A 14-foot-tall menorah inspired by Lego stands in front of the Ohev Sholom synagogue on 16th Street NW. Shmuel Herzfeld, the rabbi at Ohev Sholom, thinks Hanukkah should be fun. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Columnist

That can’t possibly be a gigantic menorah made out of Legos in front of the Ohev Sholom synagogue on 16th Street NW, can it?

Yup, that is definitely a gigantic menorah made out of Legos.

“It just hit me one night,” said Shmuel Herzfeld, rabbi of the Orthodox Jewish congregation at 16th and Jonquil streets in upper Northwest. “This year, we’re going to build a menorah out of Lego.”

God has blessed Rabbi Herzfeld, 41, with seven children. They love Legos. God also blessed him with a tummler’s sense of humor. Around Passover, Herzfeld is known to wear a suit made from a matzoh-patterned fabric. It made perfect sense to him to build a Lego menorah.

Using actual Legos was problematic. But then Herzfeld found a New York-based company called EverBlock that makes a modular building system that resembles huge Lego bricks. He called the president of the company, Arnon Rosan, and explained what he wanted to do.

“I don’t believe there’s ever anything wrong with bringing a smile to people,” Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld said. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

“He said, ‘I’m Jewish, too!’ ” Herzfeld said.

The result is a 14-foot-tall menorah in a zigzagging blue-and-white pattern, topped with nine working LED “candles” that will start being lighted Dec. 6, the first day of Hanukkah.

The synagogue is also selling a miniature DIY Lego version of the menorah for $36.

But Rabbi, I have to ask: Mightn’t some people think a Lego-inspired menorah is a little sacrilegious?

“I don’t believe there’s ever anything wrong with bringing a smile to people,” he said. While religion is “very serious and meaningful, it’s also our job to give people joy in the world.”

Herzfeld isn’t worried what people think about his menorah.

“I see so much faith as a source of pain these days,” he said. “It tears me up. In my life, faith is nourishment, hope and inspiration. It’s comfort, not that other thing.”

The message of Hanukkah, he said, is to spread the light. Or, as “The Lego Movie” might put it: Hanukkah is awesome.

Take a knee

To everything there is a season. I did not know this, but apparently we’re in engagement season. This is the time of year when young couples are supposed to get engaged, ensuring that holiday gatherings are filled with warm wishes (if your family approves of the union) or dark forebodings (if it doesn’t).

I’m not a fan of the engagement industrial complex, which dictates that you must fork over for an expensive diamond ring and engagement photo shoot. It isn’t good enough to just tell your friends about the moment he (or she) popped the question. It must be captured by a professional photographer employing a fleet of camera drones shooting high-definition video.

That’s what made the scene I saw Saturday so lovely. The Kelly family was driving across Memorial Bridge, returning from our North Carolina Thanksgiving. About 4 p.m., just as we were halfway over the bridge, I saw on the upriver side a man on the sidewalk rising from a crouch. A young woman next to him appeared to be crying, but they were happy tears. The man was laughing, looking relieved.

There was no one else near them. No photographer. No friends. Just the couple, who soon wrapped each other in an embrace.

Had we witnessed an engagement? I sure hope so. I hope she wasn’t just happy that he had found her lost earring.

Art attack

The name of the inaugural exhibit at the newly restored Renwick Gallery is “Wonder,” as in “I wonder what happened to all the stuff I used to like seeing at the Renwick?”

The (small) collection of (big) artworks that make up the new exhibit is eye-catching. And wondrous. But I miss “Ghost Clock,” the amazing trompe l’oeil carving by Wendell Castle. I miss Hiram Powers’s “Greek Slave.” (The slub-filled 3-D printed version is a poor substitute.) And I miss the Victorian exuberance of the Grand Salon. Its rose-colored walls once featured dozens of paintings. I loved sitting on a plush banquette and gazing at “The Helping Hand,” a painting of an old man and a young girl in a rowboat. Sure, it was maudlin and cliched, but it was familiar, a fixed point over many years of visiting the gallery.

It must be hard to be a curator, torn between comforting people with the old and challenging them with the new.

Anyway, I’m curious about your favorite long-term Washington artworks. Are there paintings or sculptures, or specific rooms in galleries, that you return to again and again? If so, why?

Send them to me, with “Old Masters” in the subject line.

Helping Hand

Please consider making a donation to one of The Washington Post Helping Hand charities. Each tries to help end homelessness in our area. Community of Hope works with District families. Sasha Bruce Youthwork works with teens and young adults. Homestretch works with families in Northern Virginia. For more information, visit posthelpinghand.com.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.