A Dreidel (Dreydle) Song

Dray-del or Dri-del?

Well, it depends upon which language you’re speaking!

In Yiddish, it’s called a Dreydle, and the first syllable rhymes with “hay.”

In English, it’s called a Dreidel, and the first syllable rhymes with “high.”

In Hebrew, though, this little spinning top is called a Sevivon! (se-vee-von”)

Whichever way you say it, it’s great fun!

Am HaHar Hanukkah Service and Songs


The Festival of Lights
A Cultural

People of the Mountain

A Quick History of Hanukkah

Winter Solstice

The roots of Hanukkah may lie in the ancient past. The Jewish historian Josephus refers to a Jewish winter holiday called “Lights” (twrn) when he writes about the Maccabees, and the Jews are hardly the only people to light lights as the days get shorter and colder. At the same time, Hanukkah is the only traditional Jewish holiday based upon solid historical events, which took place around the year 165 BCE (Before the Common Era.)

The Maccabees

When the local Greek king Antiochus IV imposed the Greek culture (Hellenism) on Judea, some Jews were attracted to it. Others strongly rejected Greek religious practices. A religious rebellion, led by a family called Hasmonians (today known as “Maccabees” after their famous leader Judah Maccabee (“Hammer,”) fought off the Greeks, and made an independent nation.

They held a celebration on the 25th day of the month of Kislev ( approximately mid-November to mid-December) to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem. In Hebrew, Hanukkah means “Dedication.” Their festival was eight days long because they had been unable to celebrate the eight days of the Festival of Sukkot (“Booths”) while the Temple was in Greek hands. Also because Solomon’s original dedication of the First Temple in II Kings 8 supposedly lasted for eight days. The Winter Solstice and the Maccabees are the original inspiration for celebrating Hanukkah.

The Miracle of the Oil

Several hundred years later, the legend of the oil lasting miraculously for eight days first appeared in the Talmud. There’s nothing about it in the Book of Macabees or in the history of Josephus. Evidently the Rabbis of this later time did not view the Maccabees favorably, because they eventually adopted Greek customs themselves, and because they called themselves High Priests and Kings, though not of the lineage of Aaron or King David. So the Rabbis introduced a story to sanctify (make Holy) the holiday by de-emphasizing the human agency and adding the miraculous, which was needed because the people kept celebrating it! The “Miracle of the Oil” is a late, but popular, addition to the Jewish tradition.


Between then and now, Hanukkah was largely a minor holiday. A nine-light Menorah (or Hanukiah) would be lit, one candle for each of the eight days, and a shames or helper candle.) Gradually other traditions were added” the Dreidel from Germany, and Gelt, Latkes and Doughnuts. Hanukkah is more popular today in America then even under the Maccabees!

Candle Lighting Blessings

On the First Night Only:

Ay-foo Or-ee? Or-ee Bee.
Ay-foo Tik-va-tee? Tik-va-tee Bee.
Ay-foo Ko-khee? Ko-kee Bee.
V’-gam Bakh. ]b mgw

Where is my Light? My light is in me.
Where is my hope? My hope is in me.
Where is my strength? My strength is in me.
And in you.
— Rabbi Sherwin Wine

Precious is the light in the world and in all people,
which has kept us in life, sustained us,
and enabled us to reach this happy season.

And we celebrate our freedom won a long time ago.

For Each Night – Before Lighting the Candles

Bah-rookh Hah-or Bah-o-lam
Bah-rookh Hah-or Bah-ah-dam
Bah-rookh Hah-or Bah-Kha-noo-kah

Blessed is the Light in the World.
Blessed is the light of humanity.
Blessed is the Light of Hanukkah.

Come, gather around and light the Hanukiah (Menorah)
as we say:

“L’had-leek ner shel Ha-nukah.”

Response: “We light the candles of Hanukkah”

Lighting Each Candle
Light the Shames Candel First, Then one for each Night, beginning on the Right)

Shames – Recalling our ancient struggle this night,
I am the First to kindle the light.

First Night – To the Maccabees, to their glorious fight,
To the heroes of old, I kindle this light.

Second Night – For the right to be different, and to speak without fear,
To the spirit of freedom, this candle burns clear.

Third Night – I light this candle, with love in my heart,
For my People’s culture, our writers, our art.

Fourth Night – To all the children, wherever they live,
To our friends in all lands, this candle I give.

Fifth Night – I light the fifth candle, on this Hanukkah night,
For the land of my birth, may its freedom stay bright.

