The dreidel game appears to be a game of chance, but there is a more somber backdrop. When Antiochus forbade Jews to study the Torah or gather in synagogues in the second century BCE, they continued to meet secretly in homes. A lookout would be stationed near the door and give warning when the government soldiers were near. At the first alarm, the students, taking a dreidel which they kept close to them when they studied, would spin the top and pretend they were only playing a harmless game.
The dreidel game can be played with a small or large group.
Give each player 12 markers (e.g., candy pieces, raisins, or dried beans). Each player
puts one marker into the pot, or center of the circle. One at a time, players take turns
spinning the dreidel. During his turn, the player follows this code according to which
side of the dreidel faces up after his spin:
(Nun)—player does nothing
(Gimel)—player takes all the markers in the pot
(Hei)—player takes half the markers in the pot
(Shin) outside of Israel or (Pe) inside of Israel—player adds a marker to the pot
Nun stands for the word Nes, which means “Miracle.” Gimel stands for the word Gadol, which means big, great. Hei stands for the word Haya, which means was, happened. *The Shin stands for the word (Sham) which means “there”. The Pe stands for the word (Po) which means here. So, if you are outside of Israel, “A Great Miracle Happened There” and if you are inside of Israel, “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”
When the pot is empty or has only one marker left, each player adds another marker
to the pot. Play continues until one player has collected all the markers.
*For those who are curious, I made our dreidel game out of felt. I used a pattern from a “Martha Stewart Living” magazine over 20 years ago. I’m sorry that I no longer have the pattern.