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Michael Greenfield, center, stands with two costumed children during last year's Purim service at the Temple Har Shalom. Purim, which will be observed on Sunday, is a Jewish tradition of remembering the courage of Esther, who more than 2,500 years ago, saved the Jewish people from being killed. (Photo courtesy of Temple Har Shalom)
In the ancient Persian city of Shushan, some 2,500 years ago, a Jewish woman named Esther saved her people from being killed by a man name Haman.

Haman was the advisor to Esther's husband, King Ahasuerus, said Michael Greenfield, director of education and programming at Temple Har Shalom.

"According to the story, the king was essentially much more interested in drinking and partying than governing, and he left that up to Haman," Greenfield said during an interview with The Park Record. "Haman is a dictatorial and evil character and took advantage of the king's lack of interest in governance to promote his own agenda, which included his hatred of the Jews."

Within the story, the king, whose wife has been banished for insubordination, chooses Esther to take her place.

"Esther hides the fact that she's Jewish to protect herself in the king's palace," Greenfield explained. "While she is queen, Haman hatches a plot to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. Esther is fortunately at the right place at the right time to make a personal appeal to the king, and reveals that she is Jewish.

"Consequently, on the date Haman has chosen to kill the Jews, he, himself is hanged on his own gallows," Greenfield said. "So, it became a day of redemption for the Jews."

This story is the reason why the Jewish people celebrate Purim, which takes place this year on Sunday, Feb. 24. The Temple Har Shalom will hold a Purim service from 9 a.m. until 10:30 a.m.

Purim is the celebration that remembers the courage of Esther and her uncle, Mordecai.

"Mordecai raised Esther and is the one who invokes Haman's rage against the Jews because he didn't bow down to Haman," Greenfield said. "He also saves the king's life and the king forces Haman to honor Mordecai, which only makes Haman angrier."

Esther, on the other hand, risked her life to save the Jewish people in Persia.

"If she didn't do what she did, there would have been a good chance that she may have lived and the Jews may have died," Greenfield said.

The word purim means "lots," as in the "casting of lots," Greenfield said.

"The holiday is named Purim because Haman had cast lots to choose the day on which he was going to kill the Jews," he said. "The lesson of the story is that each individual Jew has an obligation to work towards the best interests of the Jewish people."

Sunday's service will include food, a costume contest and the reading from the Book of Esther, which is called Megillat Esther in Hebrew.

"We will start with a bagel breakfast that will also feature a traditional pastry called Hamantaschen, which is a triangular shaped cookie with jam in the middle," Greenfield said. "Haman is said to have worn a tri-cornered hat, so the cookie is supposed to resemble it."

While everyone is encouraged to dress up as the different characters in the story, it is especially enjoyable for the children, Greenfield said.

"We have a costume contest and we give out awards to the kids," he said. "Although the grownups are also dressed up, we don't usually give them any awards."

One of the more boisterous segments of the service occurs during the reading.

"Outside of the traditional books of the Old Testament, which are the sacred books to the Jewish people, there are some supplementary books and Esther is one of them," Greenfield said. "When we read the story, Haman's name is mentioned regularly and there is a tradition in which we try to make so much noise that we block out his name, so every time his name is mentioned, the congregation makes a great deal of noise with noisemakers or the stamping of our feet."

One noisemaker is called a gragger.

"It's something that we spin around and it is pretty loud," Greenfield said. "Traditionally they are made out of wood, but there are metal ones as well.

"You can imagine that it becomes a raucous celebration," he said.

Celebration aside, the observation of Purim at the Temple Har Shalom is still a service.

"The holiday itself starts Saturday night at sundown and end at sundown on Sunday," Greenfield said. "The observance in the synagogue will run from 9 a.m. until 10:30 a.m., and there will be a lot of singing and celebration."

The Temple Har Shalom, 3700 Brookside Ct., will hold its Purim service on Sunday, Feb. 24, from 9 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. To make reservations contact the temple by calling (435) 649-2276. For more information, visit www.templeharshalom.com.