About Us
Calendar and Events
Hebrew Cemetery  
Click here to visit Beth Ahabah Museum & Archives

Union for Reform Judaism
Click to enlargeStained Glass

A Brief History

The synagogue's ten major stained glass windows were installed on the lower level of the sanctuary between 1904 and 1947. Many commemorate important congregants and include such images as the Burning Bush, the Garden of Eden, and the House of the Lord. The first window to be installed, dedicated to the Reverend M.J. Michelbacher, depicts the Eternal Light and is situated closest to the left of the altar. Perhaps the most notable window is that on the building's east wall depicting Mount Sinai. Dedicated to Ellis and Barbette Mitteldorfer by their children, it was created and signed by the Louis C. Tiffany Studios in 1923. The 13 smaller stained glass windows on the second-story were added in 1963. Historically-speaking, little is known about the beautiful 35-pane window that adorns the sanctuary's dome.

Photo Gallery

Below you'll find photos of the main sanctuary's ten major stained glass windows. Inscriptions are located underneath each and you can click any of the photos to enlarge them. The windows are presented as they appear moving clockwise from the northeast corner of the sanctuary's lower level.
Click to enlarge
"And the spirit of God moved over the face of the waters"
Click to enlarge
"In loving memory of my dear parents Ellis and Barbette Mitteldorfer by their daughter"
Click to enlarge
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help"
Click to enlarge
"In memory of Levi Cohen—born Dec. 24th 1811, died Jany. 30th 1893—Rosetta Cohen—born July 15th, 1812, died June 20th 1898—erected by their children."
Click to enlarge
"To the memory of M.J. Michelbacher. The first minister of Congregation Beth Ahabah who served from 1846 to 1869 as its spiritual guide and the efficient teacher of the law of God. This window is erected by his pupils and disciples. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Psalm C XIX.vs.105."
Click to enlarge
"In memory of Rev. Dr. Abraham Harris. Born in Edinburg, Scotland, August 10th 1837. Died in the pulpit of this congregation while conducting services Saturday January 24th 1891. Erected by his friends who hold him in loving memory."
Click to enlarge
"In loving memory of Jacob May—died April 22nd 1895—and Hannah May—died Dec. 1st 1894—erected by their children."
Click to enlarge
"'—nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall not learn any more war.' - Isiah 11-4. 'The effect of righteousness is peace.' Commemorative of peace resulting from the World War. Donated by H.S. Binswanger."
Click to enlarge
"'I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.' In memory of Edward Nathan Calisch Rabbi of Beth Ahabah 1891-1946. Erected by his congregation."
Click to enlarge
"Wm. Thalhimer, born July 26, 1809. Died March 24 1883. Mary Thalhimer, born April 15, 1817. Died Jan. 6 1875. Erected in their sainted memories by their children."

Click to enlargeThe Mitteldorfer Window

The Mitteldorfer Window—How We Acquired It ~ February 1964
by Sam Cohen, former Chairman of Restoration Work to the Sanctuary

On the eastern wall of our Temple Sanctuary, appears one of our loveliest stained glass windows. It depicts Mount Sinai erupting at the very moment when God's presence became manifest to Moses. You can almost sense the drama and the pagentry of the greatest revelation in history . . . the granting of the Ten Commandments.

Inscribed on the base of the window appear these words, "In loving memory to my dear parents Ellis and Barbette Mitteldorfer, by their daughter."

Ellis Mitteldorfer was the son of Moses Mitteldorfer, one of the first presidents of our congregation. Barbette Mitteldorfer, we are informed, was the former Barbette Steffter.

The window is one of the few in our Temple that is constructed entirely out of pure glass with no painted panels. Each piece of glass had to be coordinated with every other piece to create the illusion of a mountain on fire.

Records indicate that the window was a contribution of Mrs. Fanny Mitteldorfer Schwab, who had a direct hand in its construction. She consulted with Dr. Calisch before the subject matter of the window was chosen and they both agreed that this dramatic moment in Israel's history should be portrayed in our sanctuary.
by Rabbi Jack D. Spiro
February 1964

As I write this column, I have before me a beautiful card—one of a set produced by our Archives—depicting Mount Sinai as Moses is about to receive the Torah for the Israelites. It is the most precious of all of our windows because it was actually designed by Louis C. Tiffany. I have enjoyed watching this window from the pulpit over the years. It never remains the same! As our postal card states, the colors "change with each passing hour." There is always something new to see in this window during our daytime services, which gives us a sense of continual renewal not only in the portrayal of Sinai itself but also in terms of what Sinai represents in Jewish tradition. It's as though Tiffany understood the meaning of Sinai in liberal Judaism.

