When most people put up Chanukah decorations, they typically involved some streamers, paper banners and maybe an oversize menorah. But unlike the project recently undertaken by West Island Hillel in Montreal, scaffolding and a 25+ ft. pole aren't usually required.
Those two pieces of equipment were vital, though, as local students constructed what is possibly the world's largest dreidel in the lobby of a Montreal synagogue. Under the leadership of Yoni Petel, a law student and acting chair of West Island Hillel, a 23-person team came together with hammers, nails and blowtorches to build the 22-ft., 2.5-in. dreidel. And yes, it does spin.
"Nobody realized just how big it would be when we started out," Petel said. "I'm 6'2" and four of me standing on my head wouldn't even make it to the top."
The idea for the dreidel grew from a brainstorming session between West Island Hillel leaders. Bored with the same old Chanukah ideas, Petel jokingly suggested they build a giant menorah, and to his surprise, it was a hit.
"It was 100 percent a joke, but everyone said, 'Let's go!'" Petel said.
But the cold Canadian winter prevented them from building the menorah outside, and lighting one inside would be a fire hazard, so the students decided to construct a dreidel instead. According to Petel, no record currently stands in the Guinness Book of World Records for the tallest dreidel, though he heard that the Chabad at Rutgers University had previously built one that was 16 feet tall.
The students proudly unveiled the finished dreidel last Tuesday during a Chanukah celebration at the Beth Ora Synagogue. Though only 60 people attended the party, a bounty of news coverage by local and national media helped the dreidel draw a steady stream of visitors until it was taken down yesterday.
The project is a prime example of the creativity behind West Island Hillel, a community-based division of Hillel Montreal that serves the large number of Jewish students who live in the city's West Island region. After formally coming together last year, it kicked off with a Shabbat dinner featuring "The Apprentice" finalist Andy Litinsky. Defying all expectations, the event quickly sold out. Other programs, such as a version of another reality TV show, "The Amazing Race," a benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims and Hypnotic Shabbat, have continued to draw in many new faces.
"In the past, the synagogue was the only center of Jewish life for students in the West Island, and for many of them, it's not too exciting to go to activities at a synagogue," said Yossi Lanton, the Israel affairs coordinator at Hillel Montreal. "These programs have really opened people's minds about Hillel and what it's about."