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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

SIEGEL:

The dreidel isn't just for kids anymore. In this Hanukkah season, grownups are picking up the little top, and giving it their best spin, not just for gelt, but for glory. NPR's Robert Smith reports from the championship of Major League Dreidel.

ROBERT SMITH: It is a frigid first night of Hanukkah here on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, perfect weather for a dreidel championship. I'm here at Fontana's Bar, where the tables are already loaded down with dreidels and piles of gelt.

Mr. ERIC PAVONY (Knishioner, Major League Dreidel): Hey, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 2008 Major League Dreidel, thank you for coming tonight. I know the weather is tough out there, but we spin, rain or shine. Can all the spinners hear me out there?

(Soundbite of people shouting)

SMITH: All right before the competition starts, let's see if I can get through this crowd and talk to Eric Pavony. He's the Knishioner of Major League Dreidel.

Mr. PAVONY: We've got 64 of New York's best spinners here. The best Hanukkah party since the second century, you better believe it.

SMITH: So, we should explain to people that this is not your bubbe's dreidel. A different game.

Mr. PAVONY: Exactly. This is not your bubbe's dreidel. This is not your rabbi's dreidel. This is no longer a game of chance. This is not a game of luck. It's a game of skill, and the winner will ultimately to be the most talented spinner of the dreidel.

SMITH: Judged by the length of spin, as well as some accuracy.

Mr. PAVONY: Correct.

SMITH: So, the time we're looking to beat tonight, world record time is?

Mr. PAVONY: The world record Major League Dreidel time was set by Pamskee last year, 17.88 seconds. And so, we're going to kick things off. We're going to get right through this right now!

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. PAVONY: Our first match-up of the night on spin zone one, Debbie Does Dreidels, plus Yom Kippur some sugar on me!

(Soundbite of cheering)

SMITH: As each round is announced, the two spinners approach the table. They flip a coin, chocolate coin, of course. And then they hunch over for the spin, very serious here at the table.

Unidentified Man: Let's go look at it. That's pretty tight. Small orbit, very tight, it wobbles at 6.5, tight ending. Good finish, 16.62!

(Soundbite of shouting)

SMITH: So, it started with 64 competitors, 64 competitors, and it's down to the final two. And unbelievably, they're the same final two from the last year.

Mr. PAVONY: On my right of the Spinagogue, we have last year's runner-up, Virtual Dreidel.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. PAVONY: And to my left on the Spinagogue, we have the 2007 MLD champion, Pamskee.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. PAVONY: So, Pamskee, here you go.

Unidentified Woman: Pamskee is good.

Mr. PAVONY: You need to beat a 15.47 to be the back-to-back Major League Dreidel champion. Here we go.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. PAVONY: One to one, dreidel!

SMITH: So the dreidel champion gets a year's supply of chocolate coins and a beautiful trophy. Virtual Dreidel, what's your real name?

Mr. HOWARD PAVONY (Virtual Dreidel): Howard Pavony. I'm Eric's father.

SMITH: You're the father of the Knishioner?

Mr. H. PAVONY: The father of the Knishioner, and I couldn't have been prouder of him. I think he does a great job.

SMITH: So, what's the secret? You spin a dreidel longer than anyone else, at least on this part of the planet.

Mr. H. PAVONY: Yes, I think it's really about patience and allowing things to come to its own the eight nights. You know, that letting the oil go, burn as long as possible. I sort of brought that sort of spirit to this event.

SMITH: Well, there you go, standing with the winner and champion of Major League Dreidel competition. I'm Robert Smith, NPR News, on the Lower East Side of New York City.

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