Sixth Night – And now, to Israel, and to Jews everywhere,
May peace be their lot, and freedom their share.

Seventh Night – To all those who live by their minds and their hands,
This light to the workers of all the world’s lands.

Eighth Night – To joy everywhere, to justice and right,
To life and to peace, this candle burns bright.

All say: “Happy Hanukkah!

Let the Candles burn until they go out, or until the end of your evening.
The Dreidel Game

The Dreidel

The classic dreidel is a four sided spinning top made of wood, plastic, or the proverbial clay. On the four sides of the dreidel appear four letters from the Hebrew alphabet—nun (נ), gimmel (ג), hey (ה), and shin (ש). These four letters in the Rabbinic tradition are an acronym for “nes gadol hayah sham”—”a great miracle happened there.”

In Israel, the actual setting of the Chanukah miracle legend, the last letter, shin, is substituted with a pey (פ), which stands for “po”—”here.”

Game Components

Age range: Three and up (little children might require assistance with spinning the dreidel)
• 1 Dreidel (or, accelerate the pace of the game by supplying each player with his/her own dreidel)
• 2 or more players (the more the merrier!)
• The “Ante”—nuts, pennies, nickels, chocolate coins, nuts, or just about anything else…
• Flat Surface (such as floor or wide table) for dreidel spinning
• A Chanukah Festive Mood

Platter of Latkes and/or Sufganiot

The Setup

1. All players sit around the playing area.
2. The “ante” is equally divided amongst all players.
3. Everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel; the one with the highest spin has first turn. (Nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin.) If there is a tie for highest, those who tied spin again.
4. Everyone puts one unit of the ante (penny, nut, etc.) into the pot.
5. The one who has first turn is followed in clockwise direction by all the others.
6. Player A spins the dreidel while everyone waits in utter suspense (in the interest of speeding up the game, some knock down the dreidel mid-spin instead of waiting for it to come to a rest).
7. If the dreidel lands on a…

Nun – נ
You’ve just wasted your time. Absolutely nothing happens. You may as well have taken a bathroom break instead of that useless spin. Better luck next time!
Nun stands for the Yiddish word nul, which means zero, nothing, nil. After your exercise in futility it’s time now for the player to your left to take a spin.
If however your dreidel landed on a…

Gimmel – ג
Wow! Amazing! You did it! You get to take the whole pot! Take it quick and then do a little victory dance around the room. Pay no attention to the envious stares you are getting. You are an absolute dreidel pro!
Gimmel stands in Yiddish for gantz, which means whole. Everyone, including you, now puts another unit of the ante into the pot, and the person to your left tries his luck at spinning.

But, it’s hard to be so lucky every time. Sometimes your dreidel will land on a…

Hey – ה
Okay, you could have done better, but you could have done worse. You get to take half of the pot. If the pot has an odd amount of units, don’t try to split that penny, nut, or piece of chocolate in half. Leave it there. Take the high road. Let the others believe that it is beneath you to care…
Hey in Yiddish stands for halb, half. The pot has now been diminished, and it’s time for the player to your left to take a stab at riches.

But don’t complain. The dreidel could have landed on a…

Shin – ש
The absolute worst. The dregs. You now have to put another unit into the pot! You better figure out how to improve your spinning technique before you will be forced to take out a second mortgage on your home.
Shin in Yiddish is for shenk; yes, that means give. Your hope now is that the pot will still be around next time it is your turn to spin. Maybe then you’ll get a gimmel and recoup your losses…

The Endgame
The game ends when one of the following occurs:

a) The platter of latkes or sufganiot is finished.
b) One of the children becomes whiny (usually upon realizing that pretty soon he/she will have no more chocolate coins remaining).
c) Mom or Dad have some urgent business to attend to.
d) The crack of dawn has arrived.

And the real endgame is the lesson this game has taught. We are overjoyed about the stories of our Jewish ancestors. Throughout Chanukah this is constantly on our mind—even when we are involved with fun and games!


Hanukkah, Hanukkah

Hanukkah, Hanukkah, Festival of Lights,
Candles glow, in a row,
Seven days, eight nights,
Hanukkah, Hanukkah, make your dreydls spin,
Round and round, round and round
everyone join in!

Chanukkah, Chanukkah, chag yafeh kol kach,
Ohr chaviv, misavis
Gil liyeled rach.
Chanukkah, Chanukkah, sovivon, sov, sov.
Sov, sov, sov! Sov, sov sov!
Ma nayim vitov.

