August 8th 2013
Over 300,000 tourists make their way to Hadassah’s Ein Kerem hospital each year specifically to view Marc Chagall’s famous windows in the chapel. The Chagall Windows bring both light and art to the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah University Medical Center, on the southwestern outskirts of Jerusalem. The 12 Chagall Windows are made from stained glass, decorated with representations of Jewish life, animals, fish and flowers floating in mid-air, as explorations of symbols associated with the 12 tribes. This is a special treat that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in a hospital.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the entire hospital complex, the largest in the Middle East, or just the synagogue itself. No photography is permitted, but the hospital gift shop sells postcards and poster reproductions of the windows.
Each of the 12 windows, approximately 11 feet high and eight feet wide, features a dominant color and includes a quote from the Biblical blessings of Jacob to each of his sons – and the blessings of Moses to each of the 12 tribes. The specific symbols Chagall chose to represent in each window are related to the nature and special role of each of the 12 tribes. Visitors are often struck by how directly Chagall’s early life spent in the shtetls of Russia is reflected in these windows. As an artist, Chagall was deeply connected to Jewish history and to the Jewish people.
In fact, the Chagall Windows in Jerusalem were a gift from the artist to the Jewish people. Working with a partner named Charles Marc, it took him two years to complete them. When he presented the stained glass windows to Hadassah University Medical Center at the dedication of the synagogue in 1962, he said, “This is my modest gift to the Jewish people, who have always dreamt of biblical love, friendship and of peace among all peoples. This is my gift to that people which lived here thousands of years ago among the other Semitic people.”
When four of the windows were damaged during the Six Day War of 1967, the story goes that Chagall sent a cable to a hospital administrator, saying, “Don’t worry about the windows! Worry about Israel. I’ll make you new windows.” Which he did.