Wendy Solon’s collection of dreidels began with a gift she received as a preteen. It all started in the 1980s, after a trip her parents, Betty and Malcolm Minsk, took to Israel. In a shop, they spotted the novel letters on Israeli dreidels, which differed by one letter from those at home. The Minsks selected a large, handmade wooden example to bring back for their daughter.
What was the difference that the Minsks noticed? Each of a dreidel’s four sides is marked with a different Hebrew letter. In the diaspora, the letters on the dreidel are nun, gimmel, hay and shin, which are the first letters of a Hebrew phrase that can be read as “a great miracle happened there.” The word “there” refers to the land of Israel. But in Israel proper, the letter peh, standing for the Hebrew word “po,” or “here,” replaces the letter shin, thus spelling out “a great miracle happened here.” “Here” is, of course, Israel.
The Israeli dreidel from Solon’s parents eventually sparked a large and diverse collection, including many dreidels that feature the Israeli phrase. Solon’s trove spans various countries and time periods, and all are examples of fine craftsmanship and unusual materials. Although Solon personally purchased a few select dreidels, she treasures the gifts brought by family and friends, whose dreidels are pieces of art, ingenuity, and — sometimes — great value.
On another trip to Israel, Solon’s parents came upon a companion to their first purchase; on other travels they found more interesting handmade dreidels. Occasionally, Solon’s Aunt Alice contributed intricate filigree silver spinning tops to the budding collection; most of them are antique dreidels, created by Sephardi silversmiths. One tiny modern dreidel has the Hebrew words fully cut out as part of its design.
Solon’s favorite dreidel has a two-part history. In 1990, she spent a semester of her junior year in college at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “I came upon a large multi-metal sculpture, named ‘The Jerusalem Sphere,’ by the noted silversmith Frank Meisler,” she says, “and I fell in love with his work. My parents bought it and told me, ‘We’ll keep it in our house, and when you have a home of your own, it will be yours.’” In 1999, Solon’s fiancée, aware of her affinity for Meisler’s work, bought her one of the artist’s large, lavishly decorated and jeweled, pomegranate-shaped silver dreidels as an engagement gift. “It is esthetically my favorite and most meaningful dreidel,” she explains. Now, both the Jerusalem Sphere and the dreidel are displayed in Solon’s home.
Many of the dreidels in Solon’s collection showcase the work of well-known Israeli artists. An entertaining tabletop sculpture features a kinetic, rotating dreidel of copper and other colorfully enameled metals crafted by Gary Rosenthal, a renowned sculptor with an illustrious 40-year career. Three charming, meticulously painted ceramic dreidels by the multi-talented Israeli artist Danny Azoulay flirt with potential spinners. A painted, blue-hued Yair Emanuel wooden dreidel poses on its own matching display stand.
There’s also a crystal-clear glass dreidel by the German-born sculptor Hans Godo Fräbel, straight from his Atlanta studio, which gleams in close proximity to a contemporary Lucite dreidel on a black Lucite base. An exuberantly decorated polymer dreidel is an example of a common material transformed into a configuration of pure creativity, and a tiered ceramic dreidel composed of multiple glazed components is another piece of eye-candy in its fitted Lucite easel.
Also on display are a delicate and elaborate gilt and hand-painted ceramic dreidel in the style of Marc Chagall, as well as a red, lacquered wooden dreidel that features multicolored, low-relief lettered side panels, and a gold-rimmed Limoges dreidel — an example of the brand’s classic lidded holiday specialties. The majority of the dreidels are spinnable, and most of them rest securely on stands designed to optimally showcase their designs.
When asked which of the dreidels her family and friends prefer, Solon laughs as she takes out a bag of the mass-produced plastic dreidels found in most Jewish homes. “We all like to play dreidel, and we use these!”
The Chanukah story takes place during the time of the Maccabees, when Jewish children were barred from studying Torah by the Seleucid Greeks who ruled Jerusalem. They studied in secret, and when Greek officials came, the children hid their books and took out their spinning tops, claiming they were just playing games. And that’s why we play dreidel today!
- Treasure Trove
- Chana Shapiro
- Wendy Solon
- Frank Meisler
- Gary Rosenthal
- Danny Azoulay
- Marc Chagall
- Yair Emanuel
- Betty and Malcolm Minsk
- Israeli dreidels
- Sephardi silversmiths
- Hebrew University
- The Jerusalem Sphere
- Hans Godo Fräbel
- Seleucid Greeks