LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Six Soviet Jewish families who emigrated to Lexington this year are celebrating Hanukkah for the first time.

''We knew only the dark sides of being Jewish,'' said Olga Shur, 34, citing relentless persecution. ''This was a reason to leave the Soviet Union.''

''It's almost impossible to be Jewish in Russia,'' said Misha Slepak, 39, who works for the University of Kentucky's College of Engineering.

''For many years we were forbidden to practice Judaism,'' Slepak said.

The eight-day holiday beginning Sunday at sundown commemorates the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians.

''It's a pity, but in the Soviet Union, we didn't know about Jewish celebrations,'' said Jacob Kaganov, another recent Soviet emigre.

''Step by step, we are getting to know our Jewish history and traditions. It is very terrible when people don't know about their history,'' he said.

Slepak's wife, Marina, 36, said she knew next to nothing about her faith before coming to the United States.

''Here in America, I'm gradually becoming a real Jew,'' she said.

Sofya Rozenzhak, 13, an eighth grader at Morton Middle School, was able to attend a Jewish summer camp.

''They understand why we decided to leave,'' said Sofya's mother, Zina Rozenzhak. ''The main reasons were to have them happier and to have freedom.''