The Stained Glass Windows

The beautiful stained glass windows of Beth El Temple Center have helped to enhance the spirituality of our sanctuary ever since their installation over the years between 1989 and 1995. Starting with Genesis, the windows tell the story of the Jewish People through biblical times, to the Holocaust, American Jewry, and the State of Israel. Click on any of the thumbnails to read a description of the imagery in each window.

Creation

The first window describes the work of creation. On the top panel, the sunrise over the mountains reminds us of the first dawn when God said:

יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר

“Let there be light and there was light” (Genesis, 1:3).

The tree of life that appears as the next symbol has a special significance. It indicates a belief that Adam and Eve, the first human beings, though mortals, nevertheless had within their reach the possibility of immortality.

The greater part of the midsection is dedicated to שבת, the seventh day, the Sabbath. The candles to be lit (traditionally) by a woman's hands, the wine goblet and the two covered challah breads are all part of the ancient ritual called “Kiddush” (sanctification) that is still being performed in Jewish homes on Fridays after sunset.

The peaceful symbols of the Sabbath, together with the rainbow over Noah's Ark and the dove returning with the olive branch, are perfect reminders of God's protection and beneficence.

The rainbow refers to the sentence

זֹאת אוֹת־הַבְּרִית

“This shall be the sign of the covenant” (Genesis 9:12) taken to be God's “solemn, unilateral, covenantal pledge that a universal cataclysmic flood would never again occur.”

Gift of Lena Zion in memory of Sidney Zion

Exodus

The major theme of the second window is the exodus from Egypt. When God chose Moses, God appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. Moses gazed and there was a bush all aflame וְהַסְּנֶה אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל “yet the bush was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2).

The burning bush on the top and the ark of the covenant with two cherubim form a protecting shield for the children of Israel as they are leaving Egypt. The parted waters are symbolic of the great miracle by which our ancestors were saved from the pursuing Egyptians.

Below we see Miriam dancing with the women in celebration of her people's salvation. “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them:

שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־גָאֹה גָּאָה

'Sing to the LORD for God has triumphed gloriously' ”(Exodus 15:21).

At the bottom of the third panel, we see the Promised Land, fertile and green. A full basket—with the produce of the land that flows with milk and honey is an appropriate symbol of the fulfillment of God's promise and true manifestation of the reward that followed forty years wilderness experience.

The border decoration is figs, grapes and pomegranates. The Book of Numbers (Numbers 13:23) informs us that these were the three fruits of Canaan brought back by the twelve scouts whom Moses sent out to explore the future homeland of the Jewish people.

Gift of Midge & Alton Lipkin
David & Judith Ganz & Family

The Jerusalem Temple

The central theme of the third window is the “Beit Hamikdash," the Jerusalem Temple. A portrait of King David, the second king of Israel, appears at the top. He was a most beloved and heroic figure in ancient Jewish history. King David, who combined the talents of poet and warrior, was also the dreamer of this special house of worship dedicated to God. Subsequently, his son, King Solomon built the Temple. The Hebrew sentence

וְשִׂחַקְתִּי לִפְנֵי יְהוָה

“Before the LORD, will I make merry” (II Samuel 6:21) refers to the wonderful celebration that occurred when the Ark of God was brought back to Jerusalem.

The three crowns accompanied by the hands in the sign of priestly benediction represent the three aspects of Biblical Judaism: the Torah תורה, the priesthood כהנה, and the royalty מלכות. The Hebrew phrase

כֶתֶר שֵׁם טוֹב

“crown of a good name” is taken from a Rabbinic maxim on the subject of crowns. “Rabbi Simeon said: ‘There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of royalty; but the crown of a good name excels them all'” (Mishnah Avot 4:13).

The pitcher, the emblem of the Levites, and the royal crown are surrounded by the two lions of Judah, symbolizing the Jewish weltanschauung that no country can survive without a spiritual and moral commitment.

The quotation from Genesis 49:10

לֹא־יָסוּר שֵׁבֶט מִיהוּדָה

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah,” according to the Rabbis of old, indicates a strong belief in the coming of the Messianic kingdom, a society based on positive values and high ethical standards.

Gift of The Seigal Family in memory of Charles J. Seigal

Destruction of the Temples

The general theme of the fourth window is the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the persecution that followed these tragic events.

We see the legendary, last High Priest throwing the keys of the Temple up in the air as he cries out in desperation

הרי מפתחות של ביתך

"Here are the keys of Your house" (Midrash Pesikta Rabbati, 26, 8). In the background, the fortress of Masada is in flames.

The sadness of our ancestors in the remembrances of Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged up our harps."

