By Jacob Gurvis
When the New York Giants and Washington Commanders face off on “Sunday Night Football” this weekend, there will be two extra lights inside the stadium.
Sunday is the first night of Chanukah, and for the first time ever, the National Football League’s marquee game will feature a menorah lighting.
Organized by Chabad’s teen network, CTeen International, and Chabad of Maryland, the lighting will take place after the game’s first quarter in Washington. It will be displayed on FedExField’s jumbotrons; it is not clear whether the NBC broadcast will show the lighting on television.
According to Chabad, East Coast chapters of the teen movement will attend the game, while local rabbis will lead a menorah parade and tailgate party outside the stadium, where they’ll distribute menorahs, latkes and sufganiyot, or Chanukah doughnuts, to Jewish fans.
“With eighty thousand fans watching from the stands and upwards of eighteen million tuning in from home, the prime-time game’s first public menorah lighting spreads Hanukkah’s light at a time when popular culture reels from antisemitism,” Chabad said in a statement to the Jerusalem Post.
According to NBC data, “Sunday Night Football” has owned primetime’s top slot for 11 straight years, averaging 19.3 million viewers in 2021. FedExField, located just east of Washington, D.C., fits 82,000 fans.
“It’s a truly unprecedented opportunity to share the warmth and light of Chanukah,” Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky of CTeen International told the Post.
The public display comes at a time of increased antisemitism, including in the sports world.
Last month, an Australian Jewish teen was drafted into the country’s leading football league, only to face a barrage of online hate, while the antisemitism controversy surrounding Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving made headlines for much of the fall.
Neither the Giants nor the Commanders have any Jewish players — there are only a handful in the entire league. Washington owner Dan Snyder, who is under multiple investigations for alleged financial and sexual misconduct in his organization, is Jewish and is a member of the Greater Washington Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He is considering selling the franchise.
John Mara, president and co-owner of the Giants, is not Jewish but has previously expressed frustration when his team’s schedule has overlapped with Jewish holidays. He voiced his displeasure earlier this season when the Giants played on Rosh Hashanah, saying, “We have always requested the league take the Jewish High Holy Days into consideration when formulating our schedule.” (Mara’s co-owner, decorated film producer and team chairman Steve Tisch, is Jewish.)
This weekend’s game holds extra importance on the field, too: The Giants and Commanders are currently tied in the standings and are both vying for a playoff spot.