Today is the third day of Hanukkah. Hanukkah marks the celebration of the cleansing and rededication of the Temple when it was reclaimed by Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE. One of the great traditions of this season is playing with the Dreidel. A Dreidel is like a spin-top. It has  the Hebrew letters  נ (Nun),  ג (Gimel),  ה (Hei),  ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for “נס גדול היה שם” (Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – “a great miracle happened there”)

The Four Sides of the Dreidel

I decided I wanted to get a Dreidel and play the Hebrew game with some friends. Before beginning, each player starts with 10 or 15 coins, and then each player puts one in the pot. According to the rules look like this:

Before spinning the dreidel each player deposits a fixed proportion of the amount received into a “kupah” or kitty. One of the players spins the dreidel. The dreidel stops and lands with one of the symbols facing up and the appropriate action is taken:

  • Nun – nischt – “nothing” – the next player spins
  • Gimel – gantz – “all” – the player takes the entire pot
  • Hey – halb – “half” – the player takes half of the pot, rounding up if there is an odd number
  • Shin – shtel – “put in” – the player puts one or two in the pot

Each player is given a turn to spin the dreidel. The game may last until one person has won everything

This sounds good to me. I thought it would be appropriate on a Friday evening to honour the holy season of our Jewish brothers and sisters by engaging in a friendly game of Dreidel. One problem – I do not own a Dreidel. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll go buy one.” Easier said than done!

So far I have called: Sears, The Bay, Teach n Toys, Scholars Choice, Zellers, Walmart, Hallmark, Benix & Co., Chapters/Indigo, Cameron’s Christian Book Store, and Toys R Us! Nobody has a Dreidel. After a few calls I was about to quit but then I became increasingly curious as to how one would get a Dreidel if one was looking for it in the city of Windsor. This does not begin to address some of the reactions I received from clerks when I explained what a Dreidel is. At least three stores asked if I meant ‘cradle’…one of them went on to say, “like a cradle for Jesus for Christmas.” To which I replied, “NO – not like that at all! I am exacerbated! I cannot find this little but powerful toy anywhere. I was also surprised at how very few knew what I was even talking about. We really do not learn enough about other religions and cultures.

So if you are in Windsor and you need a Dreidel – Go to Detroit because this interested sojourner has come up empty in his search for this great teaching toy.I may have to go back to playing Dominos or Scrabble…I am calling on my Jewish friends to help me…”where does one go to get a Dreidel?”

In the meantime I offer this blessing on this third day of Hanukkah –

“Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.” …I may utter the same prayer after I finally find a Dreidel.