The burning Torah scroll and the flying letters, forming the Jewish watchword of faith

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל

the Shema, refer to the vision of the martyred sage, Chanina ben Teradyon, as he was burned at the stake together with his Torah scroll. The dying Rabbi called out:

גוילין נשרפין ואותיות פורחות

I see "burning scrolls and flying letters" (Talmud Bavli, Avodah Zarah 18a). You can burn people and Torah scrolls but the letters representing the teachings are indestructible.

The magnificent Ark and the two menorahs in the middle bear testimony to this truth.

Gift of Miriam & Richard Coffman
in memory of Maxwell A. & Elizabeth B. Sherman

The Talmud

The fifth window portrays the development of the Talmud. The figures, starting from top to bottom, depict the passage in the Ethics of the Fathers

מֹשֶׁה קִבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִּינַי וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהוֹשֻֽׁעַ

“Moses received the Torah from God at Sinai. He transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, the Prophets to the Members of the Great Assembly" (Mishnah Avot 1,1).

Above, Moses teaching through the word of God. He covers his eyes in accordance with the biblical statements attributed to God: "You cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Through many centuries, the original “Oral Torah” was studied diligently together with the written one. This unique and remarkable educational activity continued and culminated in the redaction and compilation of a new multi-volume book, the Talmud, a most important source and treasure of Judaism.

The Talmud appears in book form at the bottom of the window. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz of Jerusalem and a team of scholars are currently in the process of translating Talmud into modern English with commentaries.

Three elements make up the border decoration. The first, the rose, was considered a special flower in Talmudic tradition since it was very popular and even grew wild in ancient Israel. In the Talmud we read, “No garden should be established in Jerusalem, with the exception of rose gardens that have existed there from the time of the early prophets" (Talmud Bavli, Baba Kamma 82b). The golden chain and clasped hands symbolize the unbroken chain of religious practice and expression passed on from generation to generation since the time of Moses' oral teachings to the development of the Talmud.

Gift of Nathan & Amita Sloane
the Mitchell and Wheeler Families in memory of Our Loved Ones

The Diaspora

The general theme of the sixth window is the Galut, the Diaspora. It depicts the dispersion and settlement of the Jews outside of their homeland, Israel after the Babylonian captivity.

The border decoration is comprised of two elements. The dominant element is the vine, which has been symbolic of Israel since the time Jacob compared his favorite son, Joseph, to a fruitful vine (Genesis 48:22). The vine also was the emblem of the Jewish nation on the coins of Bar Kochba, the second century freedom fighter. The supporting element for this border is the six-petaled flower pattern, which also occurred in ancient Hebrew carvings and decorative art.

In each of the panels we see figures illustrating some of the different modes of travel utilized by the Jews as they dispersed and formed the Diaspora. Above, people are carrying their belongings and journeying on foot leading their livestock. Next, we see others walking with a donkey and cart. In the middle panel, the camel is the means of transportation used.

Finally, there are four figures traveling by boat, symbolic of a legend mentioned in Abraham Ibn Daud's twelfth century chronicle, Sefer ha-Qabbalah, “The Book of Tradition.” Four scholars who were traveling “from the city of Bari to a city called Sefastin” to attend a convention were captured by the commander of a mighty Muslim fleet. Subsequently they were sold and then ransomed by the Jewish community, two of them in North Africa and the other two in Spain. These four great scholars established academies, centers for Jewish learning in the Diaspora.

The top panel is taken from the Hebrew text in the Biblical book of the prophet Zechariah (2:6):

כְּאַרְבַּע רוּחוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם פֵּרַשְׂתִּי אֶתְכֶם

“I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens.” The Talmud, expounding the simile of this verse affirms the eternity of the Jewish people, “As the world cannot endure without winds, so the world cannot exist without Israel" (Talmud Bavli, Taanith 3b).

Gift of John & Carol Conners, Abe & Evelyn Ponn in honor of Beatrice & Harold Ponn’s 50th Wedding Anniversary
Lenere Tagerman & Family in memory of Martin S. Tagerman

The Golden Age of Spain

The seventh window commemorates the Golden Age of Spain. The songbirds appearing as border decorations symbolize the joy expressed through poetry, music, and other art forms by the Jewish people during this short period of stability and accomplishment.

The sun, moon, and stars on the top symbolize the scientific and intellectual achievements of this era. The tilling of the ground and the fruit laden tree represent the loosening of legal restraints on Jews, allowing them again to own property and profit from the land's fruit and their own toil. These Jews became faithful, loyal, and respected citizens, who followed Jeremiah's admonition:

וְדִרְשׁוּ אֶת־שְׁלוֹם הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר הִגְלֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה

“And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away (captured), and pray unto God for it” (Jeremiah 29:7}.

