Spinning for Hanukkah Gelt by
(243 Stories)

Prompted By Dice

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You probably don’t have to be Jewish to know about the Hanukkah game called Dreidel.

It’s a betting game where each player antes up and then, depending on the spin of the dreidel  –  the four-sided spinning top that serves as the dice –  they take nothing from the pot (NUN),  half the pot (HEY),   or all (GIMMEL the big pay-off).   However a player who throws SHIN must add to the pot.

And In most Hanukkah-celebrating homes the “chips” are actually chocolate coins wrapped in foil –  gold foil for milk chocolate and silver foil for dark chocolate – and each player piles up their loot like gamblers do at more serious gaming tables.

In the Hanukkah song  I Have a Little Dreidel the spinning top is made of clay,  as dreidels may have been homemade by kids centuries ago.  But today at holiday time plastic dreidels in all sizes can be bought most anywhere,  although the nicer ones are made of wood.   I admit I’m a sucker for the latter and have a small collection!

Years ago we sent our very young son to a summer day camp where they were obviously teaching the kids Native American lore.  One day he came home to tell us he had learned the Indian word for “money”.

“Ah yes,”  I said,  “I think I know it too – is it WAMPUM?”

The kid looked puzzled.  “No, “ he said,  “it’s GELT!”

(“Gelt“ you may know is Yiddish for money – I get the feeling that camp director was Jewish.)


Dana Susan Lehrman


Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Hanukkah, Dreidels


  1. Suzy says:

    Love this story, Dana! Dreidels may not be dice, but they are used for gambling, so effectively the same thing. I have a collection of dreidels too, including one from Israel that has a peh instead of a shin, because the letters stand for “a great miracle happened HERE” instead of “there.”

    Too funny about the camp counselor who told the kids that the Indian word for money was gelt!

  2. Great story, Dee…I’m familiar with the dreidel and the coins wrapped in gold but never played the game. Now I want to…I could use the gelt (being a chocoholic)!

  3. Marian says:

    Very cool, Dana. It’s been years since I’ve played Dreidel and I enjoy the memories you brought forth so well.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Dana. I must admit, my first reaction was, “Hey, wait a second, dreidels ain’t dice” But then the anthro major in me popped up and I realized that, cross-culturally, they really are. Just like wampum = gelt = money. So this is truly an inspired response by you to the prompt. Or, to put it another way, mazel tov!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Perfect story for this week, Dana. You are right, maybe not dice, but dreidel is certainly a betting game, so nu? Same difference, right? Of course, right.

    I’m off to light my candles. Happy Hanukkah!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Happy Hanukkah to you as well, Dana. I have a drawer full of wooden dreidels and brought some out, along with a pile of chocolate gelt, on Thanksgiving, which was close to Hanukkah this year. I have no idea if the kids actually played, but they did eat every piece of the gelt, so they won.

  7. Good to know, Dana. Didn’t know about the gambling aspect of dreideling but my partner Susan, AKA Lily went to the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village. It’s upper level school was the Elizabeth Irwin High School. She was a cheerleader but the only cheer she remembers goes something like Hey/Nun/Gimmel Dollah/ We got a team that’ll make you hollah. It only works in NYC. Oh, and BTW, the cheerleaders were asked to stop attending games. Apparently they were too rowdy and were distracting the players.

  8. Native, born and bred. She’s just finished a novel set at her family home on Horatio St in the West Village/meatpacking dist. Hardly a domestic tale.

    Susan doesn’t know the Fleischmans. She would have graduated Eliz Irwin circa ’66.

  9. Yes, your cousins you have come along a bit later. And yes! Don’t I know it! She was… and IS just about the hippest w/o pretense! woman ever to grace my humble world. I am a lucky lad!

  10. i like that counselor or director who taught the kids the Indian word for money! I wonder if he also taught them the Indian word for “nutcase.” Meshugganah!

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