Hopefully you will enjoy your gap year in Israel without having to visit a hospital. However, even if you are in perfect health, it is worth making the trip to the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem to see a series of stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall.

When Chagall created the windows, in 1961, they were first exhibited at the Louvre in Paris and then the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, before moving to their permanent home in Jerusalem. At the time, John F. Kennedy described them as “extraordinary” and they have now been in place at Hadassah for 60 years.

There are numerous stories about the origins of the windows. The most famous tale is that upon being asked by a Hadassah representative to create the windows, Chagall interrupted her midsentence saying, “What took you so long? I’ve been waiting my whole life to serve the Jewish people.”

Whether or not this is true, there is no doubt that they are extraordinary works of art that are well worth making the trip to see. According to Barbara Goldstein, Hadassah Deputy Executive Director, the initial request was for one or two windows and upon learning that there were to be twelve of them, it became necessary to completely redesign the venue, the Abbell Synagogue, around them.

Each of the 11-by-8-foot windows depicts themes related to the twelve sons of Jacob, the forerunners to the twelve tribes of Israel. The windows are full of vibrant reds, blues, yellow and greens, and bring to life Chagall’s interpretation of Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33.

The Abbell synagogue was designed by architect Joseph Neufeld. On the wall above the ark, the windows featuring Naphtali is on the left and Joseph and Benjamin on the right. On the adjacent wall you can see Reuben, Simeon and Levi, on the back wall are Judah, Zebulon and Issachar, and the left hand wall exhibits Dan, Gad and Asher.

Chagall spent considerable time experimenting with techniques to produce the correct hues for the windows and a series of trial panels were sent to Jerusalem for light correction. The final glass panels were created in the Loire Valley and Chagall then painted, etched and scratch panes of roughly fifty colours at the Atelier Simon in Reims, France. He used a water-soluble medium to create patterns and designs before the panels were fired.

Chagall was engaged in every aspect of the creative process from beginning to end. He also remained committed to the windows after their installation. When they were damaged during the Six Day War, he was informed via a telegram from the hospital to which he responded, “You worry about the hospital, I’ll worry about the windows.”

It is possible to go on guided tours of the Chagall Windows and the Hadassah-Herzstein Heritage Center, both individually and as a group. However, even if you don’t have time for the tour, be sure to set aside an afternoon for a trip to the Abbell Synagogue so that you can admire these unique works of art first hand.