A Whirl at Topping an Existing Record

For 10 full seconds, the social hall at the Congregations of Shaare Shamayim in Northeast Philadelphia fell silent, even though hundreds of people were in the midst of celebrating at an otherwise raucous Chanukah party. The hush from the crowd came as participants lay on the floor and leaned over tables, simultaneously spinning dreidels, hoping to break the world record for the greatest number of tops twirling at the same time.

The record was originally set last year by Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, N.J., with 541 dreidels spinning in unison for 10 seconds. Shaare Shamayim's final count at Sunday's event numbered 422, leaving the Temple Emanuel record intact.

"We surely felt it was a very successful Chanukah program," said the synagogue's executive director, Jacques Lurie. "Look for us to revisit this some time."

This was the third time Shaare Shamayim made headlines for attempting to break records in recent years. In 2002, the synagogue successfully baked the world's largest hamantashen, which measured 20 feet on each side. And in October 2005, Shaare Shamayim teamed up with Gratz College in Elkins Park to make up the largest amount of people — exactly 400 — blowing a shofar at same time.

Yolkut said that he's proud of the fact that so many people came together at a time when many synagogues in the area are closing.

"We've had some mergers with other congregations. They have brought their members and their vitality with them, so all in all, the state of our synagogue is in good shape at this point," he said.

'Really Cool'

While the participants spun their dreidels, 32-year-old Lisa Appel did some spinning of her own. A contortionist wearing an all-purple outfit with the four sides of a dreidel, Appel hung from fabric attached to the ceiling and spun herself around while the large group attempted to break the record.

"The contortionist was really cool," said 12-year-old Alex Neff. "Not many people could do that."

Yolkut kicked off the event by leading the candle-lighting prayer for the holiday's third night.

He also quizzed an energetic group of Hebrew-school students about the Maccabees and the historical recounting of Chanukah — giving out gelt as a prize for correct answers.

"They were getting candies, they were getting chocolates, they were singing, they were dancing and having a great time," attested Yolkut. "That was worth it, just to see those very bright faces when I was asking them questions about the holiday — they were really into it."

In preparation for the event, Lurie had to figure out which types of dreidels spun easiest, and would stay spinning for the full 10 seconds.

"We had a bunch of our children try a couple weeks ago," he said, "and we found that the standard little dreidels did just fine."

Synagogue members Howard and Bonnie Rosen of Northeast Philadelphia joined the party because they thought it would be enjoyable for their 9-year-old, Rachel, and 6-year-old, Gil. "My son's running around and dancing," said the children's father. "They're eating; they're having a great time. They love Chanukah."