The Dreidel: More than Just a Game

This Chanukkah, we’re exploring the dreidel, also known as sevivon. How is the dreidel more than just a game for people in Israel? Chag Sameach!



SHAM AND PO שָׁם וְפֹּה

The word dreidel is a yiddish word, originating from ‘drei,’ meaning ‘turn’.

The Hebrew word for dreidel, sevivon (סְבִיבוֹן), follows the same logic and comes from the Hebrew root, סבב, meaning “to turn”. And another fun fact: the word was created by the adolescent son of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of Modern Hebrew.

In the same way there are some variations on the word, there are also variations of the letters on the sevivon. The Hebrew letters on a North American dreidel – Nun (נ), Gimel (ג), Hey (ה), Shin (שׁ) – are an acronym for the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” (נֵס גָּדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם), “a great miracle happened there“). But in Israel, where the Chanukkah miracle happened, the sevivon replaces Shin with a Pey (in place for the word “Po“) – “Nes Gadol Haya Po” (נֵס גָּדוֹל הָיָה פֹּה), “great miracle happened here“).


"I need a dreidel with a sham on it because my kids are in Israel and only know of the po. They don't realize there's another version" - Mark Rosenberg
(Above, one of several Chanukkah anecdotes from our Humans of #IsraelEd 5776 resource and publication)



While the exact history of dreidels is unknown, there is evidence that people in the Babylonian ages played games with a spinning top. Since the dreidel has become a staple of Chanukkah, people have been taking photographs of this popular game in their communities. The website Israel Revealed to the Eye has collections of family photos that showcase the diversity of ways Chanukkah, and the dreidel, are symbolic for different people. See a few examples in the carousel below.

Encourage your students and kids to find Chanukkah photos spanning multiple generations. What do you notice in the photos? 



Yad LaKashish, an Israeli non-profit, provides elderly Jerusalemites opportunities to make crafts and earn money. Many are elderly immigrants unable to find employment, and at this time of year, they make Chanukkah crafts, notably dreidels! 

What organizations/missions hold a special place for your family?  Where do you like to give your tzedakah money?

תחנות יסוד קשורות בתחום החינוך לישראל

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