The task fell to Daniel Gittleson this year of brainstorming concepts for his synagogue’s public menorah, the ceremonial, eight-branched candelabra that Jews use to celebrate Hanukkah.
The Chabad synagogue in Olney, Md., of which Gittleson is a member has a tradition of constructing a large themed menorah each year and lighting it beside a community Christmas tree in one of the Montgomery County town’s main shopping centers. And in 2018, there was an obvious choice for the motif: the Washington Capitals capturing the Stanley Cup.
“When the Caps were on their Stanley Cup run last season, I was sitting around thinking about what are we going to do for a menorah. And right away, I thought: ‘That’s it. That’s the one,’ ” Gittleson said.
“This doesn’t happen all the time,” Rabbi Bentzy Stolik added. “This is special for Washington.”
Nearly six months after the Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights to end the franchise’s 44-year championship drought, the menorah is just the latest recognition of Washington’s title.
During the Cup run, Lovettsville, Va., changed its name to Capitalsville. The National Portrait Gallery installed red floodlights on its steps so fans could revel in Capitals victories. Fans adopted a host of in-home and in-arena superstitions.
And as the Capitals mount their title defense (entering Friday’s game against visiting New Jersey, they had won six straight), the team is finding ways to give back to the fans that celebrated the championship. The front office donated 35 player-used hockey sticks and 50 pucks to help Chabad build the menorah.
“They came on board to support exactly what we could have imagined,” Stolik said. “The only thing we’re not getting is the actual Stanley Cup.”
Gittleson made sure Lars Eller’s stick was the “shamash,” or center candle, used to light the other eight.
“He had the game-winning goal [in the decisive Game 5],” he said. “It only seemed right.”
Hanukkah begins Sunday evening and ends the evening of Dec. 10. Jews celebrate by lighting one candle of the menorah each night for eight nights until, on the final night, the entire menorah is lit.
Former Capitals player Peter Bondra and mascot Slapshot will join Chabad at the Fair Hill shopping center in Olney at 4:30 p.m. Sunday to light the first candle. Stolik said he expects more people to attend this menorah-lighting than in years past as a show of support after a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October killed 11 worshipers.
“Taking the menorah out and celebrating our pride and our tradition, it’s about more than tolerance,” he said. “It’s about saying: ‘We don’t buckle down. We’re happy with who we are and what we celebrate.’ The whole story of Hanukkah is about a minority fighting against a regime that wanted to restrict religious freedom. It’s a universal message.”