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November 27, 2012 > A Spin on the Dreidel

A Spin on the Dreidel

Submitted By Bonnie Frey

When most people think of the Jewish holiday, Chanukah, they think of the dreidel. To gain perspective on its origin and how to play with this simple yet wonderful spinning top, consider its history.

Long ago, during the rule of the Greek king Antiochus, Jews were forbidden to study their religion. Jewish children resorted to learning in outlying areas and forests. When the children were studying, they would keep a dreidel nearby to pull out and play in case they were discovered, so that they could pretend to be merely playing games.

A dreidel has one Hebrew letter on each side. Outside of Israel, those letters are: _ (Nun), _ (Gimmel), _ (Hay) and _ (Shin), which stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Sham." This phrase means, "A great miracle happened there [in Israel]."

After the State of Israel was founded in 1948, the Hebrew letters were changed for dreidels used in Israel. They became: _ (Nun), _ (Gimmel), _ (Hay) and _ (Pey), which stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Po." This means, "A great miracle happened here."

The miracle referred to in both versions of the Hebrew phrase is the miracle of the Hanukkah oil, which lasted for eight days instead of one.

Here is how to play dreidel:
Any number of people can play. At the beginning of the game each player is given an equal number of "gelt", usually about 10-15. "Gelt", is the Yiddish word for money. Children most frequently use chocolate coins, nuts or pennies to play, but use whatever you like.

At the beginning of each round, every player antes up and puts one piece into the center "pot." They then take turns spinning the dreidel, with the following meanings assigned to each of the Hebrew letters:
_ Nun means "nothing" in Yiddish. If the dreidel lands with a nun facing up the spinner does nothing.
_ Gimmel is "gantz," in Yiddish which means "everything." If the dreidel lands with the gimmel facing up the spinner gets everything in the pot. _ Hey means "half" in Yiddish. If the dreidel lands with a hey facing up the spinner gets half of the pot. _ Shin means "shtel," in Yiddish for "put in." If you are using an Israeli dreidel, the _ Pey means "pay." If the dreidel lands with either a shin or a pey facing up the player adds a game piece to the pot.

If a player runs out of game pieces they are "out." Now how to get your kids not to whine, when they loose their candy, well that is another type of miracle. Guess it's all about sharing in the end.

Join us for a Chanukah Faire and Boutique at Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley, Sunday, December 2nd, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be many talented local artists selling beautiful handcrafted items just in time for the holidays. We will have a silent auction and a raffle, and it will be a fun event for the whole family, with lots of activities for the children. The cost is $5 per child, which includes face painting and crafts, and the event is free for adults. There will be Chanukah food and lots of latkes of course. So come and spin the dreidel with us, everyone is welcome.

Chanukah Faire & Boutique
Sunday, Dec 2
11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Congregation Shir Ami
4529 Malabar Ave., Castro Valley (off Redwood Road)
http://www.congshirami.org

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