Dreidels Anonymous

dreidelcandies.jpgI was recently roped I…I mean asked to participate in Canter’s Chanters Chanukah Extravaganza at my Temple.  When it was first presented to me, I thought, ‘Great, our Canter is a cool guy and is probably open to doing some improv or something with the kids. That’s got to be why he’s asking me. This’ll be fun.”

But, no. He griped that the kids were positively incapable of doing improv and that was why he prevailed on my services as well as other Temple members who happened to be performers; to write and perform small vignettes that would be done eight times, as eight groups were led through the Temple. The motif was to be “You want to know what Chanukah is all about? I’ll tell you what Chanukah’s all about…”

Each group was to represent one aspect of the celebration. My friend Amy Simon, writer and performer of the wonderful show Cheerios in My Underpants, volunteered to create some sort of wrap-around to feature ‘latkes’.  She had the run of the Temple kitchen and would be making real latkes to give to the kids. Her idea was to create a Bubbie personae.

dreidelcoinmix.jpgDreidels were up for grabs so I decided to take a whack at it. I love games and this is a mindless game much like Yahtzee, only you win pennies or chocolate. 

I thought it might be funny to do a kind of Gamblers Anonymous meeting for my bit. Everyone seemed to think it was a wonderful idea.  Then I went home and thought about it.  As I was writing it as a monologue a sick feeling came over me.

“Not only is this not funny, its completely age inappropriate. How in the hell did I think the kids could relate to a piece about addiction? Christ! (You should pardon the expression)”

Back to the drawing board, which was making me very nervous because there were a lot of other things going on in my house.  Applications for early decision for my college bound first- born. The first cheer competition of the season for my 13 year-old.  I was completely flummoxed.  I didn’t know what direction to go with this thing.

dreidel.jpgThen it struck me; a song.  A song to the tune of the Dreidel song. I’d sing and accompany myself on the guita…..wait, I haven’t really picked up a guitar since the 1970s.  You know how in Karoke, when you think you know a song but when you get up to perform it, you realize you didn’t know it well enough to not look like a complete asshole? Its never in the right key, you can’t get the phrasing right and you just can’t understand why you’re not sounding as brilliant as you did in your car?

That’s how I felt when I picked up my husband’s beautiful acoustic, steel string (ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!!) beauty.

I used to be able to pick and strum and sing at the same time, with complete abandon.  Sure it came back to me a bit, but I dared go no further than a simple 2 chord progression and for the life of me, I had to keep looking at the neck to see which fret I was landing on.

I wrote the song and managed to walk a fine line between kid friendly and jokes that alluded to a compulsion that took me to the gates of hell…sorta.  Amy, our wonderful publisher, has asked me to offer it. So here it is, to the tune of Dreidel. I must say that kids are the toughest audience I’ve ever encountered and it really did turn out ok.


Dreidel Song

I had a little Dreidel
My parents gave to me
A toy to play on Channukah day
How lucky can I be?

Oh sure I liked my X-Box
But Foose Ball was a bore
Got sick of playing with my Bratz
I wanted something more

Oh Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when its dry and ready
Oh Dreidel I shall play

See Dreidel offered something
A different kind of thrill
Because you played for money
I couldn’t get my fill

I started playing Dreidel
Through Winter and through fall
Who needed sleep, who needed food
When winner takes it all

Oh Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when its dry and ready
I’ll play it every day

My parents thought I needed help
That’s all I had to hear
I said to them “I can handle it man”
And left without a tear

What did they know
I was a pro
I never spun a Shin
I was a Gimmel all the way
Oh yeah, I raked it in

Oh Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel
You’re all I’ll ever need
I’ll just play you/won’t go to school
Who cares if I can’t read

Yeah sure I lived on chocolate
Well what did you expect
But lemme tell ya something
My legend gained respect

I guess you know what’s coming
My luck began to change
On top of that my friends, they said
I acted kind of strange

Soon I wasn’t welcome
I couldn’t show my face
The Dreidel gamers kicked me out
“You’re stinkin’ up the place”

Oh Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel
I made it out of clay
But somehow I went crazy
And really lost my way

The Dreidel is a message
Its got something to say
You put the words together
A Miracle Happened on This Day

I was all about the chocolate
About the pennies too
I completely missed the point
Its all about the Jews

Oh Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel
I’m back with mom and dad
They changed my room into a gym
But I don’t feel so bad


Laraine Newman is a founding member of The Groundlings Theatre Company and an original cast member of Saturday Night Live.  She lives in her hometown of Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.