During the Golden Age, Jews built beautiful synagogues such as the one in Toledo, Spain, with its Arabesque arches. Sitting in front of the arches are three sages of this period, one of whom is a young man resembling the poet laureate Solomon Ibn Gabirol, who wrote at age sixteen:

אני השד והשיר לי לעבד אני כנור לכל שרים ונוגנים

"I am the master and song is a slave to me, the harp of all poets and minstrels am I.”

Below, we see a peacock, the ancient symbol of wealth and abundance.

The Golden Age of Spain in all its wealth and prosperity nevertheless had a nostalgia for Zion and Jerusalem. The horseman and the horses on the bottom panel face Jerusalem. The Biblical sentence from the Book of Zechariah (1:16)

שַׁבְתִּי לִירוּשָׁלִַם בְּרַחֲמִים

“I return to Jerusalem with compassion” is expressive of the feelings of Jewish intellectuals in Medieval Spain.

Gift of the Bass & Gerber Families in memory of Our Loved Ones
Sara & Gerald Reisman in memory of Rose & Max Reisman and David M. Rosenfeld
Alice Salamon in memory of My Loved Ones, Victims of the Holocaust

Expulsions & Immigrations

The eighth window shows the expulsion and immigration that characterized the Jewish Diaspora of the late Middle Ages. In the border, burning Temple columns commemorate the destruction of synagogues that accompanied these persecutions. The columns are interspersed with the Star of David, a new symbol for the persecuted people, which emerged during this period.

At the top, flames engulf a synagogue but the letters of the שמע ישראל, Shema Yisrael, the affirmation of Jewish faith, rise above the destruction. Echoing a theme from the fourth window (where He brew letters rise above a burning Torah scroll) the letters symbolize the ultimate survival of the Jewish faith, people, and way of life despite many persecutions.

Below the burning synagogue, a long procession of people sets off in search for a new home in the aftermath of brutal expulsions. The image of Jewish communities forced to wander because of persecution repeats a continuing theme from Jewish history, portrayed in the second and sixth windows. Despite these forced resettlements, the Jewish people remain strong by virtue of shared faith, culture, and ancient religious tradition. These touchstones of survival are symbolized by the Lions of Judah that flank an arch reminiscent of ancient Hebrew architecture. The image, based on a Polish paper cutout, brings to mind a phrase from Psalm 121:

עֶזְרִי מֵעִם יְהוָה עֹשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ

“My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

As the Jewish people migrate to new lands, they continue to be influenced by the culture of surrounding peoples. This cultural interplay is symbolized by the reindeer which becomes an element of Jewish folk art with the movement further northward in Europe. Towards the bottom of the window, a long procession of Jewish immigrants symbolizes the stubborn determination to start again, even as the Yizkor memorial book represents the determination to remember the martyrs of these persecutions. The open book suggests the first words of the Yizkor prayer

יזכר אלהים נשמות כל אחינו

“Remember, O God, the souls of all our brethren, martyrs of our people, who gave their lives for the sanctification of Your name.”

Gift of the Family of Malcolm Hecht, Jr., In Loving Memory

Emancipation in Europe

A general theme of the ninth window is the emancipation of European Jewry. The border depicts some of the foods that were a constant element of Jewish culture both before and during the emancipation. These foods include fish, wheat, lentils and grapes for wine.

At the top of the window, the ghetto walls crumble and Jews are granted unprecedented political rights in countries throughout Europe. Particularly in eastern Europe, many Jews join their non-Jewish neighbors in movements to promote social, political and legal reform. The new Jewish activism is reflected in the image of a public demonstration of the time. It is a spirit proclaimed in Hebrew:

באין אחדות, אין כלום

“Without unity, there is nothing.”

Along with newfound economic and political freedom, Jews are permitted to practice their religion more openly. The light of religious freedom burns with renewed promise in the seven-branched menorah (reminiscent of the Jerusalem Temple depicted in the fourth window). Below the menorah, another symbol of a flourishing religious life, is the beautiful synagogue of Pest, Hungary, which was renowned throughout Europe.

In addition, the relative stability of the time and the open exchange between Jewish and non-Jewish communities fosters major leaps in Jewish scholarship and archival work, symbolized by the Jewish scholar sitting at his desk among his books. The scene represents words taken from the Babylonian Talmud that emphasize the tradition's profound reverence for Jewish learning:

תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם

“The disciples of the wise increase peace in the world” (Talmud Bavli 64a).

