Jerusalem’s best kept Secret


Wow! Anyone who visits this art installation, situated in the most unexpected spot in Ein Kerem—the picturesque village on the way to Jerusalem—simply ‘wows.’ It is one of Israel’s most magnificent art installations, with a magical history, and a narrative that touches the hearts of those experiencing it. Getting to the 12 stained-glass panels—created by Belarusian-French  artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985)—requires walking through the long corridors of the Hadassah Medical Center, the famed research hospital, founded by the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Walk through the main entrance, and when you arrive at the Oncology department, there, tucked away in a small synagogue,  you will find these biblically-inspired windows, installed by the artist, surrounding the sanctuary. It was, in his words, a “modest gift to the Jewish people.” Before they were installed in their permanent home, in 1961, they were exhibited in both the Louvre in Paris and at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

12 arched stained-glass windows in brilliant colors, depict the Biblical Tribes of Israel, the 12 sons of Jacob – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulon, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher—filled with their narratives and symbolism as described in Genesis. Reds, blues, oranges, yellows, and greens are shining in the beautiful visual vocabulary describing the biblical text in Chagall’s distinctive language, capturing his own memory of his early life in the Russian shtetl of Vitebsk.

The history of this art work is no less moving than the window themselves. At that time, they were famous all over the world. President John F. Kennedy called them “extraordinary,” in his letter to Miriam Freund, then National President of the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization of America. “The importance of this cultural event is deepened for us by our knowledge that the windows are destined for the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center,” Kennedy concluded. So how is it possible that these windows—which have recently celebrated their 60th anniversary—were completely forgotten and excluded from the typical itineraries of Jerusalem tours? As we were walking through the hospital, trying to find our way to the Windows, we asked, but none of the hospital staff we encountered knew about this gem, situated just a minute’s walk from their offices.  

When the representatives of Hadassah visited the artist, then in his 70s, at his home in France, they came well prepared with a compelling request to created stained glass for the Hospital. “What took you so long?” He replied. “I’ve been waiting my whole life to serve the Jewish people.” Later, Chagall revealed “all the time I was working, 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.”

And then came the Six-Day War of 1967 and many of these windows were completely damaged by bombs. When Chagall was informed about the loss via telegram, he responded “You worry about the hospital and I’ll worry about the windows.” ‘Wow’ story; ‘wow’ art; ‘wow’ history.  When you visit Jerusalem, don’t forget to visit this magnificence. All images courtesy Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Click here to book a visit at the Chagall Windows at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem.