Two years ago, Columbia resident Jacob Hains made an offer to the rabbi of the synagogue he attends. The rabbi, Hillel Baron, was trying to find a home for his small Columbia Torah Minyan congregation.

"I told the rabbi, 'You get a new building; I'll make you stained glass windows,' " Hains recalls.

The rabbi got the building. And Hains got perhaps more than he bargained for: a request for 12 stained glass windows, representing each of the tribes of ancient Israel.

"I figured I'd make a couple windows," the 77-year-old craftsman said with a smile.

Far from it. The rabbi and architect Robert Tennenbaum, a congregation member, came up with the idea of a set of stained glass windows depicting the 12 tribes. The two men researched stories from the Bible and Jewish religious writings to find the sometimes mysterious symbols depicted on the windows. They left the rest to Hains -- with remarkable results.

He worked on the project for eight months, painstakingly cutting, grinding, painting and soldering glass at the kitchen table in his apartment for up to 10 hours a day. His efforts paid off. The Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education, as Baron's combination synagogue and school, is called, is based -- incongruously enough -- in a ranch-style house off Old Columbia Road. The stained glass windows transform the tiled foyer into a shrine of Judaism. Light filtering through the windows bathes the floor in radiant hues of red, green, yellow and blue. The symbols and names of the different tribes, inscribed in English and Hebrew, evoke the heroic struggles of the Old Testament Israelites.

A window inscribed with the name Gad depicts purple and red tents with banners flying. The tribe of Gad, Hains said, was responsible for setting up the tents as the Israelites traveled and for bringing up the rear when the tribes traveled. The window for the tribe of Judah is decorated with a lion, symbolizing the tribe's ferociousness in battle.

"When Jack does something, he doesn't do it halfway," Hains's wife, Irma, said proudly.

A retired U.S. customs inspector, Jacob Hains learned the art of making stained glass a scant two years ago.

After retiring in 1983, he practiced woodworking for a while until a mishap nearly cost him several fingers. His wife, Hains said, then made him drop that hobby. He later took several courses at Meredith Stained Glass in Laurel and was hooked.

"I took to it like a duck takes to water," he said.

Hains's other works mirror his enthusiasm. The couple's apartment is graced by two exquisite stained glass Tiffany lamps crafted by Hains.

The 1920s-era lamps each contain 513 different pieces of glass in various colors. He is now working on a ner tamid, or eternal light, for the arc at Columbia Torah Minyan.

Her husband's total absorption in a project can be trying sometimes, Irma Hains said with amusement. He co-opted her kitchen while working on the stained glass windows, she said, sometimes laboring into the early morning hours.

Once, she said, pointing to a nearby table, "He didn't like the color of the end table. So he stripped it and worked on it in the living room for 3 1/2 months. I couldn't vacuum . . . . "