A Drei­del in Time: A New Spin on an Old Tale

  • Review
By – August 12, 2019

A clas­sic Hanukkah tale with a fan­ta­sy twist tells the sto­ry of a drei­del that spins back­ward in time, lead­ing chil­dren to the time of Judah the Mac­cabee in ancient Israel. Many ver­sions of this sto­ry have been told over the years, both in Hebrew and in Eng­lish, enter­tain­ing gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren with dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions on Jew­ish history.

Mar­cia Ber­neger’s new pic­ture book uses the basic ele­ments of the sto­ry but adds anoth­er lay­er. In addi­tion to learn­ing about the hol­i­day and a bit of Jew­ish his­to­ry, the sto­ry presents a gen­tle moral les­son — that Hanukkah is not entire­ly about receiv­ing presents. Tak­ing a moral stand and putting one­self on the line when con­fronting issues of right and wrong is more impor­tant than rip­ping wrap­ping paper off gifts for eight nights in a row.

Devo­rah and Ben­jamin see Hanukkah as a gift-giv­ing extrav­a­gan­za. They are inter­est­ed only in what they will get next from fam­i­ly mem­bers who want them to enjoy the hol­i­day. But when Bubbe and Zayde arrive with a gift for them to share, they are dis­ap­point­ed to find an old, ugly, used drei­del in the pack­age. The dis­ap­point­ed feel­ing does­n’t last long; the chil­dren are about to embark on the adven­ture of a lifetime! 

Over sev­er­al spins, the drei­del mys­te­ri­ous­ly hur­tles them into the past where they become an inte­gral part of the Hanukkah sto­ry, and meet a series of char­ac­ters they have only pre­vi­ous­ly encoun­tered in their Hebrew school class­es. They see King Anti­ochus who is deter­mined to destroy the Tem­ple and pre­vail over the Jews, as well as Judah Mac­cabee and his cohorts, who brave­ly oppose him and his pow­er­ful armies. The chil­dren are sur­prised by this turn of events and endeav­or to be help­ful, using their knowl­edge of his­to­ry to make sure the Jews win the bat­tle. Although Devo­rah and Ben­jamin try to tell Judah what is about to occur so he can be pre­pared to fight effec­tive­ly, he refus­es to lis­ten and sim­ply will not under­stand. The chil­dren per­se­vere and find a way to help, result­ing in the reded­i­ca­tion of the Tem­ple and the famil­iar search for enough oil to light the menorah.

This enchant­i­ng book is illus­trat­ed in a cheer­ful, bright style which adds to the fun. Chil­dren of today will learn that Hanukkah is less about gifts and more about iden­ti­ty, brav­ery, and determination.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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