Chanukah, Chanukkah, is a great holiday.
Surrounded with lovely light.
Fun for little children.
Chanukah, Chanukkah , Dreidel, spin, spin, spin.
Spin, spin spin; Spin, spin, spin;
How wonderful!

I Have a Candle (Ner Li)

I have a candle, a candle so bright,
On Hanukkah my candle burns bright.
On Hanukkah its light burns long,
On Hanukkah I sing this song.
On Hanukkah its light burns long,
On Hanukkah I sing this song.

Ner li, ner li, ner li dakik,
Bahanukkah neri ‘adlik.
Bahanukkah neri ya ‘ir
Bahanukkah shirim a-shir.
Bahanukkah neri ya ‘ir
Bahanukkah shirim a-shir.

Spinning Top, Spin, Spin, Spin
(Sevivon, Sov, Sov, Sov)

Spinning top, spin, spin, spin!
Hanukkah is a great holiday,
A happy Holiday for everyone,
A great wonder happened there,
Happy Holiday for everyone.
A great wonder happened there,
Happy Day for everyone.

Sevivon; sov, sov, sov!
Hanukkah, hu chag tov;
Hanukkah, hu chag tov.
Sevivon, sov, sov, sov!
Chag simchah hu laam,
Nes gadol hayah sham;
Nes gadol hayah sham,
Chag simchah hu alam.

I Have a Little Dreidel

I have a little dreidel,
I made it out of clay,
and when it’s dry and ready,
oh dreidel I shall play!
Oh! Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
I made it out of clay,
and when it’s dry and ready,
oh dreiel I shall play!

It has a lovely body,
with leg so short and thin,
and when my dreidel’s tired,
it drops and then I win!
Oh! Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
with leg so short and thin,
Oh! Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
it drops and then I win!

My dreidel’s always playful,
lt loves to dance and spin,
A happy game of dreidel,
come, play now, let’s begin!
Oh! Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
it loves to dance and spin,
Oh! Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
Come play now let’s begin!

Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl

Ikh bin a kleyner dreydl,
gemakht bin ikh fun blay,
Kumt lomir aleh sh-plin,
in dreydl eyns tsvay dray!
Oy! Dreydl, dreydl, dreydl,
Oy, drezikh, dreydl, drey,
to lomir aleh sh-plin,
in dreydle eyns un tsvey.

Un ikh hob lib tsu tantsn,
zih dreyen in a rod
to lomir ale tantsn,
zikh dreydl karahod.
Oy, Dreydl, dreydl, dreydl,
Oy, drey zikh, dreydl, drey
To lomir aleh sh-plin,
in dreydl eyns un tsvey.

I am a little dreidel,
I am made from lead.
Come let’s all play dreidel –
Oh, dreidel one two three.
Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
oh, dreidel, dreidel, spin.
So let’s all play dreidel,
in dreidel, one and two.

And I love to dance,
to spin in a circle.
So let’s all dance
a dreidel-circle.
Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
oh dreidel, dreidel, spin.
So let’s all play dreidel,
in dreidel one and two.

Hanukkah at Home

What is Hanukka?

hanukka2Hanukka is the eight-day Jewish winter celebration. For Humanistic Jews, Hanukka is a celebration of human courage. The flickering Hanukka lights are a reminder of the struggle, courage, and fragile triumphs of the Jewish people. The flames are a link to the past and a tribute to the dignity of Jews everywhere.


Hanukka, a Hebrew word meaning “dedication,” is said to refer to the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judah Maccabee and his followers in 161 B.C.E. The basis of Hanukka is the story of a Maccabean victory embellished by Talmudic legend.


This legend tells us that a small band of Jews led by Judah Maccabee and his family rebelled when the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes sought to impose Greek culture and religion upon his Syrian empire, which included Judea. Following their recapture of Jerusalem, the victorious Jews rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem and decreed an annual celebration of Jewish independence. Some six hundred years after the Maccabean victory, the rabbis, seeking to claim Hanukka as their own, added the legend of the single flask of oil that miraculously burned for eight days.


hanukka7The story of the Maccabees is a story of human courage, integrity, and hope. The success of their revolution is rooted in the people’s desire for religious, political, and economic freedom; – their desire to choose their future for themselves. This they accomplished, not by pious pleas or tearful entreaties, but by decisive action, expert planning, and sheer guts. The values of the Maccabean revolution are as important today as they were centuries ago. We, too, must take the future into our own hands. We must choose for ourselves how we shall live, and we must act on that choice courageously without loss of integrity or hope. Hanukka is a valuable holiday for Humanistic Jews, affirming the wonder of nature, celebrating the courage of authentic heroes, and articulating the values we must have if heroism, humanity, and the natural order are to survive.



