Dreidel: Gymnastics Edition
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Happy Thanksgivingkuh! We went from mashed potatoes directly into fried potatoes. Back-to-back spud-friendly holidays. It was an unplanned happy accident that my Zionist gymnastics newsletter, which referenced the Maccabees, was published a couple of weeks ago. Initially, that newsletter was only for subscribers, but I made it public cause I would love for more of you to read it. If you haven’t already read it, here’s the link. (Speaking of things you should check out, definitely read this piece by this newsletter’s copy editor Lela Moore about the second season of the Blind Landing podcast and gymnastics equipment safety.)
Anyway, onto the holiday that makes me smell like a french fry all day, every day: Hanukkah/Chanukah/Hanukah.
(My preference is for “Chanukah” but that’s not based on any sort of special knowledge or expertise; that’s just how I saw it spelled growing up.)
I know that I said that this is a minor holiday in the last newsletter, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. I mean, it’s pretty easy to get into a holiday where fried food is the order of the day.
Anyway, in addition to lighting candles and eating fried food, another tradition is playing a game of dreidel, so I figured why not come up with a gymnastics-friendly version of the game?
A brief overview of this very simple game: Everyone starts with the same number of game pieces, be they pennies, buttons, or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. You can really use anything you want. To start, everyone has to put a piece into the pot. (You also have to do this at various points in the game when the pot is empty.)
The dreidel, which a spinning top, has four sides, each with a Hebrew letter: nun, gimel, hey, and shin. (If you’re playing is Israel, the final letter is a pay.) The four letters are each the first of the words that, in Hebrew, translates to, “A great miracle happened there.” When the dreidel stops spinning, whatever letter lands facing up dictates the players’ actions, as you’ll see below.
(This is an interesting piece on the historical origins of dreidel. It didn’t originate with Jews and had nothing to do with Chanukah.)
Nun: If your dreidel lands, nun side up, you get nothing. (The nun is for “nisht,” which in Yiddish means not or nothing. Well technically, “gornisht” means nothing.)
This one is for U.S. gymnast Allan Bower, who has, for years, worked hard and been named the team alternate no fewer than four times. (Three times for worlds and once for the Olympics.) And then came word that despite being selected as an alternate for Tokyo, USA Gymnastics wasn’t going to provide Bower with funding or medical insurance through this period. (Gor)nisht. And, to add insult to injury, he wasn’t invited to participate in 2021 world team trials later that year. His coach, Mark Williams, posted a statement to Twitter detailing the outrageous situation. A GoFundMe was set up to help Bower pay for his training costs. Ultimately, the public outcry led USA Gymnastics to provide funding and insurance to Bower though he still didn’t get invited to participate in the worlds selection camp.
If your dreidel lands on “nun” shake your fist and yell “USA Gymnastics!” and help yourself to a latke while you wait for your next turn.
Gimel: Gimel for “gantz,” Yiddish for whole or everything.
It’s fairly easy to figure out who this represents—Simone Biles. If your dreidel lands on the gimel, make like Biles and collect of all the pieces in the pot, just like Biles has picked up all of the gold medals during her illustrious career. You should yell “GOAT” as you do this.
Hei: When the dreidel lands on “hei” you get to take half the pot. (Hei is for “halb” or half.) If there is an odd number of pieces in the pot, you take half plus one.
This is a pretty good deal if you’re a glass half full type. For this particular letter, I was looking for a gymnast who got one title but not its counterpart; world champion but not Olympic or the other way around. I settled (with some help from @lenibriscoe and @slothanova) on Russian gymnast Viktoria Komova, who had world titles on uneven bars to her credit—2011 and a three-way tie for gold in 2015—but no Olympic golds on the event or any event though she would’ve won the all-around in London had it not been for a wayward vault landing. (She ended up winning the silver right behind American Gabby Douglas, just like she did in 2011 at worlds behind Jordyn Wieber.)
If the dreidel lands on the hei, you should yell “Inbars!” since Komova performed these skills beautifully. (This suggestion comes from Lela.) Check out that compression and flexibility.
Shin: If the dreidel lands on this one, you need to put a coin into the pot. (The Yiddish is “shtel” which translates to “put in.” This is the worst letter to get.
The shin represents Andreea Raducan, the Romanian gymnast who was forced to return the 2000 Olympic all-around gold medal after she tested positive due to pseudoephedrine that was in the cold medication that her team doctor gave her. Though everyone acknowledged that this was in no way the 16-year-old’s fault and that the meds didn’t confer a competitive advantage, Raducan lost her appeal to get her gold back. (I wrote about this sad incident in this newsletter.)
If you land on shin, put a game piece back into the pot and then shake your fist and yell, “Jacques Rogge!” (After the 2000 Games, Rogge, who would go on to become president of the IOC, was the vice chair of the medical commission that opposed Raducan in the Court of Arbitration of Sport when she tried to get her title restored.)
The person with the greatest number of pennies/buttons/chocolate coins wins.
Those are just some suggestions. Tell me yours in the comments! Have fun playing. Happy Hanukkah/Chanukah/Hanukah!