Washington Hebrew Congregation

Washington, DC

International Design Arts Award
Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art & Architecture/American Institute of Architects

International Design Competition Coordinator: Elizabeth Michaels Art Advisory, Falls Church, VA

The Five Books of Moses
Five at 7.8' w. by 11.3' h. each


Each of the FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES WINDOWS commemorates one of the books of the Torah. An unwinding scroll links the windows as it follows the history of the Jewish people from Creation through Moses’ death via an abstract and richly narrative imagery. 

An diverse palette of transparent, opal and opak mouth-blown glass; dichroic glass; and cast lenses gives these windows a dynamic, ever-changing appearance that is dependent on the time of day, season or viewpoint. Intriguing reflections seen in Kreeger Lobby’s polished granite columns, wall, and floors weave the stained glass windows into their architectural context. As one approaches the synagogue’s main entrance, Genesis (Bereshit) is on the right as the exterior sequence follows Hebraic, right to left notation.

The GENESIS (BERESHIT) Window features the Creation, the Flood, the three Patriarchs, and the beginnings of the Captivity in Egypt. A circular area in the upper window symbolizes Creation with seven dichroic “flashes” representing the days of God’s work. These “flashes” are found in all five windows as reminders of God’s presence and involvement in the growth of His People. The white interior of the Creation circle signifies the perfection and purity in pre-Expulsion Eden, while dichroic rings indicate God’s omnipotence during Creation. The rainbow is a reminder of God’s covenant to man after the Flood. The Creation Circle is repeated in the Deuteronomy (Devarim) Window to which it is connected by opalescent amber glass that “scrolls” across all five windows. This creates an unusual end-view of the Torah, partially unrolled to reveal the five books.

The Jewish People emerge from the Creation circle (the Expulsion) as an amber band that unwinds across all five windows. Here the band encounters three smaller circles symbolizing the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When the amber band emerges from the circles it has become differentiated into twelve component bands representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel. After Joseph leads the People to Egypt, the period of slavery begins. In the lower right of this window the “dark” period of the Captivity is represented by a gray “shadow” that engulfs the pathway of the twelve tribes.

The amber band enters the EXODUS (SHEMOT) Window at the lower left, with the People still under the “Shadow of Captivity”. Moses birth and selection by the Jews during their captivity is seen as a circle being embraced by the amber band as another “flash” or “bolt” radiates down from above.

The dichroic sparks outlining the “Shadow of Captivity” are reminders God had not deserted his people. The amber band emerges from the “shadow” as Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt. Ten V-shaped sparks symbolize the ten plagues God visited upon Pharaoh. The “rise” from slavery is indicated by the upward movement of the amber band. Moses then receives the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai symbolized by another dichroic “flash” embedded with ten large clear lenses.

The first Passover Rite is acknowledged in the upper arch with a swatch of red glass symbolizing the blood of the Pesah lamb that protected those who painted it over their doorways.

The design for the LEVITICUS (VA-YIKRA) Window commemorates the most visually uninspiring book of the Torah. The laws and instructions from God, which comprise much of Leviticus (Va-Yikra), are symbolized by the first Tabernacle whose construction Moses oversaw.

The heavenly cloud that rested above the tabernacle until it was time to move on, is represented by feathery white and clear glass hovers above a huge circular arc stretching across the tops of all five windows. Since it represents the presence of God, it also lightens the blue-green, arched borders of each window where it intersects them.

AN ASIDE: CIRCLES IN THE TORAH WINDOWS: The circular arc above which the heavenly cloud hovers is the largest of many circular motifs found throughout the five windows. Only a portion of this circle is seen since we are unable to fully comprehend God’s infinitude. Other circles ranging from small lenses to the Creation Circles echo this largest circular arc as a reminder that each of us was made in God’s image. The two Creation circles, along with the opalescent, dark amber glass that “scrolls” across all five windows, symbolize the Torah as the written record of story God’s Chosen People. Usually seen in an upright position, the Torah is here represented as it would appear when viewed “end-on”, partially unrolled.

The scarlet, purple and violet walls of the courtyard surrounding the cubic Tabernacle are represented by similarly colored glasses. This entrance through the walls appears as  drapery-like edges or flaps. The walls themselves extend beyond the Leviticus (Va-Yikra) Window to become the background color in the other four windows – violet on the left, purple on the right. Scarlet appears as the second layer on both sides.

