Sounds of the winter holidays: Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
Rachel Firkins made sure that everyone has 10 nickels. The group of students from Ahrens Work Transition Program gathered in a meeting room at Louisville Public Media need them to play dreidel.
“Alright, have any of you played dreidel before?” Firkins asked.
This month, LPM News is exploring the sounds and melodic rituals of the winter holiday season. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins Sunday evening. The eight-day festival of lights is often celebrated with fried foods and games, like dreidel.
Firkins, who is Louisville Public Media’s events and engagement manager, explained the rules.
The twirling top has a different Hebrew letter on each of its four sides. When a player’s turn comes, they give the dreidel a spin, and the character landing face up tells you want to do.
There’s the letter Nun (נ).
“The easiest way to remember what Nun does is that it's just like none, nothing,” Firkins told the group. “Nothing happens.”
The player gets nothing from the pot of coins or candies in the middle of the dreidel action.
Gimel (ג) gets a player the entire winnings for that round. Hey (ה) means take half, and spinning a Shin (ש) means the player must add to the middle.
All four letters represent: “Nes gadol haya sham, which means a great miracle happened there.”
Firkins said dreidels in Israel are different. Instead of Shin, for sham, which means “there,” it’s Peh for po, which means “here.”
It references themiracle of Hanukkah.
The Maccabees won battles against immense odds. As they reclaimed the holy Temple, they found only enough kosher oil for one night. Yet it burned for eight.
Firkins grew up playing dreidel with her immediate and extended family. She said it kept the kids busy and out of the kitchen while her mom fried latkes.
“The older we got, the more rules there were and the more cutthroat we got,” she said, adding that the intense competition was always in good fun.
“To this day, we do an annual dreidel spinning throwdown sesh every year for Hanukkah at my house with the extended family,” Firkins continued.
Ahrens student Edgar Dela Cruz pointed out that, while the game could clearly get tense for Firkins’ family, it also brought them together.
And for Firkins, the sound of a spinning dreidel makes her think of warmth.
“It was always really hot in our house because of the latke frying,” she said. “But also like inner warmth… just like all of us packed into one room with each other around like this one area where the dreidel couldn’t hit anything, and we’d always be shoulder to shoulder.”
“Oh nice spin!”
They shouted encouragement as one of the students gets impressive momentum on their dreidel.