This was one for the record books -- the record book, actually, as Cherry Hill, N.J., shul Temple Sinai fought to reclaim its bragging rights from the University of Maryland. The coveted title? The Guinness World Record for most dreidels spun.
The shul claimed the title in 2005 with 541 dreidels (the certificate is framed near the building's entrance) and held it the following year. But Maryland pulled off 603 dreidels in 2007, and last Sunday, the South Jersey shul fought back to reclaim what it believes is its rightful record.
The mood before the first spin was tense, but upbeat."I think we'll get it, but they had the floor filled last time," said Lisa Stanwyck of Cherry Hill, referring to the floor of the synagogue's social hall, where many children were camped out taking practice spins.
While some participants used their own dreidels, most opted for those provided by the synagogue -- shorter, wider tops made just for the occasion, emblazoned not only with the traditional dreidel's Hebrew lettering, but also with the words "Temple Emanuel Dreidel Spin 2008."
The rules were simple. They would be looking for the best out of four attempts; in order to be eligible, each dreidel had to spin for 10 seconds (the wider, lower dreidels had an easier time reaching 10 seconds without falling over). A cheer erupted each time the 10 second mark was called, and those who'd succeeded placed a white sticker on a blue piece of paper to mark the feat. To keep things fair, a trio of judges roamed the area -- though matters largely operated on an honor system, since three people could hardly monitor every one of the hundreds of attendees.
All participants were required to sign in, and those registration rolls, along with the pages marking successful spins, were slated to be sent to Guinness as proof of the record.
While it's fun to spin for the record, Judy Weinstein noted that the afternoon was also an important communal event.
"The spirit is important," she said. "We're here to provide solidarity and support for our synagogue, but it's nice if we get [the record]. And it's a nice thing for the families."
The spin also had a special meaning for Rabbi Jerome David, who's been amassing dreidels for nearly 25 years and now has about 800 of them in his collection.
David, whose navy-blue tie was festooned with dreidels, cited the "energy, excitement and enthusiasm" in the community, not just for the spin, but for the upcoming holiday.
"The dreidel is actually seen as more of a fun symbol of Chanukah, but it comes with a powerful message," he said.
The deeper meaning of the day, he added, "is that Jewish learning, on the one hand, should be enjoyable and fun, while keeping an eye on the message."
Even a few non-Jewish participants got in on the action, including 13-year-old Lydia Huber, who tagged along with friend Diana Faye, also 13.
It was either spinning dreidels or baking Christmas cookies at home with mom, said Huber. "I had nothing else going on today, so why not?"
Faye was also there in 2005 when the shul first claimed its record, and she said that it was obvious after losing it that the synagogue would have to try to reclaim its prize.
"It was pretty amazing when we got the record, but when we lost it, everybody said, 'Oh, we've got to get it back,' " she recalled.
In the end, all the positive energy in the world couldn't make up for a lack of bodies.
According to Rabbi Deborah Cohen, 491 people showed up to spin this time around -- a full 50 fewer than when the shul claimed the record in 2005, and more than 100 fewer than they needed to reclaim the record.
Nevertheless, Cohen wasn't discouraged. "We had a lot of fun, and there's a lot of enthusiasm to do it again in the future," she said.
Still No. 1!
In the end, Temple Emanuel may have merely been competing against itself. The official word from the press office at Guinness World Records is that the synagogue still holds the world record from 2005, and any attempts at besting that title have not been verified by the organization.
That's news to the shul.
"I think people are going to be very excited by that," said membership and program director Alex Grumbacher. "The fact that we didn't break it this time, but that we still have it is tremendous for the synagogue. ... It really builds our congregation's spirit in a unique way."