Sunday, November 7, 2010

On Hanukkah, Galician Jews Knew How to Play Their Cards

Playing cards during the day? Oy Vey!

As far back as the 15th century, the Ashkenazim of Worms, Germany forbade this indulgence – except during Hanukkah, and even then the Rabbis debated its function. Clearly, the “ayes” won, as card playing continued to be a Hanukkah custom that eventually spread to the Galician city of Rzeszow, in south-eastern Poland, where they played a card game similar to Black Jack. On Hanukkah, Heder (lower Yeshiva) students stopped learning for several hours a day to play cards or watch others play. What was interesting were the cards themselves. Hanukkah playing cards had four nicknames: “Kvitlech” meaning little notes – a name that we connect today to the “kvitel” bearing wishes that we fold up and tuck into the crevices of the Wailing Wall; “Klein Shass”, which means a small Talmud; “Tilliml”, representing a small book of Psalms; and “Lamed Alefniks” – the “thirty-oners” representing the 31 kings of Canaan mentioned in the Book of Joshua. Even more important was who made the cards. In Poland, no one ever heard of the company Bicycle Cards. It was up to the teachers or children to hand paint each card.

I’m sure you see where I’m heading. In this day and age of virtual everything, it’s nice to go back to some home-grown, hands-on activities, especially when we’re looking for new ways to connect students to the messages of Hanukkah. Adapting an age-old Hanukkah custom to the contemporary classroom might just do the trick. Hanukkah is all about celebrating heroism, courage and religious freedom. There are enough heroes, heroines, religious symbols and even food to draw on for creating a hand-made Hanukkah card game where you decide the type of game and how many cards make the deck.
Now there's an ace up your sleeve!
You can read about eight other fascinating Hanukkah customs and try some yummy Hanukkah recipes when you buy my book Hanukkah Around the World. You can purchase it through Kar-Ben’s online store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or ask your local Jewish book store.

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