It takes 735 people simultaneously spinning a similar number of dreidels to beat the current Guinness World Record.
The Eastern Long Island Jewish Alliance (ELIJA) hopes Long Island residents will rise to the challenge and break the record of 734 set last December in Tel Aviv.
So Alliance officials would like at least 735 people to turn out Dec. 13 in Commack to spin dreidels at its Dreidel Palooza, a family fun day it is hosting. Each dreidel must be kept spinning for the required 10 seconds.
A dreidel is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side. It is used in a children’s game played during Hanukkah, the eight-day celebration also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights that this year is being observed Dec. 6-14.
There’s a larger purpose behind the planned dreidel spinoff. The Alliance — a group including clergy and members of temples and Jewish organizations that was established 18 months ago to bring Suffolk County’s Jewish community together — has organized the family fun day to reach out especially to Jewish millennials and ignite or reignite their passion for Judaism. It is funded by the UJA Federation.
“The group wants to strengthen relations within the Jewish community by addressing the decline in membership at synagogues and temples among families and young people, particularly millennials 18 to 34,” said Rabbi Steven Moss of B’nai Israel in Oakdale.
Moss is co-founder of the Alliance with Matthew Kreinces, president of the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack and a board member of the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Council.
“Millennials are the future of the Jewish community, but they seem to not want to be tied down to any institutions,” Moss said. “We’re now living in an era of selfies, smartphones and the Internet; you’re connecting with people online without meeting those people. There’s no community. A community is an extended family that cares for you.”
The free family fun day, Moss said, will “bring the segments of the Jewish community together for celebration and unity, from Orthodox to Reform to Conservative, secular and unaffiliated; every member of the Jewish community, and friends of the Jewish community, too.”
Rob Greenberger is executive director of the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center, an Alliance affiliate and host of the dreidel spinoff.
“Our hope is to have hundreds of folk from ELIJA and other organizations take part and have fun,” Greenberger said. “Because the county is so large, this is a way we can bring children and babies together with seniors and some of the millennial folk to encourage them to become a little more engaged; learn what it means to be part of the Jewish community, and help them foster a sense of belonging. We feel that’s very important.”
Greenberger said there are 75 temples and other Jewish organizations in Suffolk, and that the county is home to about 28,500 Jewish households. There are about 325,000 Jews in Nassau and Suffolk.
In recent years, surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center have indicated a gradual decline in religious commitment among the U.S. public as a whole as Americans say religion is losing its influence. Sixty-two percent of Jews polled said being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture.
One-third of adults under 30 were religiously unafilliated as of 2012. According to a 2013 nationwide study by Pew, 1 in 5 Jews (22 percent) described themselves as having no religion. The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2 percent.
The number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion appears to be rising and is now about 5 percent of the U.S. adult population, which totals more than 322 million people.
Moss and other members of the Alliance hope the dreidel spinoff will help combat those statistics. “One of the challenges in today’s world is to find programs that will appeal particularly to young people, exciting programs that will bring them together, such as the dreidel spinning,” he said.
Children and adults can participate, and free pizza, soft drinks and jelly beans will be available. The event will also feature games and music.
“And there’ll be folk there to assist people to get on our mailing list for the Y as well as ELIJA,” Greenberger said.
Hannah Wagner, 23, of Huntington, a graduate student at Hofstra University in Hempstead, is planning to participate in the spinoff. “When a bunch of Jews get together you’re friends instantly; we have the same values,” she said. As a millennial, Wagner said she also understands the challenges facing the culture, agreeing that many in her age group have strayed from their Jewish roots.
“I was raised Conservative,” Wagner said. “When I was a kid, my brother and I would go to temple a lot with my family. As we grew older we would go less frequently. There are not that many people my age anymore going to temple.”
Wagner said she was more preoccupied with seeing friends. “In school you have youth clubs you can join; I was in Chabad [an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement] when I was in college, but after college there was nothing for me to participate in.”
The Alliance seeks to foster a sense of community for Wagner and others. It has been doing so with menorah lightings at senior centers, a paint party and a comedy night, among other activities.
“We know this cohort is coming home from college not quite sure whether they’re going to be able to stay on the Island, find jobs and affordable housing,” Greenberger said. “Perhaps the Jewish community can help them achieve some of those goals and help them through these anxiety years.
“College is very important to prepare you for the next step,” Greenberger added, “but it is the community as a whole that’s going to prepare you for life.”