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Dreidel tournament brings out tops players

Sunday's dreidel tournament began with Josh Kline, co-advisor of the youth group at Lexington's Temple Adath Israel, asking who among the assembled children was the youngest, because the youngest spins first.

Benjamin Shapere's hand shot up.

"Six and a half," he said.

When the competition ended a half hour later, Benjamin had more winnings — in the form of gelt, or foil-wrapped chocolate coins — than he could carry in both hands.

Benjamin was the top finisher in the competition based on the game Jewish children often play during Hanukkah, which began Friday. The purpose of the tournament was to raise money for the youth group's activities.

In a brief post-tournament interview, Benjamin said he was happy he won. And, although dreidel is a game of chance, Benjamin attributed his winning spins to "practice."

Benjamin also did well in a quick post-tournament contest to see who could spin a dreidel the longest. But his 10.28 seconds was topped by a reluctant Bela Nelson, 7. She had to be persuaded to spin, then sent a dreidel spinning well past the 11-second mark.

A dreidel is a top with a Hebrew letter on each of its four sides. The letters are nun, gimmel, hey and shin, and are the first letters of the Hebrew words for "a great miracle happened there," which refers to one day's worth of holy oil burning for eight days in ancient Israel.

When the dreidel lands on one of those sides, the player will, respectively, do nothing, take the whole pot, take half or put into the pot.

Seventeen children participated in the tournament. Each paid, or got a parent to pay, $3 to enter.

The money will be used for youth activities in the temple and regionally, Kline said, as well as for social action projects such as filling care baskets for needy families.

Hanukkah, which means dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 B.C.