Until I was about eight years old, and my Aunt Jennie bought me a china doll with eyes that opened and closed, the only bought toy I had was a dreidel, a little four-sided wooden spinning top. It was kept in a glass-fronted cupboard with other precious things like the Kiddush cups and Menorah, and brought out for Hanukah, year after year.
Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (nun), ג (gimel), ה (hei), ש (shin) – shorthand for the rules of a gambling game: Nun stands for the Yiddish word nisht (“nothing”), Hei stands for halb (“half”), Gimel for gants (“all”), and Shin for shtel ayn (“put in”). Nowadays they are often regarded as representing nes gadol hayah sham (“a great miracle happened there”) Wikipedia
Anything else we played with was picked up from Petticoat Lane market refuse, begged or nicked. Before the dustmen cleared them all away, we rescued clean orange boxes from the fruiterer’s rubbish to make a wicket and bat for the cricket we played in Wentworth Street. We’d wash a tinned fruit can for ‘Tin Can Tommy’, while chalk for hopscotch, and for cryptic messages about who loved whom, was nicked from school. We wheedled cigarette cards from adults as soon as we saw them lighting up, while lengths of string dropped in the street were precious finds for playing ever more intricate cats’ cradle.
In our present more affluent time, it’s hard to imagine what it was like for the poor like us who had absolutely no discretionary income. There was no spare money for frivolities like toys – unless you counted the fragile little celluloid dolls the Rag and Bone man gave you in exchange for whatever secondhand goodies you could bring him.
But if you are poor, and all your friends and neighbours are as poor or poorer, you don’t know what you’re missing and even a well-used Dreidel is fun.
My memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ a special present for Hanukah
Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99