Israeli Knesset's artisan-designed front doors restored

The restoration and cleaning process of Israel's iconic parliament building doors took several months.

 The Knesset's new doors, October 3, 2021.  (photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)
The Knesset's new doors, October 3, 2021.
(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

In time for the return of Israel’s parliament from its summer recess, the Knesset’s restored front doors were revealed for the first time on Sunday in a ceremony with Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy.

The three sets of doors through which Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Dalai Lama and three US presidents entered the Knesset building underwent a special restoration and cleaning process, which lasted several months, to restore the splendor lost to the ravages of time and weather.

“World leaders as well as millions of citizens and tourists have passed through these doors,” Levy said. “Walking through them is like traveling through the history of the Jewish people. Only a few days ago, the Knesset marked the 55th anniversary of its building in the government quarter, and we are happy that the process of restoring the doors concluded so close to such a special event.”

 The Knesset's new doors, October 3, 2021.  (credit: DANNY SHEMTOV/KNESSET SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE) The Knesset's new doors, October 3, 2021. (credit: DANNY SHEMTOV/KNESSET SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
 

The main entrance doors to the Knesset are one of the most important works of art in the building. The process undergone by the six doors, which are arranged in three pairs, aims to shed new light on the hidden details of the work, in which artist Shraga Weil used brass reliefs to depict the story of the Jewish people from its wanderings to its return to the Land of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles.

Weil, one of Israel’s leading artists, was born in Czechoslovakia. During World War II, he put his artistic skills to the services of the Budapest underground by risking his life to forge documents to aid the fight against the Nazis.

After the war, Weil tried to immigrate to Israel, but he was captured and imprisoned in Cyprus. Upon the establishment of the state, he immigrated and settled in Kibbutz HaOgen where he lived for the rest of his life.

SHRAGA WEILL’S 1953 lithograph, 'The Flute Player,' evokes the early days of the state. (credit: JERUSALEM ARTISTS’ HOUSE)SHRAGA WEILL’S 1953 lithograph, 'The Flute Player,' evokes the early days of the state. (credit: JERUSALEM ARTISTS’ HOUSE)

In 1966, Weil joined the national project for the construction of the new Knesset building, and he was invited to decorate the six entrance doors. Over the years, time and weather have damaged them; the doors themselves became blackened and their wooden base was also damaged. Now, for the first time following the special restoration process, which was carried out by a team led by expert restorer Yehoshua Dray, the artwork has been revealed anew in its full glory.

Prior to the restoration process, Knesset curator Sharon Soffer went to Kibbutz HaOgen and met Efrat Weil Amit, the late artist’s daughter, as well as staff members from the Yad Yaari Research and Documentation Center Archive.

They provided the Knesset Archives with unique materials from the artist, including rare sketches of the reliefs that decorate the doors and additional archival documents in Weil’s handwriting that shed light on his unique creative process, from the unique compound he used in the work to the thought process that led to each relief on the doors.

“The Weil doors were designed in a unique way to blend in with the building’s architecture and landscape,” Soffer explained. “These are heavy wooden doors covered with brass plates, which are plain on the inside and decorated on the outside with reliefs that depict motifs that draw on Jewish history. The motif on the right-hand door is based on a relief from the Mishnaic period that was found in the Galilee, the main motif on the center doors is Hebrew letters around the word ‘will gather,’ and the left door contains a special decoration that forms the word ‘Jerusalem.’”