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Chanukah - How to Play Dreidel

Playing with the dreidel is a traditional Chanukah game played in Jewish homes all over the world. The word dreidel means “to turn around.” In Hebrew, it is called a sevivon. Dreidels have four Hebrew letters on them: Nun, Gimel, Hay, and Shin. Together, they stand for the words: Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel, you will find the fourth letter on the dreidel to be a Peh rather than a Shin, standing for the word Poh, meaning “there” rather than “here.” This is, of course, because the miracle happened ‘here’—in Israel!

Being a game that evolved over many centuries in many places, the rules may vary. There is no limit to the number of players. Here are the basics for playing dreidel:

Each player begins the game with an equal number of game pieces (perhaps 10-15 pieces), which should be small fun items like pennies, nuts, chocolate chips, M&M’s, raisins, etc. At the beginning of each round, each participant puts one piece into the center “pot.” In addition, every time the pot is empty or has only one piece left, everyone puts one in the pot. When it is your turn, spin the dreidel once. If it lands on:

  • Nun, meaning “nisht” (‘nothing’ in Yiddish), you do nothing.
  • Gimmel, meaning “gantz” (‘everything’ in Yiddish), you get everything in the pot.
  • Hey, meaning “halb” (‘half’ in Yiddish), you get half of the pot.
  • Shin, meaning “shtel” (“put in” in Yiddish) or Peh (in Israel) meaning “pay,” you add a game piece to the pot. If you find that you have no pieces left, you are either “out” or you may ask another player for a “loan.” When one person has won everything, the game is over!





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