Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Chagall Windows©

By Vardah Littmann


Stepping into the Hadasah Ein Kerem Hospital Synagogue, you find oneself in an enchanted world.  The light playing though the rainbow-colored glass of the twelve Chagall Windows, even on an overcast day, transforms the placeinto a wonderland of incredible beauty. The floors and interior walls are made of Jerusalem Stone, and the Synagogue is illuminated by a hanging lantern and by sunlight which streams through the magnificent Chagall Windows.
Each window depicts one of the Twelve Tribes and contains a quotation from that tribe’s blessing.  Taking his inspiration from the Chumash, Marc Chagall, created 12 vibrant windows in primary colors, populated with many “Chagallian” creatures of floating figures of animals, fish, flowers, and a scattering of Jewish symbols.
The windows illustrate the blessings given by Yaakov Avinu  to his sons before he died (Genesis 49), and also Moshe Rabeinu’s valediction to the tribes of Yisrael (Deuteronomy 33). Drawing on the colors of the stones of the choshen (Exodus 28:15), and employing the innovative techniques of the Reims glassmakers, the artist gives the wafer-thin windows an astounding illusion of depth in many places.
The windows took Chagall and his assistant Charles Marq, over two years to create. They developed a special technique that allowed Chagall to use as many as three colors on a single pane. To ensure that each window received the proper light, Marq came to Jerusalem and made tests on the spot where each of the windows was to be placed. The twelve windows are each about 11 feet tall and 8 feet wide, and they were completed in 1961.
The Chagall Windows were first displayed in Paris and then in New York. Record breaking crowds lined up around the block of the Museum of Modern Art to see them. The windows were installed in their permanent home in 1962. At the dedication ceremony as part of Hadassah's Golden Anniversary celebration on February 6th, 1962, Marc Chagall spoke of the joy he felt in bringing "my modest gift to the Jewish people.”
Marc Chagall (born 1887 and passed away on  March 28, 1985) was one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. He was an early modernist, and created works in virtually every artistic medium, including painting, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramics, tapestries, and fine art prints. A Jewish artist from a an observant background, Chagall grew up in the shtetl of Vitebsk. He had a deep sense of identification with the whole of Jewish history, its tragedies and victories. In speaking about his work on the Windows, Chagall stated: “All the time I was working, I felt my father and my mother were looking over my shoulder, and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago".
Marc Chagall achieved world-wide acclaim, yet as a non-practicing Jew, he had a  fractured relationship with his Jewish identity. Tragically, his wife Valentina Brodsky, another Russian Jew, arranged for him to be buried in a Christian cemetery. He would have been buried without any Jewish rites, had not a stranger stepped forward and said the Kaddish, for him.
Since taking photographs of the windows is forbidden, you should take time to sit still and contemplate the windows’ wonderful detail. The gift shop next to the shul sells postcards and posters for those wanting a more permanent memory of the windows.
Artist Aviva Green’s magnificent sculptural parochet and soft sculpture bimah have been installed permanently under the Chagall Windows.
The Windows are open for visitors Sunday through Thursday, 8 am until 1 pm, and then 2 pm until 3:30 pm. On Fridays and erev yomim tovim, the site is closed. To reach there, take Egged buses 12, 19, and 27.
Guided/audiovisual tours of the synagogue are conducted in English and other languages. Call for times: 02/677-6271 or 02/641-6333.

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