By: Sol Blumenfeld  | 

From the Commie Archives (December 30, 1948; Volume 28, Issue 5) — On the Sidelines: Dreidel Season Revives Story Of Itz And Reb

Editor’s Note: In honor of Chanukah which was celebrated this past week, The Commentator chose to publish an archive that tells a charming story of a student, his rebbe and a thrilling round of dreidel. 

Personally I prefer lead dreidlich. You don't get much of a game from the common wooden variety. They just can't match up to their lead counterparts when it comes to stamina and suspense. My old school and extra-curricular chum, Itzie who now can be found loitering in front of Goldman's Drug store, his pockets stuffed with pari-mutual tickets, had a beauty of a spinner. It was a precision instrument balanced to a ‘T’ and when it started spinning it didn't stop till Mincha the last day of Chanukah. Itzie would set it rotating on the table, pull up an orange crate, and start a game of 'go-fish' on the side. Since Itz's honesty was highly esteemed, the gang usually joined the circle and didn't break up until their auditory senses perceived a leaden thud on the table. The stakes weren't too high—usually a pile of comic books, the most valuable being Superman, followed closely by Batman, Buck Rogers, and Mutt and Jeff, in that order. Little Orphan Annie was only used in an emergency.

Well, during the public school vacation all the fellows were warned by their parents to be present at Yeshiva at 11:00 A.M. in the morning. The third day of Chanukah, Itzie organized a football game, and consequently we were a half-hour late to Chumash. We sneaked through the cellar door and took our seats in the rear of the room, while the teacher, who had most certainly noticed our disheveled clothes and bruised anatomies, continued with his usual zeal and enthusiasm. He was in the midst of Bereshith talking about the creation of Adam. Itzie, who had already reached a stage of Sabbath, threw a spitball at his bosom buddy, Boruch, and pointed to his dreidel. Boruch's face lighted up, and when he had inched back to the moshav letzim, a dreidel session was immediately initiated. The teacher, whom we called Reb, was in the midst of cosmological expatiation when a hearty leaden thud was heard from the rear of the cheder. Immediately Reb turned to Itzie and told him to surrender his toys to the higher authorities, namely himself. Itzie produced a penknife, top, yo-yo, and at the end fished out his dreidel, the source of this catastrophe. The Reb deposited this beautiful instrument on his desk and before continuing with Adam asked that Itz keep him company after class. 

His buddies had abandoned the room for the relative safety of the roof from which they could peer through the window at the posicurricular spectacle. They saw ltzie, quiet as a mouse, cowering in the corner. The young teacher, who had a large beard and lean expression, took the lead dreidel in his hands, weighed it, and tossing it in the air a few times walked over to the quiet Itz. 

"Look here Reb Itzok," he said, "I should tell your father or punish you in some way or other, but I have got a proposition." 

Itz, a little wary, answered in his usually brilliant manner, "Yeah?" 

"Yes—I’m going to have you a game of dreidel"—the pedagogue adjusted his yarmelke--"and every time you lose you must memorize another sentence of Bereshith." 

This was right up ltz's alley, so gasping a sigh of relief, mingled with pleasure, he nearly shouted, "Sure." 

So the game began. Itz, the terror of the Clinton Hill section, rubbed his hands and started twirling. He was no match for the Reb, however, who with an expert, seemingly experienced touch, invariably hit the right combination every time. When the Reb stood up signifying the completion of the encounter, Itz was obligated to memorize the whole sedra of Bereshith with Rashi. Like the great sportsman Itz was, he went out and fulfilled his obligations. 

Now Itz is a big bookie. He has sharp clothes, sharp talk, and the sharpest friends. He isn't sincere, isn't honest, and isn't happy. Perhaps his greatest fault, or in his racket, virtue, is inconsistency. Yet every time I pop into Goldman's Drug Store for an afternoon ice-cream soda, Itz constantly orders the same, pulls up a chair, slams me on the shoulder, and recites the sedra of Bereshith, pausing here and there for commentary. He constantly tells me that the Bereshith deal is the best wager he ever made. When our old buddy, Boruch, strolls into the store puffing on the White Owl, Itzie again slams me on the shoulder, and leaves me quite alone except for the questionably pleasant company of a 50-cent check. Nevertheless, it's always pleasant to see Itz, the Clinton Hill terror. 

Chanukah is coming to town, and once again the dreidel is the sign of the times. True, there aren't many lead dreidlich, but a wooden one will do in a pinch. Itz once told me that dreidel fans need more organization. After five years at Yeshiva I am inclined to agree with him. What we desperately want is an intramural dreidel league, which would put this ideal winter sport on a high level of competition. The first step is the signing of petitions in our classes. This will convince the "anti-dreidlichers" that we mean business. Next a faculty-advisor should be appointed to supervise games and prevent unwholesome sidelines. Having done this, the dreidel league will be launched with a faculty-all-star game. 

Anyway, if someone comes across a good lead dreidel let me know.