The Abbell Synagogue & it’s Spectacular Windows!

Marc Chagall’s stained-glass windows in the Abbell Synagogue at Hadassah medical center in Jerusalem are incredible! In fact, many consider these windows as Chagall’s number one masterpiece in stained glass! What do you think? Whether they are or not, they are simply gorgeous.

If you are in Jerusalem and you are an art lover, then a visit to these windows is a MUST!

Marc Chagall stained glass window depicting the  Levi Tribe of Israel
Marc Chagall Windows in the Abbell Synagogue – Depicting the Tribe of Levi
[CC BY-SA 3.0]

Where are these windows?

These amazing windows are located in the most unlikely place. Within a major Jerusalem hospital called Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center is the lovely 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. Many residents of Jerusalem do not even know about them!!

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 asked that Chagall create twelve windows, each window representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Marc Chagall Stained-Glass Windows, Jerusalem
Marc Chagall Stained-Glass Windows, Jerusalem

Chagall together with his assistant, Charles Marq, worked on this project from Chagall’s home town in Saint Paul De Vence. It took them over two years to complete the job. While creating these windows, they developed a new technique which enabled Chagall to use up to three colors on a single pane of glass.

When Chagall finished the windows in 1961, the end result were twelve stunning windows, each about 11 feet tall and 8 feet wide.

The Exhibition of the Windows in Paris & New York

Before reaching their final destination, the windows were first exhibited in Paris in June of 1961. Afterwards, they were displayed in the New York Museum of Modern Art in the winter of the same year. In the New York exhibition there were massive crowds queuing up around the block to see these already famous windows. Finally, the beautiful windows reached their permanent home in the Abbell synagogue in February 1962.

“For me a glass is a transparent wall located between my heart and the heart of the world”

Marc Chagall Quotes

Chagall’s windows – The Twelve Tribes of Israel

In the Hebrew Bible, the Twelve Tribes of Israel are the descendants from the 12 sons of the patriarch Jacob.

he Abbell Synagogue and the gorgeous Chagall Stained-glass windows

The names of the the twelve sons are: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, Dan, Asher, Gad, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin and Joseph. Upon Jacob’s death, the land of Israel was divided amongst his twelve sons. These divisions became the twelve tribes of Israel.

The Importance of this Project to Chagall?

Chagall said that while he was working on these windows, he felt the following:

“I felt my mother and father looking over my shoulder; and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews – of yesterday and a thousand years ago.”  Marc Chagall Quotes

Every window is a summation of Chagall’s personal universe both real and imagined. The windows show Chagall’s love of humanity, his deep sense of identification with his Jewish history and the significance of his younger years in the Russian shtetl of Vitsbk.

The Bible was Chagall’s primary inspiration, particularly the chapter where Jacob blesses his twelve sons and Moses blesses the twelve tribes. On each window you will find a quotation of an individual blessing taken from the bible.

One of the twelve Chagall Windows, Abbell Synagogue Jerusalem
One of the twelve Chagall Windows, Abbell Synagogue Jerusalem

Chagall’s Gift to the Jewish People

At the opening ceremony, Chagall said the following heartfelt words:

“The windows are my modest gift to the Jewish people, who have always dreamt of biblical love, of friendship and peace among all people; to that people who lived here, thousands of years ago, among other Semitic people. My hope is that I hereby extend my hand to seekers of culture, to poets and to artists among the neighboring people.”

Marc Chagall Quotes

Public transport to the Abbell Synagogue in Hadassah Medical Center:

Bus no.19: From Mt. Scopus to Hadassah-Ein Kerem via the center of town operates between 5:30 AM and 11:45 PM. The bus runs every eight minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak hours. Note that the route to Hadassah Medical Center is very picturesque. The drive winds along a mountain overlooking the lovely village of Ein Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist.

For more information about visiting hours and admission fees, press here

Tip: If you plan to visit, it is recommended to call in advance and make sure that the synagogue is open. Sometimes the synagogue is used for ceremonies or events and is closed to the public. Tel: +972-2-677-6271  

Enjoy!

See below for more articles about the incredible Marc Chagall, his life, where to see his art and a great historical fiction book about the Chagall family