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Updated: Jan 25, 2021

"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." Marc Chagall, February 6, 1962

Marc Chagall self-portret and photo

Amazing stained-glass windows created by Marc Chagall located in a very unlikely place. In the middle of a major Jerusalem hospital called Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center is hiding a small Abbell Synagogue. This Jewish place of worship serves the patients and staff of the hospital. It is here, where Chagall’s amazing windows are tucked away. The light that emanates from the twelve stained glass windows bathes the Synagogue in a special mystical glow. Even in the misty haze of a cloudy day, Chagall's genius transforms time and space. The whole world of Jewish tradition, Biblical history and ancient mystics is concentrated here at one place.

Hadassah Hospital Synagogue

In 1959, Dr. Miriam Freund (President of the hospital) and Joseph Neufeld (the architect of the hospital) commissioned Marc Chagall to design the stained-glass windows for the synagogue of the not yet completed hospital. They only asked that Chagall create twelve windows, each window representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The rest was left to Chagall's imagination. It took him over two years to complete the job. When Chagall finished the windows in 1961, the result were twelve stunning colorful windows, each about 11 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Chagall himself used to call these windows “the transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world”.

Chagall work on a stained-glass in his studio

The windows represent the unique attributes, strengths but also weaknesses and contradictions of the twelve sons of the biblical patriarch Jacob, including each of their important responsibilities toward the nation of Israel. The windows depict what might be considered a set of heraldic symbols for each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. An ancient Kabbalistic belief asserts that the prayers of Israel reach the Gates of Heaven, twelve in number, each corresponding to one of the original Twelve Tribes of Israel, and reach God as per the ancestral tribe of the individual worshiper. In our days, due to the over two thousand years of intermarriages, the twelve tribes are all mixed into the Modern Jewish nation. Bus still, it is believed that the twelve Tribal Gates of Haven exist forever.

Chagall's windows

Each window is dedicated to a different tribe of Israel, taking the Biblical description of the qualities of each tribe in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33, as its starting point. Chagall's figures are drifting in the air and immanently come to life as the sun movements create different angles of light. As in many Chagall's works, the ancient Jewish history is combined here with the cataclysms of the XX Century and Chagall's own personal memories. He wrote: “All the time I was working, I felt my mother and father looking over my shoulder and behind them were Jews, millions of vanished Jews – of yesterday and a thousand years ago.”

Twelve Tribes - Chagall Stained Glass miracle

The synagogue was dedicated in the presence of the artist on February 6, 1962 as part of Hadassah's Golden Anniversary Celebration. 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.

Hadassah stained-glass windows are one of the greatest Chagall's masterpieces, and it is very symbolic that they stay in the very heart of the Hadassah Hospital where human lives are saved.

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