Miriam Spitz Kahan , Every year as a child when Chanukah was approaching, my teachers brought out the Chanukah materials so that we could learn about the resistance and the triumph of the Maccabees. Trying to explain to children that one small vial of oil lasted 8 glorious days instead of just 1, seemed a miracle in itself!
But as kids, we just looked forward to the dreidel game that somehow, always had me landing on the Shin.
נ (Nun) – Take Nothing
ג (Gimel) – Take All
ה (Hey) – Take Half
ש (Shin) – Add 1 to the pot
When I complained to my mother about the Shin, my mother always responded with optimism. "Look at the greater picture. You could have landed on the Nun."
A few years later, I learned the important and historical meaning of these letters and the phrase:
Nes Gadol Haya Sham, A Great Miracle Happened There.
There, of course was the Land of Israel, the land of Yehuda HaMakabi, ‘Judah the Hammer’, the homeland of the Jewish people, my people, the land of miracles
My teacher then explained that kids in Israel also play with dreidels ( in Hebrew Sivivon, סביבון). Only, their dreidels do not have a Shin (ש), but a Peh (פ).
Instead of what we know in the Diaspora, that ‘A Great Miracle Happened There - Nes Gadol Haya Sham', in Israel the phrase is, ‘A Great Miracle Happened Here - Nes Gadol Haya Poh’.
Many years later after making Aliyah, I was ecstatic to throw my first Chanukah party as an Israeli citizen. In keeping with the Chanukah spirit, my friend brought Chanukah gelt, latkes and of course a dreidel.
We were just about to start spinning the dreidel so I could feel like a kid again and win some of the delicious chocolate gelt, when I looked down at the dreidel and I saw the Hebrew letter Peh (פ).
The difference of one letter, one word – it strengthened the entire meaning of Chanukah for me. It was something so small, but so very meaningful.
I, Miriam, was finally living HERE in the Land of Israel, the land of Yehuda HaMakabi, ‘Judah the Hammer’, the homeland of the Jewish people, my people, the land of miracles. I have always felt connected, but this was something different.
Something powerful. Something beautiful.
I continuously think about our 2,000 year old history with the many challenges and triumphs. This is yet another triumph that we honor every year.
It has become almost too easy to forget that the place where this 'Great Miracle Happened’ still exists.
It is and should be a part of every candle that we light, and the message we teach to our children, both Here and There.
Happy Chanukah and Chag Sameach!