About 400 people set dreidels spinning simultaneously at the Dreidel Palooza on Sunday night in Commack — an effort that failed to set a Guinness world record, but succeeded in bringing people of all ages together to celebrate their Jewish faith and community.
The Eastern Long Island Jewish Alliance — also known as ELIJA — organized the event at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center. The official dreidel spin tally won’t be available until sometime Monday, but officials acknowledged they didn’t beat the record set last December in Tel Aviv, when 734 people simultaneously spun the four-sided tops with Hebrew letters on each side.
“The more important thing was that the community came together,” said Rob Greenberger, executive director of the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center. “The goals we accomplished tonight far exceed any record.”
Chanting “Go dreidel, go!” and singing “The Dreidel Song,” those in attendance watched and laughed as the hundreds of dreidels, which children play with during Hanukkah, simultaneously danced across the floor.
That was the core goal of the event, said Rabbi Steven Moss, 67, of B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale. He said holding an event centered around the dreidel was a way to attract younger Jews and nonaffiliated Jewish families and to unite the community around an event.
“Events like this create a certain amount of energy and enthusiasm, which the Jewish community here in Suffolk needs so desperately,” Moss said. “We need a real shot in the arm. Unfortunately, we’re going through challenging times, with a decreasing Jewish population and decreasing affiliation in Jewish organizations.”
According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, religious commitment has declined among Americans as a whole, with 62 percent of Jews polled saying that being Jewish was primarily about their ancestry and culture.
Mark and Sheri Schweitzer, of Setauket, brought their two children to the event after hearing about it from another community group, Long Island-based Jewish Without Walls. They said it’s important for them to connect with different Jewish organizations on Long Island and Sunday’s event seemed like a good opportunity.
“It’s a very spiritual, fun event,” Mark Schweitzer said. “You get to share the Hanukkah time with other people, just to see the happiness and the joy that you see coming in. Everybody’s having a good time.”
The couple said they liked that their children, Brandon, 10, and Rebecca, 6, got to see that people of all ages were participating in the event and celebrating their faith.
“I like that everybody came together as a community to spin dreidels,” Brandon Schweitzer said. “Not a lot of people do that. . . . It’s kind of a tradition now, [in my family] since a few years back when I was five.”
Moss, also a co-founder of ELIJA and board member of the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Council, said he was happy with the event’s turnout, and its ability to attract kids, adults and seniors.
“It gives me hope in the Jewish community of Suffolk County,” he said.