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Spinning to Set a Record Fills Room With Ruach
Chanukah may be over, but the dreidel counting continues.
An official at the Guinness Book of World Records said it will take weeks to verfy whether a massive group of Conservative movement teens succeeded in their attempt to set a new dreidel-spinning record.
Last week, the buzz of more than 800 students at the annual United Synagogue Youth international convention in a huge Center City hotel ballroom quieted as the lights dimmed.
On a screen at the front of the room, words scrolled across a black galaxy -- Star Wars-style.
Currently, the screen read, the world record for largest number of dreidels spun simultaneously is 541, set by Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, N.J., in 2005. Many other groups have attempted to break that record, the video continued, but none have been officially deemed successful, "... until today!"
The teens roared, pounding tables and standing up to pump fists in the air. They counted down with the video: 3, 2, 1 ...
Hundreds of colorful plastic dreidels clattered onto the tables. Each had to spin for a full 10 seconds to count toward the record. It was up to the students to be honest when tallying how many dreidels had made it, organizers said, reminding them that ethics was this year's conference theme.
Per Guinness requirements, USY enlisted an impartial crew of hotel staff and chaperone "judges" to record the results.
"Oh yeah, it's my job to make this meeting go as smoothly as possible," joked one Marriott employee, his suit and tie incongruous among the sea of sweatshirts and jeans, a few kids with face paint and balloon hats after volunteering as clowns at a hospital.
While the judges tallied another round, the video segued into "I Have a Little Dreidel," many of the teenagers joining in the song even as they were text messaging.
"I always had a dream of being part of a world record," said David Katz, a senior at Lower Merion High School. The place where he gets his hair cut always has the latest edition of the Guinness Book in the waiting area, the 18-year-old said, so he'd look through it every time he was there. And, he said, not only does he love spinning dreidels, "I'm really good at it."
Convention director Karen Stein, also the New York-based assistant director for USY, said she had to petition Guinness months in advance to have their spin-off considered, but staff kept the event under wraps so other Jewish groups wouldn't steal their thunder.
According to the most recent tabulations, the USY group topped the record with 687 dreidels spinning at once, though that won't be official unless Guiness signs off.
While the dreidel diversion generated the most media attention, it represented just a fraction of the activities comprising the multi-day conference, which is held in a different location each year.
High school students from across Canada and the United States, including 63 from the Philadelphia and South Jersey region, attended the 61st annual event.
"I just like the ruach that 900 Jewish kids can make," said 16-year-old Josh Perloff, a sophomore at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. "It's an experience."