Game Changer: Aimee Bets on New Spin For The Dreidel:
Chanukah – the Jewish festival of lights – is fast-approaching, and San Francisco’s metal artist Aimee Golant innovates on the customs in order to make the holiday more spiritually engaging for all.
A common tradition on Chanukah is to spin the dreidel, the Jewish variation on a top, as you play a game of chance. Although clients and friends have asked Golant to craft a dreidel for the holiday, she has always declined. She never felt Chanukah (rife with stories of war) was spiritually significant. Rather, she viewed it as a minor festival that picked up gravitas and momentum in the US mainly as the Jewish population commercialized compensation for Christmas. “I was looking for ways to bypass that way of thinking,” Golant recalls. “Traditions that limit our openness haven’t gotten us any closer to peace on earth.” And thus, although she has devoted fifteen years to designing spiritually infused Judaica, Golant never felt motivated to create a dreidel.
Not until now. Recently, she was inspired to reinterpret the dreidel by designing a Be’chol Dreidel: the only one of its kind in the world. The standard dreidel is a four-sided cube spinner or top, each side displaying a Hebrew letter: Nun, Gimmel, Hay and Shin. The Hebrew acronym that the letters spell out translates to “A great miracle happened there.” In Israel, one of the letters (Shin) is replaced with a Peh to make the statement “A great miracle happened here.” The miracle, of course, refers to the story all Jewish youngsters learn in Hebrew school: the tiny Maccabee Army defeated the Syrian-Greek Army even though they were greatly outnumbered. After the battle, the Jews rededicated the tattered, holy temple (the word Hanukkah means dedication) by lighting the temple’s menorah. There was only enough oil for one day, but miraculously the tiny drop of oil lasted for eight.
Golant’s Be’chol Dreidel replaces the Shin with a Bet – “Be’chol” – and alters the acronym to Nes Gadol Haya Be’chol [Ha Olam]”: “A great miracle happened in all the world.” No other dreidel-maker has ever altered the acronym in that way. Golant’s innovation (one might even call it a Midrash—an interpretation of scriptural material) speaks to her belief in the shared, ever-present quality of miracles. “Jews don’t have a monopoly on miracles,” Golant says. “Whether you choose to believe in them or not, they happen around us all the time, all over the world.”
Aside from featuring an unprecedented acronym and a distinctively lotus-like aesthetic, this dreidel also comes with a new rule for the traditional game. Previously, the spinner of the dreidel would add a game piece to the main pot if the top landed showing the letter Peh or Shin. Now, if a player lands on Bet – the letter that replaces Peh or Shin – all players add a game piece to the betting pool.
“This rule is symbolic of what I envision all festivals, Jewish and secular, to be about: that we all have something to invest in this world,” Golant explains. “We all have something to contribute in our experiences together. Also,” she continues, “the “Be’chol” Dreidel speaks to what I’m all about and what makes me excited to be an artist: to innovate on Jewish thought and create something unique that will inspire others to develop more understanding and compassion for one another.”