Jewish Journal

Handy Hazzan is Hanukkah Hazzan - Making Dreydls Out of Clay Today!

by Cantor Harris Shore, The Handy Hazzan

December 16, 2011 | 6:54 pm

The Handy Hazzan sings "I Have A Little Dreydl."

… Oh Dreydl, Dreydl, Dreydl…I Make it Out of Clay…

Most of you know the Dreidel Song …. “Oh Dreydl, Dreydl Dreydl…. I made it out of clay.  And when it’s dry and ready, then dreydl I shall play…”  Who does that anymore?  Go to any Judaica store and
you will find them made of plastic, wood, glass, even crystal.  Some crafts say to make them out of egg cartons and milk cartons.  When’s the last time you played with a dreydl made out of CLAY?  Better yet…. When is the last time you played with a dreydl that YOU made out of clay?  What I really ought to be teaching right now is how to add a hole to your belt so you can fully enjoy those delicious, AWLsome potato latkes that we can already smell drowning in oil on top of the stove… for Hanukkah.  But, Roxy has been dreying my cup – Yiddish for literally “spinning my head” -  to make our annual batch of dreydls, and that’s exactly what we are doing today. See our accompanying (two) videos.  The first video is “Making and Baking,” with musical cutaways of The Handy Hazzan on guitar singing “I Have A Little Dreydl.”.  The second video is “Painting and Spinning,” with the Handy Hazzan improvising some silly verses of his own.  So let’s get started in learning how to make your very own dreydl out of clay.

Tools and supplies:  You’ll need “Oven Baking Clay,” – we got ours at Blix Art Supplies in Los Angeles on Beverly Blvd. - pen knife or paring knife, serrated knife, a few chop sticks, 100 - 120 grit sandpaper, wood glue, glossy acrylic paints and a few different paint brushes, all of which should be capable of detail work; a bowl of water, any additional sculpting tools if you wish to carve decorative elements, and clamps for holding the dreydl while painting. 

Making: Take a smallish piece of clay - you don’t need much…maybe a quarter-dollar size sphere - and knead it back and forth in your hands until it is very malleable. When it is of good consistency, roll it around between your palms to form a ball.  I start to shape the ball into a cube, alternating between shaping it with my fingers and banging it on a flat surface.  The top of the cube becomes the top of the dreydl, with four sides on which we will later paint the letters Nun, Gimel, Hay and Shin.  Do you know what Hebrew words these letters represent?  The answer is: Nes gadol haya sham, which translates “A great miracle happened there.”  I choose one end of the cube to be the bottom of the dreydl, and start pulling the clay with thumb and forefinger gently down and inward to create the lower half.  Occasionally wet your fingers to assist in smoothing the surface of the clay. 

Sometimes, if I don’t like my results, I simply roll the whole thing back into a ball and start all over.  Keep turning the dreydl as you mold it.  This will help in maintaining symmetry.  Each side of the dreydl will have a “perfect” square on the sides of the top half, and then a triangular part on each side of the bottom, angled inwards and down to come to a point at the bottom.  I slightly round the bottom.  It spins better than if it were a sharp point.

Once I have shaped the entire dreydl, I take a plain, wooden chopstick and cut about two inches off one end.  (You can prep these before you start molding the clay.)  I shave and sand this little piece of wood until it, too is symmetrical.  I then carefully insert one end of the 1 1/2 - 2 inch piece of chopstick into the top of the dreydl, making sure that the stick is centered and perpendicular to the top.  If it seems loose, I pull it out, put a couple drops of white glue in the hole, then reinsert the stick.


Baking: As you will see in our video, Roxy and I made three dreydls.  We baked them in the oven at 325 degrees – the instructions on the box of “Oven Baking Clay” say 350 degrees, but our Wedgwood Stove runs a bit hot.  You’ll see in the second video how the dreydls came out.  I painted one of them and Roxy painted the featured, “star dreydl,” which was our unpainted one from last year.  Have fun with this. There are so many ways to carve and/or paint your dreydls. Once the paint is dry, “sofer” in the letters.  Once dry again, glaze your beautiful, new dreydl with a couple coats of clear coat. 

TRUTH BE TOLD:  I may have accidentally used a different clay for the ones I baked in our oven.  I later used the “right” Oven Baking Clay and they came out looking nice and pink, like the one Roxy painted.

I am keeping this entry especially short so that you will have additional time to watch the two videos.  Please write to me if you have any questions or comments.  If you have a moment, do a little research on the origins of the dreydl/dreidel.  You may be in for a surprise.  Happy Hanukkah!  Tikkun Olam starts at home.  You can do it yourself! - HH

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CANTOR HARRIS SHORE most recently served as Hazzan for Hollywood Temple Beth El in West Hollywood, and for two years at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda...

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