Arlene Bridges Samuels
The Eclectic Evangelical @InEssentialsUnity

Chagall’s Art: Precursor to Christian & Jewish Unity for Israel’s Sake?

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Marc Chagall is one of my favorite artists. “The Green Violinist,” one of his prints, hangs in my home. On frequent trips to Israel staffing American Israel Education Foundation groups of Christian leaders, I always anticipated the moment we walked into the Knesset’s Chagall State Hall. There, his murals, tapestries, and mosaics greeted me with a feast of colors, symbolism, and inspiration. I never tired of seeing his exquisite work. It may seem odd, but when looking at his 12 different mosaics embedded in the State Hall’s floor, I always stepped around them as an act of personal respect.

I’m not an art aficionado but recently, I thoroughly enjoyed a lecture here in the US by author Vivian R. Jacobson who worked with Chagall the last decade of his 97 years. Listening to her then buying her book- SHARING CHAGALL, A MEMOIR- it occured to me that Chagall could be considered a forerunner in Christian and Jewish unity. Chagall, an icon of artistry, used the bible itself as a palette for many of his images.

Controversy was no stranger to Chagall’s art. While his blend of Old and New Testament images created controversy, the widely-held Jewish value of religious tolerance which Chagall embraced won the day. His use of one canvas to often intermingle paintings of biblical figures including Adam and Eve, Moses,Jacob, Ruth, Jesus, the cross, crucifixion, resurrection, Torah, Menorah, church steeples, and synagogues was transformative. Chagall’s painting and stained glass portrayals of Jewish and Christian themes together help lay a foundation for today. Chagall once said, “The symbolic figure of Christ was always very near to me…”

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With the alarming rise of antisemitism, Christian commitment to Israel is rising, almost exponentially since President Trump came into office. When I first became active in advocacy for Israel almost twenty years ago, suspicion and caution amongst many in the Jewish community still lingered. I understood and was not at all offended. After centuries of antisemitism coming from Constantine, the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Holocaust and too many other historic traumas,  plenty of evidence proved that most Christians were not to be trusted. Today, I am glad to say, times have changed.

“In our life there is a single color, as in an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.” Marc Chagall

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If I made a hard-copy list of every strong friendship, every Christian initiative, every Christian tour to Israel, every Christian organization and ministry dedicated to Israel’s well being, every Christian who advocates for Israel with US Congress, every positive post on social media, every donation to Operation Life Shield for fire trailers, and every prayer lifted up for Israel, the list would reach from Mount Hermon to Eilat and go north again! Like Chagall said, “It is the color of love.”

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Add to this, the official acceptance of Christians via Christian Friends of Yad Vashem, AIPAC’s inclusion of Christian activists and Christian Outreach Directors since 2007, and Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus. As a Christian Zionist I am grateful for PM Netanyahu’s statement which to me reflects the pinnacle of acceptance. Here’s what he said at the first Government Press Office’s Christian Media Summit in 2017, “Israel has no better friends — I mean that, no better friends in the world — than the Christian communities around the world.”

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In closing, Chagall’s 1938 painting called WHITE CRUCIFIXION, is especially meaningful to me. Unfortunately I couldn’t locate it in Getty Images, but it’s worth a Google! Chagall dressed Jesus in a Jewish way and used the tallit as our Jewish Savior’s loincloth. Why is this meaningful to me today? Christians like me who stand with Israel view Judaism as the cradle of our Christian faith. We recognize Jesus as a Jewish Rabbi and his Jewish disciples as those who not only wrote the New Testament but carried Jesus’ message of life to the then-known world. We owe the Jewish people and Israel a debt of gratitude. I’m thankful for Chagall’s clear portrayal of Jesus as Jewish.

As Chagall commented, …”the meaning of life and art… is the color of love.” And to our Israeli friends, we stand with you in “the color of love” which will grow more vivid as we fight antisemitism together!

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About the Author
For almost two decades, Arlene Bridges Samuels has held pioneering positions with Israel Always, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, (AIPAC) and International Christian Embassy Jerusalem's project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Traveling to Israel since 1990, she is now an author at the Times of Israel, contributor to The Christian Broadcast Network and speaker, consultant, and networker. Her articles have appeared in Philos Project, The Institute on Religion and Democracy, Southern Jewish Life, ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem, Mercy Ships, and Concerned Women for America. She shares her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook and is an active member of a small Anglican church. After attending Winthrop University in her home state of South Carolina, Arlene earned her Masters degree at the University of Alabama.
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