Oh Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel + 710 = A New Record

By Max Gross

Published December 12, 2003, issue of December 12, 2003.
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The University of Maryland suffered a bitter defeat this weekend — no matter how you spin it.

One of the student body’s proudest achievements was shattered in a crushing rout by a rival. It wasn’t a basketball or football championship game that they lost. It was the “Dreidel Cup.”

On Sunday, the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center at Indiana University broke the world record — previously held by Maryland — for the number of dreidels spun at once, when more than 500 students and members of the local community came out to spin 713 dreidels for 10 seconds.

A few weeks earlier, fliers shaped like dreidels began turning up all over the Indiana campus, inviting students on the 40,000-person campus to come to the school’s Alumni Hall and challenge Maryland’s record of 535 dreidels, set in 2000. Hundreds of students and hundreds more locals from Bloomington, Ind. — Jews and gentiles alike — turned out for the event, sitting together in rows on the floor. Rabbi Mira Wasserman was present as the resident dreidel expert, and affidavits were taken and sent to the Guinness Book of World Records in London after the event. The results have not yet been verified by Guinness.

What might have been most satisfying for Indiana students was the fact that the event gave them the chance to defeat Maryland, which had last bested Indiana in basketball two years ago in the NCAA tournament.

Andy Gitelson, Hillel program director at Indiana, said he did not feel at all sorry for Maryland. “I lived out [in Maryland] when I.U. and Maryland were playing their final [basketball] game, and I remember the punishment of being an I.U. fan.”

For their part, Maryland students were devastated when they heard last week that their three-year old record was in jeopardy. The Diamondback, Maryland’s student newspaper, announced on the front page of last Friday’s newspaper that Indiana would likely break their record. Even non-Jews at the 30,000-student campus in College Park, Md., were shocked and upset.

“I got a call from [one of the 2000 organizers] in a panic,” said Ari Israel, executive director of the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Hillel Center for Jewish Life at the University of Maryland. A plaque from Guinness marking the record set three years ago still hangs proudly on the wall at the center. Shortly after Maryland set the record, T-shirts were circulated around campus saying “World Record” on the front and “Most Dreidels Spinning/Maryland Hillel Center/Chanukah 5761” on the back.

Some of the Maryland faithful noted that Indiana’s dreidel-spinning event differed from theirs in one notable respect. “We didn’t have people come from outside the college like Indiana did,” said Ben Hoult, who graduated from Maryland in 2000 and participated in the school’s dreidel spin, with a hint of annoyance in his voice.

Israel has already begun getting e-mails and phone calls from students, alumni and even parents of students, demanding that Maryland mobilize to challenge Indiana. Some even offered to donate money to what one parent termed “the dreidel fund.”

“My brother goes to Indiana and is active in Hillel there,” Jay Diamond wrote to Israel in an e-mail. “He is starting to get on my nerves about the title they stole from us. How soon will it be before we get out title back?”

Alumni have offered to come back to campus for whatever event Maryland’s Hillel organizes. Hoult said “of course” he’d return. “I have to defend my title; I can’t let another university take it.”

Although Israel sent out cordial congratulations to Indiana in a press release, Israel also vowed to take back the “Dreidel Cup” record. Immediately after Indiana’s new record was announced, six members of Maryland’s Hillel formed an ad hoc committee to figure out a strategy to take back the Guinness title. “Our committee is working the Dreidel Cup,” Israel told the Forward. Israel said he envisions retaking the title either at Purim or Chanukah in 2004. “We’re going to be spinning 3,600 dreidels,” said Israel, “five times their record, to properly let them know where we stand, and that this is serious.”

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