A Hanukkah tradition, past and present
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it's not just made of clay. Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. . . . Wait, there's no rhyme that describes the 127 dreidels - made of all types of materials, in all manner of styles - that decorate collector Morton "Mickey" Langsfeld's Abington Township home.
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it's not just made of clay. Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. . . .
Wait, there's no rhyme that describes the 127 dreidels - made of all types of materials, in all manner of styles - that decorate collector Morton "Mickey" Langsfeld's Abington Township home.
It's a fitting assemblage of traditional toys played with during Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, for a house that's filled with light.
And where there is light, there often is joy.
"Dreidels just always brought happy thoughts to me. They send me across my childhood to my present," says Langsfeld, 67, a retired Center City dentist.
He and his wife, Judy, live in a California-style rancher, built in 1950 from a plan in Sunset magazine, which features large south-facing windows that allow the sun to pour into the rooms.
They bought the three-bedroom house on 13/4 acres 40 years ago, when they had no children. As their family grew, they used prefabricated 4-foot-by-8-foot sections to expand it into a modern, consistent-looking design that capitalizes on natural light.
It is a melding of house, home and Hanukkah past, present and future.
In 1984, Langsfeld walked into the National Museum of American Jewish History in Center City and saw three elaborate dreidels for sale, including an example with intricate sterling-silver filigree on its sides. It was the first time he had seen one other than the simple wood or plastic dreidels he played with as a child growing up in Elkins Park.
"I had never collected anything. It really brought back memories," he says.
Thus a hobby began, fostered by gifts from friends and family and purchases Langsfeld made himself when traveling.
A dreidel is a spinning top that sports Hebrew letters on four sides. The letters determine the players' fate in the game, ranging from having to put something in the "pot" to winning it all. Chocolate coins, raisins and nuts are popular betting chips.
One theory of the toy's origin is that it emerged during the era of the Greek-Syrians' control of ancient Israel, which connects it to the beginnings of Hanukkah. The Greek-Syrians barred Jews from studying the Torah, so they did their scholarship secretly. To guard their secret when someone approached, the Jews hid their texts and pulled out dreidels.
Langsfeld's favorite dreidel is one of those first three - the handmade sterling dreidel with filigree sides. It also has a hinged top that opens so the hollow dreidel can hold sweet-smelling spices used to mark the end of the Sabbath during the Havdalah service.
"I just love the workmanship on this," he says as he gently picks up the piece and points to the filigree.
Another favorite is the clay dreidel his now-grown daughter, Elizabeth, made when she was 13, using one of her father's first acquisitions as a model.
Langsfeld calls a red-wine-colored dreidel made of brass and clay "the four matriarchs dreidel," because the names of Rebecca, Leah, Rachel and Sarah adorn it.
He smiles as he takes the lid off another dreidel, large and brightly painted. Inside is a smaller version, and inside that a smaller one still, like stacking Russian matryoshka dolls.
There's a dreidel made from hand-carved ebony with silver letters, and one using silver, acrylic and sapphire in a striped pattern. There are round dreidels made of porcelain and a modernistic dreidel made of copper, brass, steel and fused glass.
A dreidel that looms over the others in size, made of copper, steel and paper with drawings on it, forced Langsfeld to change his rules about what he would collect. Until that example, he acquired only dreidels that would spin. This one didn't, so he decided to collect dreidels different from the ones he already had.
Among his most recent additions is a dreidel that's certainly different: The letters are in Braille.
Before 1948, the letters stood only for words meaning "A great miracle happened there," a reference to the small amount of oil that lasted eight days (the length of Hanukkah) in the Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C.
When the modern-day nation of Israel was born, the letter that stood for the word there was changed to here, so dreidels sold in Israel say, "A great miracle happened here."
The dreidel Langsfeld bought in Israel has an insert for either word.
Just as Morton and Judy Langsfeld are nostalgic about playing dreidel when they were young, their children have dreidel memories of their own. Back then, the Langsfelds always hosted a big Hanukkah party.
Judy Langsfeld recalls putting two posters on the wall for those parties. One had the recipe for the potato latkes served, the other had the rules for playing dreidel.
They will make new memories with their children and two grandchildren this year when they get together for the holiday, which begins Sunday. But the fancy dreidels will stay in their lucite cases.
Instead, the little ones, ages 6 and 3, will revel in eight colorful plastic tops, Morton Langfeld says: "good, old-fashioned dreidels."