I have a little dreidel, and you probably have one too. If you’re Jewish, you have several all over your house. You keep the nice ones on the shelf next to your menorah. You store a bag of the little plastic ones with your holiday decorations. And there are one or two in your junk drawer. You may still have a clear plastic one your parents put gelt in and gave to you when you were a kid. If you’re not Jewish, you might have received one at a friend’s Hanukkah party. Or you picked one up at a holiday buffet at work and put it in your desk drawer.
Dreidels are the perfect holiday symbol. They are instantly recognizable. You can identify their cultural meeting. You can buy them anywhere, even at Hobby Lobby. They’re easy to pick up and start playing with. Even if you don’t know the Hebrew letters and what they represent, it’s still fun to spin and see which one comes up.
And there is the story. Here is a description I wrote for one of our kid’s classes. (That’s another reason you probably have a dreidel. The Jewish kid in class gave you one for show-and-tell.)
Unfortunately, we Jews have a “my experience with anti-Semitism” story for everything, even something as simple and innocent as a dreidel. The same year we handed out dreidels and their story to our kid’s class, I gave a speech about the dreidel to my Toastmasters club. I explained how we Jews preserved our religion despite the Greeks’ persecution. After the meeting, the evangelical Christians in our club (the same ones who told another club member it’s a shame that I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in Jesus), met me in the parking lot to give their interpretation of Hanukkah. I firmly told them, “Please don’t try to explain my own religion to me.”
If you have a little dreidel, and you probably do, take it out and think about the Hanukkah story. Think about how we fought to preserve our faith and values in the face of persecution, genocide, or the ignorance and prejudice of others. Then, give it a spin. See how long it lasts. See what letter comes up. It’s fun to do. Happy Hanukkah.