MOST ATHLETES train for years in hopes of accomplishing a feat worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records.
The 900 teenagers poised to gain the title for most dreidels spinning at once in a single place had about 20 minutes of warm-up time before trying for the record book yesterday in a ballroom at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown.
The four-sided spinning top is part of the tradition of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, and there are different ways to approach the art of dreidel-spinning.
Most traditionalists start with the tip on the table. Noncomformists begin with the dreidel upside down and flip it at the last minute. Some daring souls go for the high-drop-and-hop method.
"I just spin and hope," said Daniel Weitz, 18, of Merion Station. "Everyone's known how to spin a dreidel since their first Hanukkah."
The teens, and about 100 others, attempted to break the previous record - 541 dreidels, set in 2005 by Temple Emanuel, in Cherry Hill - as part of the 61st annual convention of United Synagogue Youth of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The five-day conference, which ends today, includes workshops and service projects.
Convention director Karen Stein said that it was exciting just to see the young leaders together in one room. There was no pressure, she stressed.
"It's just a great way to show Jewish living, Jewish life, on the last day of Hanukkah," she said.
The goal for yesterday's spinners was to keep the tops spinning for a minimum of 10 seconds.
Easier said than done.
"I like to think I'm a good spinner," said convention co-chair Shira Goldstein, 18, of Owings Mills, Md. "I've been practicing for the last 20 minutes and I hit 10 seconds, maybe 11."
Since the record was set, other groups have tried to beat it. In 2007, members of the University of Maryland Hillel said that they'd set the record at 603. Last year, a group from New York's Yeshiva University claimed to have had 618 tops spinning at once. None was certified by Guinness.
Goldstein and co-chair Ellie Carr, 18, of New York, came up with the idea of going for the world record during the conference. The idea was to bring the group together in one activity and to get some publicity for USY.
"Even if we don't break the record, everyone's going to have fun," Goldstein said.
Indeed, the countdown to the dreidel spins was marked with songs, chants and cheers.
To conform with Guinness rules, they had to have one impartial observer for every 50 spinners. Nothing - not even elbows - could be on the tables while the dreidels were spinning, and they could not be picked up when they fell.
The group took four shots at the record. The dreidels spun to a New Year's Eve-style countdown. After each round, those whose dreidels had spun the required 10 seconds raised their hands to be counted. (Because one theme of the conference was "ethics," it was hoped that everyone would stay aboveboard.) They later filled out a form to be counted. The group will find out in a few months if they've made history.