‘Oh Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel’

A Favorite Holiday Pastime Takes Center Table

By Gary Shapiro

Published November 17, 2010, issue of November 26, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Mickey Langsfeld has a collection that will make your head spin. The retired dentist from Merion, Pa., has been collecting those lovable, four-sided Hanukkah toys that delight children and adults alike: dreidels.

Menorahs tend to get the lion’s share of attention during the Festival of Lights, which this year begins at sunset on December 1. So, it is heartening to see dreidels take center stage or, more aptly, center table.

“I have played dreidel forever,” said Langsfeld, whose 144-piece collection fills three display cases in his home den. Langsfeld, who began collecting in 1984, said that for the first 90 he collected, his criterion was merely that they had to spin.

His favorite dreidel has a split identity: It doubles as a spice box, as one of the lids contains a hinge that opens, allowing spices to fit inside for the Havdalah service.

One of his most enjoyable experiences with dreidels occurred while he was visiting a certain restaurant called Grumpy’s, in Union Dale, Pa., near the ski slopes on Elk Mountain. “The restaurant had great food, but slow service,” Langsfeld said. So his family would bring out a Planters Peanuts jar to play dreidel for peanuts as they waited for the food.

In fact, a common thread among collectors such as Langsfeld is that their childhood enjoyment of dreidels spurred their interest in collecting these Hanukkah tops in adulthood.

Langsfeld’s collection comes from diverse sources. Patients have given him some; others come from friends, such as Bradley Bleefeld, formerly a senior rabbi of Keneseth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Pennsylvania. The latter brought him a dreidel from Israel with a movable slot to show either the Hebrew letter shin or peh. (One letter is used in dreidels from the Diaspora to form an acronym standing for “A Great Miracle Happened There.” The alternate letter is used in Israeli dreidels to help form the acronym meaning “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”)

While some have wagered that the origin of dreidels lay in antiquity, these tops more likely arose much later in Europe as one of many “put and take” games called teetotums.

Another dreidel collector is Carol Breman Nemo, who divides her time between Atlanta and New York. “Every time I go to Israel, I try to collect at least one,” she said, adding that on her last trip she got one in Neve Tzedek, the artsy section of Tel Aviv. She has about 350 dreidels in her collection.

One of her favorite pieces is a large dreidel made of brass that depicts children. Another resembles Congregation Mickve Israel, in Savannah, Ga. “The dreidel looks like the building,” she said.

She has bequeathed her collection to the William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum, in Atlanta, named for her father, the major benefactor.

Toy inventor Daniel Singer is also an avid collector. But he does not collect dreidels per se: He collects images of dreidels. “It’s quite inexpensive,” Singer said, calling himself a “virtual collector.” Of the roughly 200 pictures he has amassed, his favorites include a dreidel that is essentially a golf ball with a handle.

About five years ago he teamed up with Bruce Kothmann, who happens to be an aeronautical engineer, to create a dreidel-inspired game called Staccabees. Singer said that he and Kothmann designed the game’s dreidel in such a way that it would spin well, but not too well, so that the game would move along.

Herman Berliner, Hofstra University’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, clocks in at 375 dreidels or more. What are his favorites? “I’m fickle,” he said, noting that his favorite changes whenever he does the once-a-year cleaning and polishing of his dreidels. “I’m still looking for the perfect dreidel,” he explained. He said that only twice has he bought a duplicate.

Because his parents fled Germany in 1938, he has been interested in pre-World War II German dreidels, of which he has six. Based on his experience of frequently looking for dreidels on eBay, he said he knows there are “serious collectors” of dreidels out there, a number of whom are expert at bidding online.

One time, he and his wife were admiring jade carvings in a shop in Hong Kong. Unbeknownst to Berliner, his wife asked the shop to create a jade dreidel, with which she later surprised him.

Individual collectors are not the only ones who cherish dreidels — Jewish Institutions do, too. Those at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies include a cast-metal dreidel from Bohemia; New York’s Yeshiva University Museum has dreidels from such contemporary artists as Ori Reshef. The Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica, at New York’s Temple Emanu-El, has two dreidels on display. Its collection includes one cast in brass, with very highly decorated Stars of David around each of the four letters.

Judith Schulz, who describes herself as both “director and janitor” of the Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum, in Burlington, Wis., has a number of dreidels within her collection, one of which stands at 4.25 inches high and is made of sterling silver.

The former owner of the company The Toycrafter, Don Olney of Rochester, N.Y., also has dreidels within his collection of 6,000 to 7,000 tops. He learned about dreidels when his Jewish customers started asking for them. “I was a good Baptist boy. I knew nothing from dreidels,” he said.

Olney has some dreidels made of crayon. He has some loaded tops, but the only loaded dreidels, he laughed, are ones with the same letter on all sides.

Gary Shapiro is a freelance writer living in New York.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.