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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Hey, Happy Hanukkah, everyone. The Jewish festival began last night. It's going to run for days now. And here's a story tied to it. We all know about baseball's World Series, the World Series of Poker. Would you believe the World Series of Dreidel? Yes, dreidel, the gambling game - that's a tradition of Hanukkah - got an interesting spin last weekend in Sacramento.

Ben Adler of member station KXJZ reports.

Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, let the dreidel spin.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BEN ADLER: It's Saturday night at Congregation Beth Shalom in the Sacramento suburbs, and about 30 mostly middle-aged people are gambling.

Unidentified Woman #1: Put in another one.

ADLER: But there aren't any cards or dice, just the chips and the small spinning top with four sides and a tiny handle. This is the first ever World Series of Dreidel, and it's the brainchild of congregation member Doug Bergman.

Mr. DOUG BERGMAN (Founder, World Series of Dreidel): A lot of synagogues have poker tournaments and bingo nights. And we've got our own gambling game for a thousand years. Why not use that?

ADLER: All right, it's not actually a thousand years, more like a few hundred, and it didn't become a Jewish tradition until much more recently. But hey, the rabbi says it's okay.

Rabbi DAVID WECHSLER-AZEN (Congregation of Beth Shalom): You know, actually the Torah doesn't say anything about gambling. There is no prohibition.

ADLER: David Wechsler-Azen is one of the rabbis at Congregation Beth Shalom.

Rabbi WECHSLER-AZEN: The rabbis, however, obviously knew the nature of human beings and so they did some very important thing.

ADLER: Like make an exception for gambling on Hanukkah. Twenty bucks at the door got you a cup of chips and a dreidel.

Unidentified Man #2: On each side is a Hebrew letter. Whatever later is face up, you either win or you lose. The four Hebrew letters are Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin.

ADLER: Which stands for Nes Gadol Haya Sham, a great miracle happened there. That's a reference to the story of Hanukkah when a tiny amount of oil kept the temple menorah lit for eight days.

Unidentified Man #3: Come on. Come on. Come on.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ADLER: If it lands on Gimel, you win the whole pot; Hei is half the pot; Nun is nothing; and Shin means you pay up.

Unidentified Woman #2: Shin, Shin, Shin, Shin.

Unidentified Man #4: Wow, he cuts(ph) a lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADLER: Everyone antes up each time the pot empties. When you run out of chips, you're gone.

Unidentified Man #5: (Unintelligible) spins.

Unidentified Group: Gimel.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ADLER: The winner of the hour-long tournament was Marilyn Klein(ph).

Ms. MARILYN KLEIN (Tournament Winner): It's fun. It's like being a kid again, remembering how you did it when you were a child. But this is more fun because there's a prize at the end, not just candy.

ADLER: This premiere World Series of Dreidel was sparsely attended. The tournament raised just $450 for the congregation. But organizers have big hopes for future years.

(Soundbite of noise)

Unidentified Man #6: What is it?

Unidentified Man #7: A Shin.

Unidentified Woman #3: Shin.

Unidentified Man #6: Oh, Shin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADLER: So look for more bad jokes involving the Hebrew letter Shin.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Sacramento.

(Soundbite of singing)

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