Celebrating Hanukka

hanukka3Most celebrations reflect the ancient and traditional celebration of the holiday and include new meanings for our own day. Families often retell the ancient stories, share the rich symbols, and connect these with modern concerns and issues.


For Humanistic Jews, Hanukka is a tribute to human power and courage. Judah Maccabee was a man who was willing to fight for what he believed, although like his enemy Antiochus Epiphanes, he was a religious zealot who denied freedom of worship to those who opposed him. Despite this, his example of bravery and authenticity motivates us to seize control of our lives and take our future into our own hands. We choose how we shall live, seeking to behave courageously and to preserve our integrity. For Humanistic Jews, Hanukka is an endorsement of human strength and ingenuity, of hope and bravery.


Humanistic Jews celebrate Hanukka as a reminder that human beings can use their abilities to enhance the quality of life. Hanukka celebrations are festive occasions, marked by the lighting of the candles of the hanukkia. Families and communities gather for the holiday meal, featuring potato latkes. Hanukka songs are sung and dreidel games are played. Often families bring their own hanukkia to light at the community celebration. The lights of the hanukkia serve as a connection to our past, as a link to other Jews, and as a reminder of the fragility life. We kindle the lights for our values: action, courage, human dignity, freedom, justice, Jewish identity, choice, strength, ingenuity.


Lighting Candles

hanukkaAs we humans move through time and space, we assign different roles to the act of lighting candles. Sometimes candles serve the purpose of signaling the onset of passage or holy days and special occasions. At other times we light candles to communicate our solidarity with people from whom we are separated by gaps in time or space or other barriers. The candle-lit windows of Poles after December 13, 1981, provide dramatic example of this habit. Closer to home, we have the lighting of Yahrzeit candles in memory of deceased beloved ones. At still other times, we light candles to brighten dark corners and improve vision and understanding. But no matter what the religion or culture, we have shown an attachment to “burning lights,” as Marc Chagall’s wife Bella called them. Perhaps one reason for the universal appeal of candle lights is that candles are a reflection of the human spirit, Jewish and otherwise.


At its best and most glorious, the flame of a candle points high up, striving to move beyond its immediate reach. An active, burning candle emits a glowing, golden haze around it. The flame of a candle communicates strength, vitality, triumph, vision, and warmth.
hanukka5In the course of its life span, the flame of a candle is dynamic, not static. It surges up and falls down. It sways back and forth. It expands and contracts. The flame of a candle can brighten dark spots and expand our vision. That same flame can narrow our focus and blind us if we fail to note other sources of light in our environment.


hanukka6The flame of most candles has two parts. The upper, outer layer is brilliant gold. The inner, lower layer is blue. This inner, lower layer is like a shadow box, inviting us to explore the many images it suggests. These images are both creative and destructive. Shadows suggest negative visions of Jewish synagogues and homes set afire during pogroms and wars; of books, both secular and religious, burned during cultural purges; of civilian and soldier faces scarred by flames of wartime bombs. Flickers of candles also conjure images of pleasant memories of the past. The latter includes flames that heated savory meals of yesteryear and provided light to dark households and passageways, enabling people to better control their world and communicate with each other. Like the human spirit, burning lights are capable of signaling both creativity and destruction.


And lastly, candles have a finite existence. They demonstrate the fragile nature of life on this earth. Candles begin to glow while in a solid state, but eventually burn down to nothingness. Curiously, from the first moment of burning, candles seem to shed tears of awareness as the wax drips down their sides!


In lighting candles, we seek connection with the past, with each other, and with ourselves. Burning lights gives us a sense of our strength, vision, and dynamism. They also reflect the complexity of our experience on earth and the delicacy of our co-existence, peaceful or otherwise, here and now.


May the lighting of candles always remind us of the dynamic, multi-faceted, and fragile nature of our lives. And may the light of candles direct us to seek each other in peace.


A Humanistic Hanukka Candle-Lighting

As we light our Hanukka candles, let us say:
Barukh haor baolam.
Barukh haor baadam.
Barukh haor baHanukka.


Blessed is the light of the world.
Blessed is the light within humanity.
Blessed is the light of Hanukka.