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Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights and Religious Freedom

Rabbi says it's a reminder that forces of light outshine forces of darkness.

STATE WIDE--In Indiana, 17,000 people have the opportunity to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, also known as Hanukkah. The annual eight-day festival starts today and lasts through Dec. 20.

And whether you are Jewish or not, Rabbi Motti Seligson, of Chabad.org, says you can appreciate the core message of Hanukkah: Religious freedom.

"A little light dispels a great deal of darkness, and the forces of light always overcome the forces of darkness," said Seligson, recalling the story of the Maccabean Jews, who, although they were a small number of people, managed to fight and win back the temple from Greek and Syrian forces 2,00 years ago.

"When the Jews overcame these forces, they came to the temple and there was only one jug of oil, enough to last for one day. And it lasted for eight days," he said.

To celebrate the miracle of the oil, Jewish people light a candle on the menorah for eight days.

"It also reminds us all of the strength of good over evil and light over darkness," said Seligson.

The shamash candle on top is used to light the other candles. There are blessings over the candles. Other traditions can include the exchange of gifts for all eight days and eating fried foods, like doughnuts, to celebrate the importance of the temple oil miracle.

Jewishvirtuallibrary.org says Indiana has a relatively small Jewish population, at 17,000. California has about 1.2 million Jewish people. New York has over 1.7 million. The entire Jewish population in the U.S. is about 6.8 million people.

Rabbi Scott Fox, with the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, said Jewish people in Indiana, as in other states, tend to congregate in the cities, rather than rural areas.

"It's a very small community. Jews do tend to congregate into urban areas because we like to be with each other," said Fox. "It's a small community. At the same time it's a very strong community."

PHOTO: Thinkstock/Tomertu

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