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The favorite team going into the final round, competing nearly two hours after the tournament began, comprised Aviva Grinnell, a 28-year-old resident of Brooklyn’s Park Slope, and Eric Pavony’s father, Howard Pavony — better known as, respectively, “Aviva Las Vegas” and “Virtual Dreidel.” The team was a runner-up last year, and Howard Pavony won a 2008 showdown with a spin-time of 15.4 seconds.
By this round, one spectator had established himself as a dreidel expert, leaning over the edge of the table, brow furrowed, and holding a “Spin/No Spin” sign that he used to indicate whether the move in question was a fair spin or a clunky, out-of-bounds toss. Pete Marinucci, a former Major League Dreidel judge, was still looked to for his unofficial comment on the referee’s ruling.
“I’m actually not Jewish,” Marinucci, 33, said later. He’s a Williamsburg local who became friends with Pavony through his Brewskee-Ball league. Marinucci said he loves the inclusiveness of the event, both culturally and competitively, and wishes he were Jewish “so I could have my turkey stuffed with latkes, and stuff like that” on this year of odd holiday timing.
The final showdown at hand had him rapt, scrutinizing every wobbly spin. The score was tight, and the last spin came down to Aviva Las Vegas and Virtual Dreidel’s opponents, who very nearly scored a walk-off spinny-dip. With the help of Marinucci’s sign, though, it was correctly ruled a “No Spin.” The crowd erupted in surprise, screaming as camera flashes added a strobe light to the victory dance party. Last year’s runners-up were going home with the gelt.
The competitors high-fived and hugged one another after a match hard fought. Pavony awarded Grinnell and his own father with the spoils of success: a Major League Dreidel T-shirt and a Spinagogue of their own. It’s Grinnell’s fourth year playing, a repeat appearance with Virtual Dreidel, and a satisfying victory after last year’s near-miss.
“There’s an amazing community here,” Grinnell said. “The first time I ever walked into this bar was four years ago, for this competition — and I’ve never stopped coming back.”
Jared T. Miller is a freelance journalist based in New York. He has written for Time, the New York Daily News and GlobalPost, among other publications.