In which I modify store-bought dreidel kits, and lament the gendering of an otherwise gender-neutral toy.
A reader (thanks, Jenn!) tipped me off that Jewish LEGO knock-off was now a thing, with explicitly Jewish products marketed for explicitly Jewish kids. And lo, online I found Binyan Blocks, a line of LEGO-like plastic building block sets for the more traditional among us. So, I bought myself an early gift, pronto: two Binyan Blocks Dreidel Sets, $6.99 each plus shipping. Why two sets? To get the “girl color” and the “boy color,” of course, which is how the current vendor lists the choices on the order form. Identical pieces, different colors: pink with purple for girls, blue with white for boys. If the colors weren’t clue enough which gender these sets target, one miniature figure is included, like a guiding spirit presiding over the package: a modestly dressed, pearl necklace-d Mamele for the pink dreidel, and a bearded Tatele in black hat and suit for the blue.
Part of me was psyched that I finally got an authentically Orthodox black hat to outfit my real LEGO minifigs, and disappointed that Tatty’s keppie didn’t sport peyes.* But mostly, I was disappointed that the toy company, like LEGO, feels obliged to make distinctions between girl toys and boy toys.
I realize that Binyan Blocks, unlike LEGO, knows its audience, which is a very select crowd. These toys will not be stocked at Target and Toys-R-Us. These toys are not made for me. They are made for particular streams within Orthodoxy, folks who prefer that toys mirror ideals set forth by acknowledged authorities. Toys like “Mitzvah Kinder,” dolls with very carefully considered, gendered attributes. And I have to assume that these folks might view toys from secular society as inappropriate. I understand. Maybe if my own synagogue had a mechitza, I might be tickled pink and blue to buy a Binyan Blocks 750 piece set of an entire shul with plastic mechitza and “heimishe people.” (It doesn’t, so I wouldn’t, but I sure would love to take a peek at the two tiny Torah scrolls.)
Still, pink vs. blue dreidels? A dreidel is a holiday object commonly found in blue anyway. Dreidels are beloved by boys and girls. Why take a perfectly egalitarian toy and make it divisive?
A kit is cool, yes, and easy for generous Bubbies to click and ship, but even better, more educational, more fun and more meaningful is a homemade hack. Hacking ordinary LEGO to make Jewish stuff and stories is ideal. It gives kids the power to experiment and make decisions. If your kid wants to build a big ol’ pink dreidel and spray it with glitter, more power to him (just don’t spray the contact point or it’ll hamper the spin).
I’ve already talked about how educational it is to let kids rummage through the LEGO bin and experiment with different dreidel designs, to come up with 4 equal sides and a good spin, and to add the Hebrew letters and so on. See these posts for more info and suggestions:
- Printable How-To for simple LEGO Dreidel
- DIY LEGO Dreidel kits (details for 2 models)
- LEGO Dreidels DIY (ideas for adding letters, links to other LEGO dreidel pics online)
SPIN TROUBLESHOOTING: Gender issues aside, let’s get to the crux of the matter: SPIN. A dreidel has to spin. I really, really wanted these dreidels to be stellar spinners. I’m rather experienced in the world of LEGO dreidels and have spent many an hour in research and development of DIY models. I am sorry to report that these do not spin as well as I hoped. On the outside, they look a lot like one of my DIY LEGO models I featured in this 2012 post, which spins very well. But the Binyan version is top-heavy. A dreidel needs a low center of gravity to achieve and maintain spin.
I emailed the manufacturers with my plight and they responded within a half hour. They advised placing the dreidel tip onto a table and giving it a “soft spin to get the dreidel spinning very nicely.” This tactic helped, somewhat. Do not try to launch with the force normally used with traditional wood and plastic versions. However, my spin crew and I still have trouble getting a satisfactory, game-playing spin. These lovely dreidels need help.
I can help. I thought of the kids who might soon receive a $6.99 + shipping dreidel that turns out not to turn so well. Kinderlach, this is for you. I’ve experimented (ruining my pink, girly nails prying apart the tiles) and come up with a way this kit can work better.
HOW TO MAKE THE BINYAN DREIDELS SPIN:
First, build it to specifications. Try the advice the manufacturers shared with me. Maybe it’ll spin for you.
If it doesn’t spin, remove the 4 tile pieces (two 1×2 tiles, two 1×4 tiles) surrounding the 2×2 tile with center stud. The top layer. And remove the end pip on the handle. Try it now. You’ve reduced the weight of the top of the dreidel and it should spin a little easier. Those nice tiles you just removed, however, helped hold the dreidel together, and without them, the dreidel will not be as stable, and it might fall apart if it crashes into something.
I spent an afternoon trying different modifications, trying to come up with a version that did not require any additional parts (because I can’t assume everyone has tackle boxes full of sorted LEGO bits). But honestly, the best fix is to open the dreidel’s body and insert a new (not included) 2×2 brick onto the bottom plate. This adds a bit more weight near the tangential point.
STELLAR STICKERS: The Binyan dreidel kit comes with something wonderful, miraculous, something that made me gasp when I saw it. The answer to my dreidel-making dreams: a sheet of stickers with the dreidel letters. It even includes a Pey (Israeli dreidels have a Pey instead of a Shin), with a total 4 sets of the 5 letters in four different fonts. As far as I know, no educational suppliers make sheets of just the dreidel letters (and I’d be thrilled even without the Pey) for teachers and parents to buy. And although nothing beats having a kid form the letters themselves with markers, sometimes it’s really nice to have stickers.
Overall, I love the novelty value, the sticker sheet and the look of the dreidels. I just wish they were superb spinners.
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*keppie = head, peyes = side locks. But two other male Binyan minifigs have peyes, black suits and two more hat styles: a derby-style fedora and a streimel. My dreidel packaging says there are 4 dreidel colors and figures, but currently, only two are shown online.
P.S. Binyan is Hebrew for “building.”