Genesis in Glass
In 1967, West Suburban Temple Har Zion commissioned American artist William Gropper to design a series of five glass windows along the east wall of Gottlieb Community Hall.
The windows are notable not just for their beauty, but for Gropper’s creative approach. Rather than using conventional stained glass techniques, the vibrant panels are made of one-inch thick chunks of brilliantly colored glass, which were cut to shape and chipped or faceted on the surface.
The resulting effect is as striking as it is illusory. The synagogue is proud to present a celebration of these vibrant works of art, which represent some of the most familiar stories of Genesis, from right to left in the photograph above.
The Window Stories
- The top section of the window depicts the biblical verse, “Let there be light.”
- The Tree of Life represents the good world with plants, fruit, seeds, birds, eggs, animals, reptiles, fish, water, and Adam and Eve.
- The window’s base depicts the Sabbath as a day of rest and prayer.
- This Window illustrates the turmoil and evil that came into the world after Creation.
- The streak of lightening breaks down into the panels simultaneously with a representation of Cain slaying Abel and men destroying themselves.
- The Flood comes upon the world, and one righteous man, Noah, builds the Ark and saves civilization.
- At the base of the window a brilliant dove and olive branch symbolize hope and peace.
- Abraham is commanded by God to look toward heaven and count the stars. He is promised that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars.
- The design is a flowing continuity of stars woven into seeds coming through the darkness of the night.
- The birth of Isaac, depicted by a big, bright star within a circle, was a great day of rejoicing for all humanity.
- Abraham’s supreme test is the commandment to sacrifice Isaac.
- An Angel of God intervenes at the last moment.
- Near the bottom of the window, one can see the ram that miraculously appears in the thicket, enabling Abraham to avoid tragedy.
- The design, showing more stars, seed and flowers, re-affirms God’s promise to Abraham that he will be the founder of a great nation.
- The upper section depicts Jacob’s dream of a ladder with angels ascending and descending.
- A furious Esau stands over Jacob with an upraised hand.
- The lower portion shows Jacob prospering in Laban’s home. He leaves, and in the loneliness of the night extracts a blessing from the angel.
- In the base of the window, we find that this blessing earns Jacob the name, Israel.
- Joseph dreams of the stars and the moon bowing to him and the sheaves paying homage to his sheaf.
- The middle section depicts the dreams of Pharaoh, his butler and baker.
- After interpreting these dreams, Joseph becomes viceroy to Pharaoh.
- The Tree of Life, which is filled with good things in the first window, now bears fruit, symbolizing the Twelve Tribes of Israel.