Real Jews don’t play dreidel. It is a boring, shallow game, needing no skill whatsoever, useless except as a visual symbol for the holiday. It is a game for Jews who don’t know better, a game for half-baked Jews who think “Tikkun Olam” is an actual phrase that real Jews use. Jews who eat treif and then piously lecture the rest of us about Heksher Tzedek are exactly the kind of Jews who, if they were writing a story about Chanukah, would write a scene depicting a game of dreidel. Dreidel is a game for pluralism-loving, intermarried, Buddhist-seder-going J Street drifters who suddenly forget about pluralism and tolerance when it comes to attacking the purity of Joe Lieberman’s Judaism when his politics are not their own. Dreidel is for those Jews who didn’t speak up when Bush was called Hitler, the kind of Jews who did nothing to stop the coarsening of American political conversation when it mocked and denigrated Republicans and conservatives, but who now are horrified — horrified as Jews, don’t you know – that someone, somewhere might be equally coarse about He Who Must Be Coddled. Hey, go play dreidel.
Here’s the way the great Joseph Opatoshu wrote about Chanukah. (From “In Polish Woods,” by Joseph Opatoshu, 1917, translated from Yiddish, JPS, 1938):
“Mordechai’s forbears – father, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, back to the sixth generation – had all been born in the woods of Lipovetz…. On Chanukah they would drive in from all directions, assembling at the home of the elder of the kinsfolk, and take stock. In the good old days there had been more than a hundred of them. One by one, upstanding individuals, like so many trees. Far into the night they would sit before oaken tables, chalking down their computations in strokes and circles, eating cracklings and roasted duck in such quantitites that the women were almost exhausted from plucking feathers. They washed this down with home brew; they lost their tempers, fought like cats and dogs, and blood flowed often. But soon they made up, arranged matches between their children, and drove back home.”