Traditional Games in Israel

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

Perhaps you have heard of traditional Jewish holiday games such as the dreidel game, but did you know an Israeli emigrant created the popular Rummikub game? Read more about these traditional Israeli games in this lesson.

Israeli Games

Much like children all over the world, Israeli children grow up playing games with each other and their family. Some of the games are spiritually educational while others are solely for amusement. Let's take a look at a few of the most popular Israeli games.

Three Sticks

Children often love games that give them a chance to show off their agility to friends; Three Sticks is well-suited for this purpose. Three Sticks is a traditional children's schoolyard game. The goal is to jump between three sticks which are laid on the ground and are spread further and further apart. Players must not touch the sticks or step more than once in the spaces between the sticks.

The Dreidel Game

One of the most famous Israeli games is the dreidel game. The dreidel game is played, usually by children, during Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish holiday that celebrates the miracle of a small amount of oil lasting eight days in a lamp rather than the expected one day during the rededication of the desecrated Second Temple. This took place during the Maccabean Revolt which occurred from 167-164 BCE. Jews were facing pressures from the Greek (also called Hellenistic) empire, yet were able to survive and keep their traditions.

For this reason, the dreidel game is played during Hanukkah for Jewish Israelis to remember their past. Players take turns spinning a dreidel, which is a four-sided top, typically made from clay. Each side is inscribed with a Hebrew letter that stands for a Yiddish word indicating the action the player is supposed to do. The four Hebrew letters a player can spin are the 'nun', the 'gimel', the 'hey', and the 'sin'. At the beginning of the game, coins or chocolate coins are put into the ''pot'' which players add to or take from during the game, depending on what they spin. Spinning the 'nun' means the player does nothing on their turn while spinning the 'gimel' means players take all the coins in the collective pot. Spinning the 'hey' means the player takes half of what is in the pot, but spinning the 'sin' means the player must add a coin to the pot.

By spinning the top and taking or giving away money, children are taught that money, objects, and everything in life comes and goes. They also learn the phrase, ''A great miracle happened there'' which the Hebrew letters act as an acronym for. It recalls the miracle during the Maccabean Revolt, providing hope for Jews even if their situation seems bleak.

A wooden dreidel
A wooden dreidel with the gimel side face up and the hey side on the left

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