With menorah candles glowing softly in the background, Jewish mamas and papas use a spinning top to make a game of history.
The four-sided top is called a dreidle. Each side is marked with a Hebrew letter, standing for "A great miracle happened there."
The "miracle" is the miracle of the oil. It is the story retold at Hanukkah, the feast that starts at sundown Thursday.. Augustans will observe the holiday with a community menorah lighting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the fountain at Ninth Street and Riverwalk Augusta.
Dreidles is a favorite game at Hanukkah, said Sharon Weinstein, who has a collection of about 20 tops, some in ceramic, crystal or silver. "It is a fun way to bring the family together."
Players use coins, candy or raisins to bet. One spins the top. If gimmel comes up, the player gets all the pot. If nun, the player gets nothing. If hey, half and shun, the player puts another one in. "Anybody can play it," she said.
Mrs. Weinstein also has a collection of menorahs, about a dozen in all. Most were Hanukkah gifts. Three of them, including an oil-burning menorah, came from her aunt Mildred Silver, an antiques dealer. The oil comes in "a little pellet, and you break the top off - these modern conveniences," she said.
Some very small menorahs, gifts to her children, are just right for birthday candles.
Both the menorah and the dreidle are symbols of the Jews' fight for religious freedom.
In the second century before Christ, Judah Maccabee and other Jewish loyalists fought the Greek-speaking Syrians and freed the temple in Jerusalem from their domination.
According to the Talmud, when the Maccabees tried to relight the temple lamp, they could only find enough oil to burn for one day. But once it was lighted, the oil continued to burn until they were able to get more. Each of the candles on the menorah stands for the eight days the oil burned.
The Syrians had control over the Jews and taxed them, as they did other peoples under their domination, said Rabbi Zalmon Fischer of the Chabad Lubavitch of Augusta. But the issue the Syrians had "with the Jewish nation was more religious than political."
The Jewish faith was based on following and obeying one God. The Greeks wanted to choose which god to follow. They did not recognize any binding divine authority over them, he said. "The leeway was much greater."
The Greeks opposed the Jews' passing on their ways to their children, and so the Jews went undercover. If they thought they would be discovered at their Jewish studies, they would "hide their books or parchments and just pretend they were playing a game" - dreidles, he said.
For more information about the menorah-lighting on Riverwalk Augusta, call 722-7659.
For more information about Hanukkah, visit the Internet site at www.chanukah2000.com.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.