TUPELO • Although the Jewish population in Tupelo is small, it remains mighty.

“Tupelo has always been very inviting to the Jewish community,” said Rebecca Nelson, a member of Temple B’nai Israel and Director of Community Impact at United Way of Northeast Mississippi.

Nelson grew up in the temple and said that the Tupelo community has always been supportive of its Jewish residents. They even helped build Temple B’nai Israel, located in the heart of the Joyner neighborhood.

It’s a sentiment with which Esther Fischer, a recent Tupelo transplant from Sweden and member of Temple B’nai Israel, agrees wholeheartedly. 

“Tupelo is very welcoming, especially the Jewish community here,” she said.

Fischer works as a neurologist at North Mississippi Medical Center and recently moved to Tupelo with her two-year-old daughter, the youngest member of the temple’s congregation.

It’s a special time for Tupeloans of the Jewish faith. Sunday marked the opening day of the eight-day Hanukkah celebration — the Festival of Lights. As it does every year, this holiday offers light to a dark time of year, with shorter days and colder temperatures. It’s a time for members of Tupelo’s Jewish community to gather with their families and friends to celebrate their community by eating fried foods, lighting the menorah, and fellowshiping with one another. 

The dates of Hanukkah differ each year according to the Hebrew calendar. This year’s celebration began Sunday and will continue through next Sunday, Dec. 5.

The Temple B’nai Israel in Tupelo will host a gathering at the temple on Sunday, Dec. 5, beginning at 5 p.m. All are welcome to attend.

Beginnings and traditions

The origins of Hanukkah date back more than 2,000 years ago.

After the outnumbered Jewish Maccabees miraculously defeated their Syrian-Greek persecutors, they returned to their previously stolen temple and removed all non-Jewish elements to restore the temple to holiness.

However, when they went to light their newly built menorah, they realized that only a small amount of oil remained, enough to keep the candle lit for one day.

By a miracle of God, however, the oil lasted eight days until more arrived.

The two-millennium-old miracles of Hanukkah are still celebrated in Northeast Mississippi today. 

Lighting the menorah for each night of the holiday continues to be one of the most well-known Hanukkah traditions. There are nine branches of a Hanukkah menorah. The middle candle, also called the shamash, is used to light one of the eight candles each night to symbolize the eight days the candle remained lit inside the temple.

Participants prepare fried foods like potato latkes and sufganiyot, which are jelly-filled donuts, and eat them to symbolize the miracle of the oil. They play games of dreidel, and some families give small gifts each night of Hanukkah in addition to lighting a candle of the menorah.

BROOKE BULLOCK BURLESON is a digital producer for the Daily Journal. Contact her at brooke.burleson@djournal.com.

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