JOPLIN, MO.--- The annual 8 day observance of the Festival of Lights begins tomorrow at sundown for members of the Joplin Jewish Community.
"Hanukkah begins Saturday evening on December 8th this year, it moves with the Lunar calendar," says Michael Harvey, Student Rabbi.
Hanukkah is celebrated to commemorate a rebellion that reclaimed an ancient temple in Jerusalem, and it's re-dedication back to the Jewish people. Experts say this meaning has changed over time.
"The American Jewish population has grown, and now it's part of our winter holiday, and we get presents now which is great. It's really become sort of a much more bigger deal here in America thanks to American culture of winter holidays," says Harvey.
Celebrating in Joplin comes with its own set of complications.
"Jews have always felt comfortable here and free to practice their faith, but it's a challenge in that you need a critical mass to keep a religious community going. So far, we have been fortunate in having that," says Dr. Paul Teverow, Professor of History.
He says although the Jewish Community in Joplin has decreased in size over time, the current members are very active.
"We're lucky in having a very active group among them. Compared to most synagogues across the county, maybe even compared to most houses of religion in Joplin, we have a pretty high turnout every week among our members," says Teverow.
It's estimated less than 100 Jewish people are currently living in Joplin. Local religious leaders say holidays like Hanukkah are a great time to educate others.
"Since I have been down here, every once in a while there are a few issues that come up here and there, but really anything that we have seen, stems from just a lack of education. So having an opportunity to talk about what Hanukkah it does wonders," says Harvey.
Hanukkah is commonly celebrated with the lighting of a Menorah, scripture readings, eating traditional foods, and even gifts.