The Sanctuary is implied as a square, as it would have appeared to one approaching from the front. White glass signifies the Holy Place in front, while golden Dichroic glass represents the Holy of Holies beyond where “flashes” or “bolts” further indicate God’s presence.

The amber band of history is in its closest proximity to the heavenly cloud in this window, just as the Tabernacle makes it possible to more easily approach God. Here, at it’s most tranquil, the amber band projects feeling of worshipfulness. Light yellow bands and clear lenses emerging upwards through the Tabernacle from the amber band symbolize the worshipful, spiritual nature of God’s People.

In the lower part of this window represents the seven cycles of seven years that precede the Jubilee Year. Interstitial years, Sabbatical Years and Jubilee Year are symbolized by amber, yellow and Dichroic glass respectively. The lenses representing the Interstitial and Sabbatical Years are configured as a Menorah.

The NUMBERS (BE-MIDBAR) Window commemorates the forty years of wandering to which God condemned his people upon their reaction to the negative reports of the spies. Only Caleb and Joshua would survive the wandering to enter the Land of Canaan because of their positive reports. This wandering appears as chaotic fracturing of the amber band and its drop to the bottom of this window.

A “Shadow of the Wilderness” similar to the “Shadow of Captivity” also underscores this difficult time. Again dichroic sparks outlining the shadow are reminders that God has not deserted his people. Lenses falling from above represent the sustenance of Manna while red glass recalls the battles of survival during this period. The amber band finally emerges from the “Shadow” in the lower right as the Jewish People continue their journey upward towards the Promised Land.

The last section of the book of Numbers (Be-Midbar) ordains the use of a garment fringe with an azure thread as a reminder of the Covenant. Here the azure thread is seen along the border in the upper right of this window.

The DEUTERONOMY (DEVARIM) Windowcompletes the Five Books of Moses, both symbolically and compositionally, by reiterating the Creation Circle seen in the Genesis (Bereshit) Window. When Moses call upon the people to keep the Covenant, he begins by calling upon heaven and earth: “Give ear, O heavens, let me speak; Let the earth hear the words I utter!” This gives thematic justification to the reiteration of the Creation Circle, which also provides a sense of balance across all five windows and completes the scroll of the unwinding Torah.

Moses blessing of each tribe with God’s blessings is represented by lenses streaming from the circle in the lower right symbolizing Moses (as the three circles in Genesis (Bereshit) symbolize the patriarchs). A single lens finds its way to each of the twelve “tribes” or sub-bands.

Unlike the dichroic circle representing Moses’ birth in the Exodus (Shemot) Window, here the circle is ringed with white and red dichroic glass contrasting the young Moses, who pled his inadequacies to God, with the now God-filled Moses at the end of his life.

Moses has now passed completely through the amber band of the twelve tribes. The band of the Jewish people leaves Moses after his death at Mount Nebo and continues up and out of the window towards the Promised Land at last!

 

OTHERS COMMENT:

In addition, I would want to underscore what a very special, fine human being Jeff is.  He worked carefully in developing the theme, and spent a great deal of time, energy and dedication in researching his work.  I would give him the very highest recommendation and commend him to anyone who is interested in a world class stained glass artist.  I can say, with the utmost confidence, that those who acquire his work will be richly rewarded.

Rabbi Joseph P. Weinberg, Senior Rabbi, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, DC

Sadly I was unable to attend the dedication of the Five Books of Moses Windows.  However, when I saw them last week, they moved me beyond any words.  Your composition, your choice of colors and design, the arrangement of the various parts, the movement within the entire grouping were all so beautiful — I could not believe human hands had created such a jewel.

I have been involved in “art” all my life and of course visited museums and cathedrals in most of the art cities of Europe.  I thought your windows were as beautiful as any I’ve ever seen.

Kathryn Yochelson, Author and Lecturer on Israeli Art, Washington, DC

I have found Jeff to be extremely talented, creative and professional in his business relationships with everyone from art committee members to general contractors. He has demonstrated his ability to be focused, organized, timely, and committed to excellence in his field of glass art. In addition he has a wonderful ability to listen to others, and integrate his client’s visions with his own aesthetic.

I highly recommend Jeff G. Smith and I feel confident that he will be able to provide excellent results. The windows he recently completed at the Washington Hebrew Congregation are truly magnificent, and have been very well received by the congregation members.

Elizabeth Michaels, Michaels Art Advisory, Falls Church, VA


Materials: German mouthblown glass, clear and dichronized lenses, dichroic glass, lead and solder.