Just as the hues vary through the months and seasons of the year, so does the meaning of the Torah, revealed on Sinai, through the centuries. MIlton Steinberg wrote that "the voice that sounded at Sinai was never silenced." It keeps speaking to us from generation to generation. And it speaks to us today as if we were actually there in the wilderness ourselves. We read in the Midrash that "the souls that were yet to be created were there." God's word is never static. It responds to the needs, aspirations, and conditions of every age and of every individual.

The Midrash also tells us that the Torah was given publicly in the wilderness, in "no-man's land," so that no one could say, "it is mine and mine alone." Anyone who wishes to accept and understand it is welcome to receive it. Thus it belongs to all Jews regardless of their "denomination" and way of interpreting it, as long as it is approached with sincerity and commitment. Beyond the Jewish people, the Torah and Sinai belong to all human beings who wish to live by its moral precepts.

Mrs. Schwab visited the studios of Louis C. Tiffany frequently while the window was under construction. Although Tiffany was one of the two greatest stained glass window designers in America, Mrs. Schwab still contributed several ideas. On one of her visits a piece of glass in the cloud formation seemed to resemble the head of a dog. She insisted that it be changed, and the window is more attractive today because of it.

The colors in the panels vary from the deepest blues and purples to almost pure white. These colors change with each passing hour, presenting an awesome spectacle to behold.

Mitteldorfer Window—Interesting Background ~ February 1964
by Sam Cohen, former Chairman of Restoration Work to the Sanctuary

During the renovation of our temple sanctuary [1963], the existing stained glass windows on the first floor were repaired and cleaned by the Studios of George L. Payne, Inc. In the course of this work, it was discovered that the window in memory of Ellis and Barbette MItteldorfer was a Tiffany window, signed in the lower right hand corner by its maker, Louis C. Tiffany.

In checking all of the other windows in the sanctuary, we found that this was the only window of its kind and we were advised that it is without a doubt the most valuable of all. Its original cost (estimated by Mr. George L. Payne) was probably in excess of $5,500.00.

The window is executed in a style of glass first manufactured in the Gay 90's era through the very early 1930's. At that time Louis Comfort Tiffany invented what was known as "Favrille" glass which was an embellished form of opalescent glass. He soon became wealthy by creating windows from this type of glass and set up his own furnaces on Long Island where the glass was made for his exclusive use.

Associated with Tiffany in his early days was George Payne, the grandfather of the present George Payne who installed our new stained glass windows this summer [1963]. The oldest Payne soon stopped concentrating on the "picture" type of work (Tiffany's field exclusively) and returned to the stained glass field, probably because he had his training in England where nothing but stained glass was used.*

All Tiffany windows were of the "picture" type and were made with two or three sandwiched layers of glass. Sometimes one of the layers was etched (color partially removed with acid) to get certain shaded effects. Tiffany also invented "drapery" glass. This was glass that was whipped into waves while in its molten state, resulting in varied thicknesses when soldified. It was used to simulate folds in drapery or garments in his picture windows.

It is impossible today to duplicate a Tiffany style window. His glass furnaces were dismantled when Tiffany Studios passed out of business in 1931. Thus all Tiffany windows become more valuable with age. In late 1929 their price was $100 a square foot. If the glass and the artists were available today [1964], the prices of the windows would be at least 2 1/2 times higher. We have been advised that should this window be destroyed, the glass could not be restored. However, the studios of George L. Payne, Inc., with a different type of glass, could attempt to simulate the design and effect with painted glass.

During its renovation this past Summer [1963], several layers of glass in the Tiffany window were peeled away to remove some of the excessive weight. The window had begun to sag and was in danger of collapsing altogether. However, doing this did not spoil the effect or the color, but only allowed additional light to come through to make it even more beautiful.

*A "stained glass" window is created by painting a scene on the surface of a single sheet of glass. The glass is then kiln fired to make the paint adhere. The result is then incorporated in the construction of the window.

A "painted" window is created through the use of glass that contains permanent color as part of the pigmentation of the glass itself. Pieces of this type of glass are then assembled to create a picture. This type is more difficult to create.

<< The Synagogue
All content Copyright ©2001-2006 Congregation Beth Ahabah.

Home · About Us · Worship · Education · Community · Calendar of Events
Membership · Contribute · Directions · Hebrew Cemetery · Museum & Archives
temple@bethahabah.org 1111 West Franklin Street Richmond, VA 23220-3700 804-358-6757 Congregation Beth Ahabah