History reveals that there was a time when the Syrians forbid study of the Torah. Those Jewish People who were serious about continuing to study the Hebrew Scriptures despite their difficult circumstances studied in secret. They kept spinning tops called dreidels handy. This way if Jews were found studying, they could quickly pretend that had only been playing.
Outside of Israel, a dreidel contains the Hebrew letters “nun,” “gimel,” “hay,” and “shin” on its four sides. These letters stand for “Nes gadol haya sham,” which means, “A great miracle happened there,” referring to Israel.
The letters also stand for the gifts you get depending on which letter lands face up after the dreidel has been spun. To play the dreidel game, each player starts with the same amount of tokens, typically chocolate coins called gelt. Each player puts one token in the pot. Players take turns spinning the dreidel. Then each player follows the directions of what to do next depending on what Hebrew letter lands face up:
Nun = “nisht,” which means you don’t do anything
Gimel = “gants,” which means take the whole pot of chocolate coins, or gelt
Hay = “halb,” which means to take half the chocolate coins
Shin = “shtel,” which means you have to add chocolate coins to the pot
The game ends when a single player wins all the chocolate coins.