This period also witnesses a revitalization of Jewish music, prose and poetry, which finds newly expanded audiences in the broader world. As in the seventh window, the song bird symbolizes this flourishing Jewish art and culture. Such cultural contributions are celebrated by the trio around the piano at the bottom of the window, as Jews join their non-Jewish neighbors in exploring the heights of artistic creativity.

Gift of George & Claire Speen and Family

The Holocaust

The tenth window is dedicated to the six million Jews who perished in the darkness of the Holocaust. The border contains barbed wire from the concentration camps, flames both of destruction and of memorial and the yellow Star of David, with which the Nazis branded their Jewish victims.

At the top the opening words of Kaddish — the Jewish mourner's prayer — struggle to affirm that God is

יתגדל ויתקדש

“magnified and sanctified” even amidst this evil. Beneath these words, the hands of victims young and old reach up to us and God as they are swallowed by the fire. Perhaps, like the single word in the middle of the window, these hands implore and command us

זכור

“remember.”

At the bottom of the window are the opening words of the other Jewish mourner's prayer, El Mole Rachamim. The prayer beseeches the One who is

אל מלא רחמים

"God full of mercy" to shelter and care for the souls of loved ones who have died. Near the entrance to our sanctuary, a plaque memorializes some of our loved ones who perished at the hands of the Nazis. This window is dedicated to their memories.

Gift of Our Community in Memory of the Six Million

American Jewry

The eleventh window is dedicated to the achievements of American Jewry, the largest and most accomplished community in the history of our people.

The border decoration is the white American beauty rose interspersed with the seven-branched Biblical menorah, a symbol of Jewish religious and communal life in America.

The Statue of Liberty and a passenger ship that symbolizes the great Jewish migration to New York harbor appear in the top panel with the Torah scroll that accompanies Jews in all their wanderings. The inscription, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is taken from the sonnet “The New Colossus” (1883) written by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). The poem was appropriately engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

The major symbol of the center section is the Touro Synagogue of Congregation Jeshuat Israel, Newport, Rhode Island, which is the oldest synagogue building in the United States. The familiar symbols of science, medicine, law, religion, architecture, education, and the arts serve as reminders of the significant contributions Jews have made in each of these realms. For many decades American Jews have also dedicated themselves to social, civic and legal reform. Pictured are Jews participating in civil rights, labor reform, and the women's suffrage movements.

The contemporary scene on the lower panel is represented by our own Beth El Temple Center. The ancient Jewish priestly figure blowing on the shofar to assemble the congregations for study, social activities, and worship illustrates the link between tradition and modern American Jewry. It is the devotion of congregations such as ours that will surely carry the flame of our faith into the twenty-first century and beyond.

Gift of Beatrice & Harold Ponn

The State of Israel

The general theme of the twelfth window is the modern State of Israel that fulfills the age-old dream, the restoration of the Jewish homeland.

In agreement with the well-known Biblical statement about the promised Land, a land that “floweth with milk and honey,” the border decoration is made up of the beehive and the jugs of milk interspersed with the blue Star of David from the Israeli flag.

Figures resembling Abraham, the first Hebrew, and David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, two important Jewish personalities of different times and ages, together with sabra youths all symbolize Jewish unity and fellowship. Below them is the peace dove, completing the cycle from Window One where the dove appears as a living manifestation of God's promise to Noah of a peaceful world without floods and calamities. The top panel reaffirms God's ancient promise of שלום, peace .

In the middle panel, we see

ירושלים של זהב

The Golden Jerusalem, an image that became reality as it unified a far-flung Jewish people and focussed their efforts to establish the State of Israel.

The menorah emblem of the Jewish state with the inscription ישראל or Israel, introduces a new secure "Promised Land” bursting with plenty and riches. The female soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces celebrating with tambourines and rifles the triumph and endurance of the Jewish spirit, remind us of Miriam and her company in Window Two. The open book proclaims to the world the Hebrew sentence

בני חורין נשאר

“We shall remain free people” is a beautiful summary of the arduous yet triumphant journey of our people throughout the millennia.

Gift of Lillian Ginsberg, wife, and Family, in memory of David Ginsberg
Jack Tutun in memory of Esther Tutun
Gertrude & Maurice Blauer

The descriptions here were taken from a booklet that was written ten years after the windows were installed. The booklet was dedicated to Harold Ponn and Irving Gerber. The Editorial Commitee for the booklet was Irving Gerber, Balbina Usefoff, Theodore Wayne, Stephen S. Winter. The stained glass windows were designed by Lyn Hovey and executed by Lyn Hovey Studios, Boston, Massachusetts.

rainbow hands

Contact Info

Beth El Temple Center
2 Concord Ave
Belmont, MA 02478
(617) 484-6668
[email protected]