donkey towards the bottom that is the remains of a bullet hole. The window features a tent in the center, from Jacob’s blessings, “And Issachar, in your tents.” Zebulon’s window features fish and a sailboat, alluding to Jacob’s blessings that “Zebulon shall dwell by the seashore.”
The youngest two sons, Joseph and Benjamin, each have colorful and distinct windows. Joseph’s window is emblazoned with tones of orange and yellow. “Joseph was the viceroy in Egypt, so you see the bird with the crown,” Vachon states.
“Also the wheat colors and the cow images are from the dreams that he told to Pharaoh. There is a tree with branches split to represent his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.” Benjamin’s window features a wolf, alluding to Jacob’s blessings that “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf.” There is also a large circle in the center, symbolizing unity.
“What’s very interesting about these windows is that they are in a hospital,” Vachon shares. “People from all around the world come to Jerusalem, and as part of visiting the city they come to a hospital to see these 12 windows in this synagogue. That I think is the most amazing thing. That’s what Chagall did; he made the hospital something really special, even for tourists.”
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