Dreidel dearth

found at the flea market

My mom bought these banged-up lights at a flea market from an old man with very few teeth. He told her they’d been “real handy at the camp.” From this she gathered that they’d been used as lighting for a hunting campsite. I’m sure he had no notion of the original purpose, nor that he’d invented a new variation on the Holiday of Lights.

A Religious Studies professor emailed this morning in search of dreidels. Seems one of his students wants to give a party and needs a bunch. As usual, I am the go-to person for All Things Jewish among my non-Jewish friends. People ask me the whys and hows of anything from headcoverings to the Holocaust, from matzah to the messiah. Not that I’m the expert, but I do try to give a fairly accurate nutshell and provide pointers to “real” authorities.

This morning’s task was fairly simple, but time-consuming. Here in the Bible Belt, we can’t just mosey down to the strip mall and stand bedazzled in front of Judaica shop windows. There are no Judaica shop windows. We have tiny synagogue gift shops, but these are only open during peak synagogue traffic: Sunday school, for example. So, I began with the Yellow Pages. Walmart may seem a surprising choice (for a variety of reasons), but one of our many Walmarts has been known to carry fresh kosher meats, oodles of Passover goodies unobtainable anywhere else in town, and get this: fresh Challah from a supervised kitchen. It’s feast or famine, though: sometimes they have nothing. I think it depends on the efforts of certain rabbis in town, and no doubt to many intricate machinations amongst the management. Right now, it is famine. The person to whom I spoke on the phone this morning did not know what a dreidel was, nor how to find one.

Target was next. The Target nearish to the synagogues usually has one partial endcap devoted to Hanukkah. “Say what?” the operator asked when I inquired of dreidels. I explained that they would be in the Holiday section, and that they were small plastic or wooden tops, with 4 sides. She put me on hold, only to return to tell me there was indeed a Hanukkah endcap, but it was, at the moment, dreidel-less.

I called another Target, a bit farther out. This time, I was prepared, and when I asked about dreidels I added the bit about an endcap. I was put on hold. Yes, the operator said, they did have the “plastic, wooden things in packs.” When I asked how many, since I needed a lot for a classroom, she said she didn’t know. “Well, I live kind of far away, do you think you could ask someone to check?” This time I was put on hold with Muzak. She came back and said “a lot.” I think this is the best I can hope for, so I will go out and see what “a lot” of “plastic, wooden things” really means.

On a more ominous note, I called the party store that usually handles personalized bar and bat mitzvah napkins and whatnot, and the owner said he had absolutely no dreidels. He couldn’t find plastic or wooden at all. Have all the dreidel makers gone kaput in the Economic Downturn?

This reminds me of last Passover when my Jewish mom friends were calling each other asking if anyone had extra boxes of matzah. Each of the handful of grocery stores who even carried matzah didn’t order enough, for some reason. One upmarket store, bless its heart, had only regular matzah (not kosher for Passover), and who knows how many harried, unsuspecting shoppers brought home treyfe for the seder table. All week It felt odd to ration out what little we could find, when usually we have tons leftover to feed the birds.

Feast or famine. You just never know, in the Buckle.

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