Hanukkah may officially last eight days, but for collectors and makers of the dreidel (spinning top), every day is Hanukkah.
Eran Grebler, a second-generation ceramicist and student of Hedwig Grassman Lehman, runs a Judaica gallery in Tel Aviv’s Sarona complex called the Draydel House. He’s got some 800 handmade dreidels on display and encourages visitors to the gallery to have a spin.
Dreidel is a Yiddish word derived from drei – to turn or spin. In Hebrew, the toy is called a sevivon.
The Hanukkah practice of spinning these tops is a remembrance of when the Syrian-Greek conquerors in the second century BCE forbade Jews to learn Torah. According to tradition, kids used to meet up in secret to study the Jewish text, but if a Greek soldier happened upon their meeting they would pretend to be gambling with their dreidels.
Grebler has been crafting dreidels and other Judaica for more than 30 years. He likes to break from tradition when it comes to the size and shape of his spinning tops and you can find dreidels in the shapes of helicopters, elephant heads, cat-and-mouse characters, as well as Stars of David, circles and more. He even has a chess set made of spinning tops!
Some of the dreidels in the gallery feature the traditional four Hebrew letters associated with dreidels: In Israel, the letters are Nun, Gimel, Hay and Peh; for Jews who celebrate the holiday abroad, they’re Nun, Gimel, Hay, Shin. The letters stand for the Hebrew phrase “A great miracle happened here [for those in Israel]/there [for those outside of Israel].”
But Grebler also creates dreidels with Hebrew sayings – Sayings that Women Like to Hear, Guilt-Ridden Sayings, Ideas for a Day Out — and even menu ideas.
Grebler says he’s the only one in the world who makes a living from Hanukkah dreidels year round. The gallery is open every day from 10 to 10; until 3pm on Fridays.
“At first I designed all types of Judaic art, hanukkiyahs, Seder plates and mezuzah covers. But then I got bitten by the dreidel bug. It fascinates me until today. My favorite thing is to come to the studio early in the morning and create a new kind of dreidel,” says Grebler.
And while Grebler creates new dreidels all the time, for collectors like Israeli author/politician Avraham Burg, there’s no such thing as too many of these Hanukkah game pieces.
Burg is said to have the largest dreidel collection in the world, numbering more than 3,500.
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