When it comes to a boisterous religious celebration, Purim's hard to beat.

The "Feast of Esther" celebrates the joy of a community whose lives were spared, after they faced certain annihilation at the hands of the "evil Haman," who hated Jews and intended to eradicate them, according to Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavich of Utah and the Bais Menachem synagogue.Rabbi Fred Wenger, head of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, describes the Jewish holiday, celebrated March 12 this year, as "a gathering together in costume in the carnival spirit to listen to the reading of the Book of Esther."

The history of Purim is a tale of deceit and courage, with a little love thrown in. Esther was a young Jewish woman who was taken to the house of King Ahasuerus of Persia, where he made her his queen. He didn't know she was Jewish. Her uncle Mordecai, who raised her as his own daughter, had told her to keep her nationality a secret.

Haman was the king's adviser, a man who hated Mordecai for refusing to bow down to him and transferred that hatred to all Jews. He told the king of a "certain people" who were different and had their own laws and the king gave Haman control of their fate. He planned to kill all of them.

Mordecai convinced Esther to speak to the king on behalf of her people, which was very dangerous because if she came into his presence without being invited, she could be executed. After fasting for three days, she went in and he welcomed her. Later, when she told him of Haman's plot against her people, Haman was hanged on the public gallows he had prepared for Mordecai's death.

The Jewish people were spared and their joy and relief has been passed down through the generations, remembered with this annual celebration on the 14th of Adar. That was the day that Haman had chosen for the extermination of all Jewish people.

The celebration is held a day later in cities like Jerusalem, which are walled, because the Book of Esther say they were not delivered from death until the next day.

The word Purim means "lots," because Haman held a lottery to choose what day he would have the Jewish people slaughtered.

The celebration is preceded by a minor fast, in honor of the three days that Esther fasted before approaching the king.

Festivities include re-enacting the story of how Esther rescued the Jewish people "in a boisterous manner," Rabbi Wenger said. Children use noisemakers - particularly when the bad guy who plays Haman appears on the scene.

"The objective is to rejoice over the survival of our people despite the Hamans of every generation," he said.

Congregation Kol Ami will celebrate Purim with a reading and dinner Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. Although Purim's official date is March 12, it begins at sundown the night before.

The festivities will be raucous and joyful at Bais Menachem, too. According to Rabbi Zippel, the festivities will begin Thursday, March 12, at 5:30 p.m. at the new Jewish Community Center, 2 Medical Drive.

The reading of the Megillah - the Book of Esther - starts at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner and a program that includes a live klezmer band and a magic show. Reservations can be made by calling 582-0220.

They will also celebrate with a reading of the Megillah at 7 p.m. the night before, on Wednesday, March 11, at Bais Menachem, 1433 S. 1100 East, as well as a reading Thursday, March 12, at 7 a.m. That will also be held at Bais Menachem.